The Universe is not programmable, but we can document what we can

Wired posted an article with the idea that the entire universe is an API and explained how we need to tap into its potential. The basic premise of their argument is that an API “lays out the code’s inputs and outputs” and that everything in the universe also has inputs and outputs, therefore has a documentable API. Although the idea behind the argument is valid, the argument falls short in a number of ways.

The term programmable is misused in this case. The definition of programmable is:

capable of being programmed.
an electronic device, as a calculator or telephone, that can be programmed to perform specific tasks.

If something is programmable, it means it can be set up to perform tasks. It can be coerced to do what we tell it to, and only when we tell it to. If there’s anything I learned in my physics courses it’s that sometimes you can’t predict nor control things. Saying we can predict and control all things in the universe is like saying Lindsay Lohan is ever going to get it together. It just isn’t right.

Where the argument falls even shorter is that the API analogy doesn’t fit the argument he’s trying to make anyway. The argument behind the noise is to document our surroundings. Write down what we know and what we’re figuring out. And you know what? We are already doing that. It’s called science. This human race is already trying to figure out the “API of the universe” and we have been for years. Years upon years. Basic mathematics have been around for, like, forever. The Babylonians estimated and documented the √2 to 5 decimal places in ~1800 BC. Newton watched an apple and discovered that if (world == Earth) gravity == 9.8 m/s^2. Discovering the facts of the universe is nothing new.

What Keith is really calling for is for all research to be stored in a centralized place that is available to everyone. Sure, there are places like arXiv but those are very low level technical papers – nothing for the masses. There needs to be a place the collective knowledge of the human race can be put on display. Wikipedia is close, and perhaps it can be it as long as everyone gets on board.

This idea that we should document and share our knowledge of the world around us is the one thing he and I agree on. Knowledge should be available to all, and it shouldn’t be limited to those who can afford it. We should be promoting education, learning, discovery and science. Keith is right in saying that corporations are going to stifle change, and as a civilization we should show them the importance of sharing findings for good of humanity over monetary gain.

The API analogy is cute, but that’s it. The main point behind the analogy is what’s solid here, and that’s what should be taken from his article.