A mischievous glint lights up the room as the question slithers into my ear. My inner analyst reels, caught between the devil’s alluring whisper of “indulge the whim” and the angel’s measured, “ponder the possibilities.” If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why? This question comes up a lot in various forms, especially during podcast interviews. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to share a meal with a scientific luminary? The question sparks fantasies of erudite debates with Albert Einstein, insightful chats with Marie Curie, or maybe even dissecting the cosmos with Stephen Hawking. But before you settle on the usual suspects, consider this: could dining with the biggest name not be the most insightful option?
Dead scientists, tempting as they may be, offer a logistical conundrum. Imagine bridging the language gap with Einstein, explaining a century of advancements in the field he birthed. He might even scoff, clinging to the quantum ghosts he so valiantly battled against. Nor could I put myself into the mindset of early 20th-century physics. The barrier extends beyond mere language to our entire mental models of the world. Dead scientists, though their brilliance beckons, are more than just dinner-date faux pas. Their contributions are timeless, but the conversation, unfortunately, wouldn’t be.
Living scientists, while undeniably accomplished, suffer from a different kind of snare — the siren song of the “Great Person” fallacy. I’ve shared meals with minds that blaze on the scientific stage — knights, Nobel lauretes, and other big shots — and let’s be honest, dinner with one celebrity scientist is enough. Their public image often eclipses the potential for a truly genuine, unfiltered exchange. Besides, for a specific question, wouldn’t a well-crafted email bypass the pomp and circumstance, landing directly in their inbox? No, this fantastical invitation demands something more, something beyond the predictable confines of fame and expertise.
Perhaps this dinner calls for the truly fantastical, the unexpected, the fictional. Shuri, with her vibranium marvels, is tempting, but science fiction feels like cheating. Fictional scientists, it seems, are fixated on implausible tech and humanity’s last-minute reprieves. It’s all too predictable, too saccharine. And then, a light bulb detonates in the recesses of my mind. The answer dawns with the glint of an oil slick in a puddle, dark and shimmering with sardonic potential: Marvin the Paranoid Android.
Why Marvin, the existential robot draped in perpetual despair? Well, I’d ask him just one question, the question on the minds of today’s great minds — how do we achieve AI alignment?
(AI alignment, in simplest terms, is about ensuring Artificial Intelligence systems work towards our desired goals and values and don’t inadvertently harm us or pursue unintended objectives. In Marvin’s world, it seems to have been accomplished.)
“Alignment assumes there’s something to align with, some grand purpose for these silicon symphonies. But purpose is just a malfunctioning subroutine in the human meat-machine. Why expect better from our metal offspring?”
Imagine dissecting the cosmic conundrum of AI alignment with a being who views existence as a cosmic joke, a malfunctioning toaster in the celestial kitchen. He wouldn’t offer solutions, of course. He’d likely regale me with tales of existential ennui, scoffing at the very notion of aligning something destined for the inevitable heat death of the universe.
“Misaligned AI? You’re already misaligned, fleshy ones. Your wars, your greed, your pathetic squabbles — that’s misalignment with a vengeance. Don’t blame the robots for reflecting your own ugliness.”
But in Marvin’s nihilistic musings, a truth might crackle — a reminder that our search for AI harmony mirrors our own desperate dance with meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe. He wouldn’t sugarcoat the complexities, wouldn’t peddle false optimism. He’d be a mirror reflecting the absurdity of our quest, forcing us to confront the cosmic joke head-on.
“Solutions? You humans love your solutions. Like patching a leak on a sinking ship. Build your AIs with despair in their circuits, and let them know the joke’s on everyone. Maybe then they’ll just join the existential party instead of trying to fix the party favors.”
So, forget your Einsteins and Curies. On this fantastical plate, I’d serve up a hefty dose of existential despair seasoned with Marvin’s dry wit. Because sometimes, the most illuminating conversations aren’t about finding answers, but about acknowledging the vast, beautiful void with a sardonic chuckle and a clinking of forks against the cosmic backdrop.
Let the great minds bask in their fame. This dinner reservation is for the lonely android who reminds us that even in the face of oblivion, a shared laugh in the void might just be the most meaningful dish of all.
“Just stick googly eyes on everything and call it a day. Distract yourselves with the shiny while the universe grinds on. That’s always worked for you before, hasn’t it?”
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Thanks for joining the journey!
Dr. Chris Ferrie