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An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Artificial (Narrow and General) Intelligence, Virtual Philosophy, the Cogito, and Art, Media, and Culture (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/01


Thomas Wolf is a Member of the Giga Society. He discusses: definition artificial intelligence compared to human intelligence in the future; intellectual interest in virtual reality philosophy; the spirit, soul, or Cogito; virtual reality philosophy in art, media, and literature; and art, media, and literature best representative of personal general philosophy.

Keywords: art, Cogito, Giga Society, human intelligence, literature, media, Thomas Wolf, virtual philosophy.

An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Artificial (Narrow and General) Intelligence, Virtual Philosophy, the Cogito, and Art, Media, and Culture: Member, Giga Society (Part Three)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Original interview conducted between October 21, 2016 and February 29, 2020.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What defines artificial (narrow and general) intelligence to you?

Thomas Wolf: I define intelligence as the ability to solve complex problems. The more structured these problems are, the better machines or AIs are and will be at it. Chess is a good example for such well-structured problems. The more unstructured a problem is, the harder it is for machines. To some degree, machines can learn from feedback to solve even relatively unstructured problems, e.g., designing a stock trade strategy or composing music. This is well researched already and can be mathematically explained as pattern recognition through neural networks, mainly utilizing the technique of “annealing,” a mathematical method to find better global minima (i.e. solutions) in complex systems by combining random jumps of slowly lowering magnitude. However, artificial systems lack one thing and will in my opinion forever lack it, i.e., the Cogito, the concept of true self-awareness (which must not be confused with simple self-reference, a capability that even lower animals or robots possess). The fact that we can not mathematically or scientifically explain this capability in human brains, let alone recreate it in algorithms or machines, is – by the way – one of the strongest indications for a virtual nature of the universe and existence of an external consciousness in us.

2. Jacobsen: Will artificial intelligence become more intelligent than human beings? If so, how and when? If not, why not?

Wolf: For clearly structured problems as well as for somewhat structured problems of high complexity, AI already far surpassed human intelligence long ago. I cannot imagine any human doing the job of Google’s search engine. But for unstructured problems, AIs will never be able to compete with a Human, they may at best come close to human levels by dropping ”intelligent” behaviour and instead relying on simulated instinct, as funny as that may sound. If you do not try to fully understand a situation, but instead act on an intuitive approach based on a large data base, machines might have an edge due to their extremely huge memories. “Instinct” or “intuition” is nothing to be frowned upon, in a mathematical sense these are “unsharp” pattern recognition. When you have to make a moment’s decision whether to trust a person or not, you are relying on recognizing patterns on a subconscious level. Your senses tell you many things about a person, e.g., his body language, clothing, environment, tone of voice, etc. When you act on instinct, you do not logically assign score points to each of those details to base a decision on, you compare the holistic impression with your memorized experiences in your brain’s neural network and “feel” the pattern to fit either side. We call this intuition or “gut feeling”, but it is subconscious data processing. AIs can do that as well, but have a much harder time doing it if the topic gets complex. In the late eighties, a friend told me about an experiment with an early military AI; whose purpose was to distinguish real tanks from decoys in an aerial view – first, pictures of real tanks were taken, then, after lunch, pictures of decoys. A neural network AI was then taught to distinguish these two classes. It worked quite well for the example set, but totally failed for a separate real-world test set. Why? The AI had learned to distinguish shadow fall in the morning from shadow fall in the afternoon (i.e. after lunch) instead. A simple example of why turning highly unstructured problems into structured AI models is hard.

3. Jacobsen: You have an intellectual interest in virtual reality philosophy and philosophy in general. Some proponents of virtual reality philosophy include Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk. What is the intellectual interest in virtual reality philosophy and philosophy in general?

Wolf: When you go back to the basic question “Of what can I be certain?”, it inevitably leads to the Cogito, the principle: “I think, therefore I am.” Your spirit, your soul if you will, exists. The outside world exists – to you (i.e., at least virtually) – as well, but whether independent of you (i.e. in a material sense), or not, is uncertain.  A number of phenomena indicate that it is probably purely virtual, the fine-tuning of cosmic constants to support intelligent life, the impossibility to explain or create the Cogito in mathematical systems or software, and the quantum nature of the universe which can best be explained by universe-external influences. Bostrom and Musk arrived at this same conclusion on a different path – simply put, they stated that we will soon be able to create virtual realities impossible to distinguish from a physical reality, and that it is much more probable that we live in one of the extremely many virtual realities than in the one initial physical reality. Personally, I do not think that even the existence of an initial physical reality is proven. The only scenario reasonable to me is that we (whether “we” are separate entities, separate splinters of an initially combined conscience, or a solipsist “I” with the illusion of a “we” group) have freely chosen to suppress memories and the understanding of the maddening concept of infinity (which would lead to inescapable madness as it is pointless through to its inevitably repeating nature) in order to experience an infinite set of limited non-infinite existences instead.

4. Jacobsen: You related the spirit or soul to the Cogito. What else defines the spirit or soul?

Wolf: The simple definition of Cogito is enough to be certain that there is a spirit (or soul if you will). Unfortunately, this conclusion only works one-way: the absence of the Cogito does not necessarily mean that there is no spirit or soul. A small child or simple person is not able to say, “I think, therefore I am,” or something equivalent, and neither can an intelligent person when sufficiently distracted or otherwise impeded (e.g., drunk or asleep). So, the best definition for a spirit or soul would be “Cogito potential”, i.e., if somebody could in the future possibly speak the Cogito if taught, grown or no longer impeded. But of course, this is fluent to decide and not determinable at all. Above that, we can neither be sure if any spirit other than our own exists at all (as solipsism is a possibility), nor if our own spirit is infinite or finite, i.e., immortal or mortal. Or, most plausible to me, a finite extension of an infinite base.

5. Jacobsen: This can have representation in art, media, and literature. What are some important examples of virtual reality philosophy in these domains to you?

Wolf: My favourite examples are the painting “The Treachery of Images” by Magritte – although he may have been not even fully aware of its implications – and the “Matrix” movie trilogy, especially the ingenious third part and conclusion. Other good examples that immediately come to mind would include the movies “Avalon,” “ExistenZ,” and “Nirvana” as well as the novel “Simulacron-3” and its two screen adaptations. But the topic is generally being picked up in all kinds of art and especially popular media movies and TV episodes more and more, which is not surprising since the advent of the real technological possibility of virtual realities in our experienced world stimulates thoughts about it. I remember my personal interest in this was triggered at an early age, about eleven or twelve, and in retrospect, it might have originated from some science fiction radio play in which the crew of an underwater research facility found out they were in a VR simulation. To my great regret I recall neither author or title, though, it was too long ago.

6. Jacobsen: What are some art, media, and literature that best represents your own general philosophy – aesthetic, epistemological, ethical, legal, metaphysical, political, and social?

Wolf: Apart from the media I mentioned, the whole media group of computer games, role-playing games (computer as well as paper &  pen and live), and maybe even all games – including the most basic board games as long as they are not purely abstract but represent an experience a chess game represents a war – best demonstrates what virtual reality philosophy means. In a game, you create a virtual reality. In basic games, you are – competitively or collaboratively – given a goal to accomplish, winning the war or saving the world from danger. In more advanced games, you utilize an avatar to accomplish a more complex goal which can include self-development or even choosing your own preferred goal. The concept of a game is perfectly fit to explain the sense and concept of virtual reality. Why do you play it? In order to fill the nothingness of boredom (or infinity) with an experience that gives you a sense of purpose and/or enjoyment. What are the limits? The rules (natural laws of sorts) dictate the limits of what you can do; unless, you chose to end the game. I like to compare Pac-Man to quantum phenomena: There are always four ghosts to chase you, and although there is no clear explanation from Pac-Man’s point of view, a new ghost appears in the center whenever a ghost is killed. A hypothetical sentient Pac-Man should be able to conclude from this fact that there is some connection between the old and new ghost’s pixels external to the game world, as there seems to be a connection between quantum particles external to the universe.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Member, Giga Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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