Some notes on ‘A conversation about the end of science’
A very nice article. I found the opportunity to think on some interesting questions about the limits of science.
I will add some thoughts about some parts here.
1) On "humanity will reach its epistemic limits, either in terms of intelligence or in terms of technology" part
Let's consider the literature. We could claim that literature will end after some time, because all stories will already be written. But then we would see that Dune, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars etc bring fictional universes that have many story possibilities.
Science is not literature, of course, but still, the humans created the computer and that spinned up whole new possibilities. Suddenly, even math got a huge load of new unexpected work in type theory and category theory.
So apparently, the domain of knowledge is not something finite to be discovered, but it actually expands into itself and unrolls whole new areas for science. Maybe not the universe, but science has the capacity of expanding infinitely. So if the universe is finite, it might end up limiting us, not the science in its abstract forms. From the other hand, if we reach the moment of being limited by the universe (no more information can be stored anymore), I feel like life will just collapse and we will have bigger concerns than science.
2) On "the problems we face in science will simply be too complicated for us to handle" part
My comment will be similar to what I said for the previous one, but there is an addition. We could work on endless amount of musical notes while doing music. But we have the abstraction of having seven notes in the western tradition. This limits us, but from the other hand it lets us to work on the various combinations of chords and create an amazing amount of music, because it is much easier to work on top of an abstraction, when the abstraction is done properly.
So coming back to the complication part, we will always find a simpler model to use as an abstraction and find many amazing things on top of those, and those abstractions will create their folds into themselves, creating many parallel universes like how Lord of the Rings was born. A simple example could be given as cellular automatas. Cellular automatas are computing environments that have very simple rules of transitions that create a small universe, where you can mimic evolution for that particular ruleset. Every universe is a mathematically different model. This is creating a universe, and that universe will also have lots of modelling work. It can't end. You could end up spinning up universes inside other universes. Maybe we are living in one of them.
3) On """if an AI “understands” a problem that a human being does not and arrives at a solution, in what sense would that be our accomplishment?""" part
When the famous scientists find amazing things, we don't say it is not our achievement. They do their part (inventing things), we do our parts (using them?). We are an economy. So if AI finds solutions, and if that is still part of our economy (we don't end up in human farms like in Matrix), I think it would be safe to say that it is still our achievement.
From the other side, AI is not always the self-conscious human-like AI that we see on the movies. Self-consciousness could be a little bit hyped there. In Back to the Future movie, people were using flying skateboards, instead we got not-so-exciting-looking smartphones. Things generally don't end up how it is imagined, because utility is the king. Smartphones are very productive.
We are using Google in a daily basis. That, is, AI. It is actually one of the most advanced AIs on the planet. We fill that textbox and click that button everyday. Yet nobody thinks that, whatever they accomplish is not their accomplishment.
So what I am saying is, there will always be tools that either find us the answer, or explain us why things are working in certain ways, or create an abstraction that will help us put some more on top of them. The tools will always replace a missing part. Could be speed, simplification, additional capacity, et cetera. After a while they will help our memories, eyes, ears etc. When they end up replacing us as a whole, it will be more like the Theseus' ship, we will become what replaced us. And it will not be like a ship becoming another ship, most probably we will become something totally different, though, I think that will still mean, everything is our accomplishment.