Paul Halpern, on Medium, quoting Freeman Dyson:
It is impossible to calculate in detail the long-range future of the universe without including the effects of life and intelligence. It is impossible to calculate the capabilities of life and intelligence without touching, at least peripherally, philosophical questions. If we are to examine how intelligent life may be able to guide the physical development of the universe for its own purposes, we cannot altogether avoid considering what the values and purposes of intelligent life may be. But as soon as we mention the words value and purpose, we run into one of the most firmly entrenched taboos of twentieth-century science.
As Dyson imagined, a sense of purpose would motivate cognizant life to try to maintain itself as long as humanly — and then transhumanly — possible. Ultimately, humans and other possible intelligent beings in the universe might elect to transfer their conscious awareness to artificial storage and processing units — presuming that artificial intelligence (AI) is possible.
As the universe continued to cool, our AI descendants would need to take action. Unlike Asimov, Dyson does not suggest a mechanism for reversing the growth of entropy. Rather, he imagines a gradual slowing down of thinking processes. Only necessary thoughts would transpire and these would happen at an increasingly snail-like pace. Between thoughts, the AI devices would hibernate to conserve vital, usable energy. By spacing out thoughts more and more, Dyson argues, intelligent existence could persist almost indefinitely, although the number of total thoughts would still be finite.
Dyson’s notion of eternal intelligence is certainly interesting to ponder. My assumption would be that, given (almost) all the time in the world, an intelligent race might learn how to transfer their minds to a sturdy and sustainable medium, as Dyson says. But I’d also assume that such a race might also learn the trick of manipulating the universe to its own ends. And who’s to say that hasn’t already happened many times over?