July 1, 2008
What are the most important open problems concerning computation and/or information, and what are the prospects for progress?
There’s a lot still to discover about the computational universe. It’s like many past explorations&mdash’whether of the flora and fauna of Earth, of the chemicals that can be created or of the diversity of astronomical objects. We’ve learned enough to be able to do some basic classification, and we’ve been able to guess at some general principles. But there’s a huge amount of detailed science to do in studying the computational universe.
There are a lot of important things that we might find in the computational universe. Perhaps we’ll find an ultimate model for the physics of our actual, physical universe. Perhaps we’ll find the keys to many longstanding mysteries in science. Of one thing I am certain: in the computational universe there is a huge amount that we can mine for human purposes—for creating technology, or art, or other things that we as humans use.
For millennia, we have mined the natural world for objects and materials that we can use. But when it comes to procedures, forms or algorithms, we have tended to create them incrementally using traditional engineering methods. The computational universe provides a fantastically new rich source.
I and others have already created a growing body of technology derived from “mining” the computational universe. And this process will surely accelerate—so that in a few decades I expect that there will be more new technology obtained by mining the computational universe than by all traditional methods put together.