Microsoft helped theoretical physicists explore the implications of our potentially autodidactic universe

The Visitor’s Center at Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured July 17, 2014 in Redmond, Washington.
The Visitor’s Center at Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured July 17, 2014 in Redmond, Washington. (Image credit: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images for Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Theoretical physicists are positing the idea that our universe is self-learning.
  • This would mean that it's learning about itself at the same time we are.
  • Microsoft provided support for the work the physicists carried out.

Who doesn't love theoretical physics papers on a Friday? Today, on April 9, a hefty seventy-nine-page research paper entitled "The Autodidactic Universe" was posted online (via TNW). Its authors include physicists from Brown University and the Flatiron Institute.

The Microsoft connection is straightforward. According to the paper's acknowledgments section, Microsoft provided "computational, logistical and other general support" for the work that made the paper's creation possible. Kevin Scott, Microsoft's chief technology officer and executive vice president of Technology & Research, received a personal shoutout for his support.

So what exactly was Microsoft helping empower theoretical physicists to write about? Well, to put it simply: the theory that our universe is a massive machine that's constantly learning about itself. Much like we, human beings, understand ourselves, our limits, and our abilities more and more as we age, the idea goes that the universe is on a similar journey, evolving its own laws as it learns more about them.

Pretty crazy, right? Here's a fascinating passage from page sixty-six of the paper for your enjoyment, education, and mystification:

The example of memes in human social structures show that a learning system that is not constrained by "brute survival" can sometimes become dominated by "economic network effects" in self-reference. It is interesting to consider cosmological criteria other than brute survival that might give rise to autodidactic structures that are resistant to becoming unconnected to an environment.

This isn't the first time that Microsoft and the idea of memes as a basis for worldly understanding have crossed paths. Far from it—memes were the centerpiece of an interactive virtual philosophy class that went by the name of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, released on Microsoft's Xbox 360 back in 2013. It's been a while since memes' impact on our understanding of the universe overlapped with Microsoft's operations, but now, eight years later, it's happened again.

Robert Carnevale

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to