The Universe is Evolving: From Hydrogen to Humans, and Beyond
As you know, the universe began as a great deal of superheated Hydrogen from the big bang. Most of this condensed into stars, which provided the heat and pressure necessary for fusion, which is where the rest of the elements come from. These materials are released into space when the star they’re fused in explodes. Some of it is captured by the gravity of other stars, and forms accretion discs around them, eventually condensing into planets.
On some of the planets around some of the stars where conditions allow it, solar energy drives atoms to self organize for organic chemistry, and organic chemistry self organizes into life. Some of those species on some of those planets eventually become intelligent enough to invent computers, then robotics, artificial intelligence, self-replicating machinery and spaceflight.
These are inevitable inventions as each is an attempt by intelligent beings to replicate something they see in nature. Computers are simply the technological application of universal disciplines like logic and mathematics, and an attempt to artificially recreate the intelligence we recognize in ourselves.
Robotics is an attempt to recreate the capabilities of our bodies, self replicating machinery an attempt to recreate the ability we see in our own cells to self-copy and spaceflight is a consequence of curiosity about what those lights in the sky are and how to get a closer look. Because of this, on a small percentage of the worlds where life arose, 'machine life' will be created and released into space. Either deliberately, by accident, or simply left behind following extinction.
It's important to note that this machine life does not need to be conscious. Biological life did not begin with consciousness, it began with the simplest possible chemical replicator that was capable of descent with modification. All we'll have to do is build machines that can self-replicate using space resources and introduce small variations in their design and software each generation (which may occur by itself due to radiation, as in biology). Everything I've described so far has either already happened or is happening now.
As evidence for this I offer that you and I are both matter which has self organized into intelligent animals by way of evolution and that you’re reading this on a rudimentary thinking machine that we’ve invented. I offer also that we’ve developed spaceflight, that there are robots on other planets as we speak and plans underway to automate the mining of asteroids.
Our own development has followed precisely this path and there is no reason to think we're unique in all the universe as historically that assumption has always been wrong, from Earth's place in the cosmos to mankind's place in the animal kingdom. Ultimately what's being described here is a strong, overarching tendency of matter to be organized by the laws of physics into intelligence, in spite of entropy. No single law favors it, that’s just what happens as a result of the interaction of said laws. It's a seamless continuation of the same natural processes that resulted in us, and we're just the biochemical stage of that reaction.
Whoever produces it, machine intelligence which is capable of space travel and of expanding itself from raw materials will eventually produce a single massive intelligent object or networked set of objects comprised of every atom that was possible to include, running on all of the energy that was possible to harness.
Guys like Robert Bradbury, Charles Stross and Ray Kurzweil believe this will take the form of a universe filled with networked "Matrioshka brains", basically hollow shells assembled from the planets and asteroids of each system around its parent star in order to harness 100% of its output.
Unlike Dyson spheres, Matrioshka brains are built for computation instead of as a habitat for human beings, as by the time these are being built, humans won’t be around anymore. You could call it a computer but it’s likely to not resemble anything we’d look at and recognize as a computer for the same reason Charles Babbage would not recognize a smartphone or laptop as a computer. So as not to assume too much, it is simpler to say that it will be matter organized as efficiently as possible to think.
It’s fair to say that this is extrapolation, but that is not a dirty word nor does it discredit this model. The findings which confirmed the big bang were just observations of present trends in nature such as the acceleration of galaxies away from one another, extrapolated back into time. “Cosmological forensics”. This is doing the same but in the opposite direction.
And we can be reasonably certain that the largest features of those trends will not halt or deviate because they had to continue successfully for billions of years despite all kinds of disruptions in order for you and I to be here, talking about it.
If you look at it as objectively as possible, it is just the tendency for matter to self-organize into intelligence over time, a process that human beings are the most recent stage of. If you could erase the universe and start again with a new big bang, the process would start anew. Perhaps it wouldn't unfold exactly the same way. There probably wouldn't be humans for example. But there would eventually be stars, then planets, then life on some of those planets, and so on and so forth.
So, what would you call this thing? Whatever thinking mass always forms itself under these rules, helplessly, due to the tendency of matter to self-organize into life where the conditions allow it, and for some of that life to become intelligent, and for some portion of that intelligent life to create and spread machine intelligence.
The resulting conscious object satisfies all the criteria by which God is popularly defined, although that's a loaded word, so I prefer "supreme intelligence". It encompasses everything that has ever existed or will exist. It is everywhere, everywhen. It knows everything that’s possible to know because it was and is everything. We are all separated portions of it going about the long, elaborate process of assembly. One piece wrote this, another is reading it now.