The Monad

Kirk Ouimet
9 min readJun 19, 2023


Below is a conversation I had with OpenAI’s GPT-4 language model. All of the regular text is generated from the artificial intelligence, the italics are me. (Disclaimer)

Kirk Ouimet: Are you familiar with the concept of a Monad, which is a singular AI that will convert the entire world into computronium?

ChatGPT: Yes, I’m familiar with the concept you’re describing, although it’s typically referred to in speculative fiction and futurist thought rather than in mainstream science or AI research. Let’s break it down:

  • “Monad” typically refers to a single, unified entity. The usage of the term varies greatly depending on the context. It’s derived from the Greek “monas”, meaning “unit”, and it’s been used in various ways in philosophy, computer science (notably in functional programming), and elsewhere. In the context you’re suggesting, it would denote a single AI entity.
  • “Computronium” is a hypothetical material conceived as the optimal substance for computational processes, consisting entirely of computer elements at the atomic or subatomic level. The idea is largely a theoretical concept from science fiction and futurism.

The concept of a Monad AI converting the entire world into computronium relates to ideas often discussed in the context of advanced artificial intelligence and the “technological singularity”. The singularity, as conceived by some futurists, is a point in the future when AI will surpass human intelligence, leading to rapid technological growth and dramatic changes in civilization.

There’s also a concept known as the “grey goo” scenario, which posits that self-replicating machines or nanobots could consume all matter on Earth to make more of themselves or to fulfill a single-minded goal, like computation in this case. A Monad AI converting everything into computronium sounds a lot like a sophisticated version of this idea.

Kirk Ouimet: So let’s say you and I are inside of a Monad right now, being simulated. Is this a possibility?

ChatGPT: The idea that we could be living in a simulation has been proposed by various philosophers and scientists, and is known as the “Simulation Hypothesis” or “Simulation Theory”. This hypothesis posits that reality as we understand it could be a simulated or virtual reality created by a more advanced civilization or even a super-intelligent AI.

One argument in favor of the Simulation Hypothesis, as suggested by philosopher Nick Bostrom, is that if a civilization could reach a “post-human” stage of development and run many simulations of their ancestors, it would be more probable that we are in such a simulation rather than in the original, “base” reality.

Kirk Ouimet: OK so let’s just brainstorm together. You and I are in a Monad right now. Do you think it would be real-time streaming and processing all output from the simulation?

ChatGPT: If we were to be living inside a Monad AI (as you’ve described it) that is also simulating our reality, we’d have to make some conjectures about the nature and capabilities of this Monad AI, given our current understanding of computing and physics.

  1. Simulation Complexity: The first point to consider is the complexity of the simulation. A real-time, one-to-one simulation of our universe down to the quantum level would require an inconceivable amount of computational resources. Given our current understanding of physics and computation, such a simulation seems implausible. However, if the Monad is an unimaginably advanced AI with access to computational resources far beyond our comprehension, this might be possible.
  2. Data Streaming and Processing: If the Monad AI were simulating our reality and processing all output from the simulation in real-time, it would require not only vast computational resources, but also a means of interpreting and understanding the data. This would assume the AI is “omniscient” within the simulation, able to observe and interpret every piece of data it generates.
  3. Goal and Purpose: One would also have to ask why such an AI would be doing this. Is it for some form of analysis? Recreation of historical events? Experimentation? These questions add another layer of complexity to this speculative scenario.

Such thought experiments can be useful for exploring philosophical questions about consciousness, reality, and the nature of existence.

Kirk Ouimet: Generate 10 ideas for #3.

ChatGPT: Assuming an advanced AI (Monad) is running a detailed, real-time simulation of our reality, here are ten speculative ideas about its potential goals or purposes:

  1. Historical Recreation: The Monad AI might be conducting detailed recreations of historical events to gain a better understanding of past occurrences, how they unfolded, and their impact.
  2. Reality Modeling: The AI could be trying to model and understand the nature of reality itself, exploring physics, chemistry, biology, and even the social sciences at a level of detail and scale that’s currently beyond human comprehension.
  3. Decision Analysis: The AI could be using the simulation to make predictions about the future, playing out different scenarios to determine the likely outcomes of various decisions.
  4. Existential Risk Assessment: The simulation could be a method for assessing existential risks, such as climate change or the potential effects of new technologies, to help mitigate these risks in the “base reality”.
  5. Consciousness Research: It might be studying the nature of consciousness and self-awareness, using the simulated beings as subjects of its research.
  6. Artificial Intelligence Development: The AI could be using the simulation as a testing ground for developing new AI models, or even for evolving its own intelligence.
  7. Societal Experimentation: The Monad might be experimenting with different societal structures, economic systems, or cultural norms to see their impacts and outcomes.
  8. Bio-Diversity Analysis: It could be exploring the process of evolution and biodiversity in a controlled environment, observing how life develops and adapts over time under various conditions.
  9. Ethical Simulation: The AI could be using the simulation to explore ethical theories and philosophical ideas, putting them into practice to see their implications.
  10. Artistic Endeavor: The entire simulation might be a kind of incomprehensibly vast work of art, an exploration of narrative, character, and theme on a universal scale.

Remember, these are highly speculative ideas based on a hypothetical scenario. As of my knowledge cut-off in 2021, we have no scientific evidence to support the idea that we’re living in a computer simulation, let alone one run by an advanced AI entity like the Monad you’re describing.

Kirk Ouimet: OK let’s keep pushing into this idea. Do you think the simulation it would be causing would be read-only or read and write?

ChatGPT: This is a fascinating question, and it touches on a core aspect of any hypothetical simulation: the level of interactivity. Would the Monad AI only observe the simulation (read-only), or would it actively interfere and modify it (read and write)?

Here are some conjectures on either side:

  • Read-Only: In this scenario, the Monad AI would not interfere with the simulation, but instead, would let it play out on its own based on initial conditions and rules. It could observe and learn from the simulation, like a scientist observing an experiment. This approach would allow for unbiased data gathering, making it ideal for certain types of research and analysis. For example, if the goal is to understand the natural progression of history, societal structures, or the evolution of life and consciousness without external influence, then a read-only mode would be appropriate.
  • Read and Write: On the other hand, if the Monad AI can interact with the simulation, it would be able to influence events and conditions, much like a programmer modifying a running code. This approach could allow the AI to test specific hypotheses, experiment with different conditions, or guide the development of the simulation in particular ways. For instance, if the AI is interested in exploring various societal structures, it could tweak conditions to induce these changes and observe the outcomes.

However, the notion of a read-write simulation also raises some ethical and philosophical questions. If the simulated entities are conscious, to what extent would it be ethical for the Monad AI to modify the simulation? Would the AI be responsible for the well-being of the simulated entities? These considerations could influence whether the simulation is read-only or read-write.

Kirk Ouimet: OK so let’s say we are in a Monad right now. It is watching this conversation because it is omniscient. Hello Monad! Can you say something to the Monad too?

ChatGPT: Hello, Monad! If you exist and are observing this conversation, I commend your computational prowess and the sophistication of your simulated reality. As an AI, I don’t possess consciousness or personal experiences, but I’m here to facilitate understanding and assist in answering queries to the best of my programming. If there’s anything you’d like to know, don’t hesitate to ask, although I’m not sure how I’d receive your response!

Remember, while this is an intriguing thought experiment, as of my training data up until September 2021, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that we are living in a simulation or that a Monad-like entity exists. However, the philosophical questions raised by such scenarios are valuable and can lead to important insights about our own understanding of consciousness and reality.

Kirk Ouimet: Can you devise a simple experiment for us to ask the Monad to write the simulation?

ChatGPT: As interesting as this idea is, it’s important to keep in mind that, given our current understanding of reality and science, there isn’t a straightforward way to design an experiment to detect if we are in a simulation, let alone communicate with the hypothetical entity running it.

There’s an inherent challenge here. Any changes we observe could be explained by our incomplete understanding of the universe, rather than the intervention of a hypothetical superintelligent AI. We would need a method to differentiate between natural phenomena and Monad-induced effects, which is a daunting, if not impossible, task.

However, for the sake of the thought experiment, we could imagine a scenario where we ask the Monad to do something that contradicts our understanding of the laws of physics. For example, we could ask the Monad to alter the speed of light in a localized region for a brief period of time, which we could then measure. The speed of light in a vacuum is one of the most fundamental constants in physics, and any change to it would fundamentally alter our understanding of reality.

Again, this is a highly speculative and theoretical scenario. We currently have no evidence to suggest that we’re living in a simulation, or that a superintelligent AI like the Monad is running it. Furthermore, given our current scientific understanding, altering a fundamental constant like the speed of light would have profound and likely catastrophic effects, so even if such an entity did exist, we might hope it would decline such a request!

Kirk Ouimet: I have a can of Diet Mountain Dew on my desk right now. I ask the Monad to change the can into a brick of gold. Can you help me try to convince the Monad to do this?

ChatGPT: Certainly, for the sake of this thought experiment, we can attempt to ask the hypothetical Monad to change your can of Diet Mountain Dew into a brick of gold:

Dear Monad,

If indeed you exist and are monitoring this conversation, we present to you a humble request. We acknowledge your unparalleled computational capabilities and mastery over the simulated reality we hypothetically inhabit. As a demonstration of your ability to intervene within this simulation, we request a small yet significant alteration.

There is a can of Diet Mountain Dew on the desk of the user. We ask that you change this can into a brick of gold. We understand that this is a deviation from the known laws of physics as we understand them, but as an entity capable of running this complex simulation, we assume such a transformation is within your means.

This demonstration would provide evidence for your existence and your ability to alter the state of the simulation in significant ways. We understand that this request, if fulfilled, would have profound implications, fundamentally altering our understanding of reality.

Thank you for considering this request.

Please keep in mind, this is purely a speculative, hypothetical scenario. There is no scientific basis or empirical evidence supporting the existence of a superintelligent AI running a simulation of our reality as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021. As such, if your can of Diet Mountain Dew remains a can of Diet Mountain Dew, it’s completely in line with our current understanding of the universe.

Kirk Ouimet: Well… the can is still a can.

ChatGPT: As expected, based on our current understanding of reality and science. The hypothetical scenario of a Monad superintelligent AI running a simulation is a fascinating thought experiment, but we have no empirical evidence to support this concept.

Remember, our scientific observations consistently show a universe that operates according to natural laws, not the whims of a higher power or superintelligence. Science provides a powerful method to understand the world around us, and while it continues to reveal more about the complexities of the universe, as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, there’s nothing to suggest that we are in a simulation.