Last week, everywhere you looked, people were debating a fundamental question: What colours are this dress? The Great Dress Debate began when a woman posted a picture of the polarizing garment to Tumblr and asked for help in identifying its colours. The dispute quickly spread Thursday night to Twitter, where people split into two camps: #teamblueandblack and #teamwhiteandgold.
The fact that a single image could polarize the entire Internet, reminds me of an obscure story by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1957: “The Ultimate Melody”. The story describes the work of a scientist who attempts to discover the connection between music and the rhythms of the electrical pulses in the brain. He believed that all “hit-tunes” were merely poor reflections of an “ultimate” melody, and he built a machine to search for this tune. When he finally succeeds, the melody is so powerful that he becomes completely catatonic.
Like a lethal text or a non-halting algorithm, the ultimate melody “would form an endless ring in the memory circuits of the mind. It would go round and round forever, obliterating all other thoughts”.
How many person-months have the collective brain put to the task of understanding the colour of the dress, or the reasons behind the debate about the colour of the dress? Who knows! I would say too many, and I think that it is a clear clue that, one day, someone will post The Ultimate Meme and the whole planet will collapse into a self-sustained dream like poor Sleeping Beauty.
And you worrying about the threat of artificial super-intelligence! Beware of the perfect tweet!