Quantum sheep

The movie Blade Runner describes a future where society can engineer machines that almost perfectly imitate the behaviour of various living things, from sheep to human beings. These machines—referred to as “replicants”—interact with both the environment and other humans so convincingly that it is almost impossible to differentiate between what is natural and what is artificial. This raised a provocative question: what is actually happening beneath the surface of such machines, or as the book by Philip K. Dick that inspired the movie aptly asked, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

Humans have a longstanding fascination with the idea of replicating nature through human engineering. Accounts dating to the 4th century BC talk about mechanical birds that could purportedly fly up to 200 meters. By the 13th century, Leonardo Da Vinci had designed a robotic knight—a literally self-walking suit of armor that could sit, stand and raise its own visor all by the ingenious use of pulleys, weights and cables. Today, artificial intelligence is bringing us closer and closer to machines so sophisticated that humans may one day be unable to distinguish a machine’s answers to questions from the answers given by another human—a famous imitation game Alan Turing proposed as the holy grail for building machines that can think. A future where computers mimic the behaviour of human beings no longer seems so farfetched. … (FQXi)