Internet intelligence

So here’s an interesting short article on the possibility of internet gaining some type of consciousness due to its network based emergence-friendly structure. The author is the famous Ben Goertzel, one of the foremost minds of the futurist/AI school. If you’ve got time you should check out his blog for other articles as well. I’ve found a number of them to be quite compelling. I’ve always been interested in artificial intelligence, though my concentration is with artificial life. In time I’ve come to view the two as the same type of system manifesting in different mediums, and I’ve come to think that intelligence is a trait that naturally comes along with the collection of characteristic called life. Intelligence is life and life is intelligence. In that sense I consider even minuscule bacteria to be intelligent, though not in a way we usually think about intelligence. The very fact that certain collection of molecular machines can work in conjunction to behave in such a way that allows it to feed, evade harm and propagate, even in evolution-aided unconscious manner means that certain system should be considered intelligent. Of course, this is merely my personal view that is not backed by evidence based professional study. This is more of a personal impression with reasonable causes, something that’s on it’s way of becoming a hypothesis but not quite there yet as the things stand. Considering that I consider our current definition of intelligence to be lacking in many ways, I will be at ire of many neurobiologists should I exclaim such opinions carelessly. And for some reason there are a lot of neurobiologists around me so I try to keep my mouth shut most of the time regarding that issue.

Ben Goertzel’s answer to whether the net can become an intelligent construct is somewhat vague, but then he probably can’t help it himself. The question itself is a bit on the vague side when you think about it, including the whole uncertainty of the definition of intelligence that I just wrote about above. He briefly mentions the pervading ethos of the neurobiologists of the recent years, that many of them believe that intelligence/consciousness is a property that will inevitably emerge from any complex system that has the right sort of internal dynamics. I do definitely agree with him on that point, since when you think about it it’s about the only scientifically feasible explanation of the emergence of intelligence/consciousness without attributing some specific part of the brain to the trait of intelligence (like how Rene Descartes attributed ganglia as the sit of the soul). I also suspect that life arises in a very similar manner, and whether that pattern of internal dynamics can be an abstraction that can be applied to different types of physical systems is a major part of my current research as a fledgling science student (the one that’s helping paying my rent). Hopefully I’ll be able to come up with something in my lifetime, since I view the possibility of such a universal theoretical platform to be a big game changer in the upcoming human century, something that might as well change the world we live in along with applications of nanotechnology and modular biology.

Will internet itself become intelligent at some point? I’m sure it will. Dr. Ben Goertzel points out that the internet is way too fragmented to display a coherent vision of an artificial intelligence and instead suggests that there might be a way to construct a sort of unifying backbone using the network infrastructure of the internet itself as a sort of raw data feed/complexity provider for that central structure. It makes sense, in a way that no one really thinks about it before someone else says it first. Most complex emergent systems, when laid out using some elements of graph theory (the graph theory, we are not talking about bar graphs and such nonsense here, for those who haven’t been keeping tabs on mathematics) displays inexplicable tendency to form central clusters around certain limited number of nodes instead of distributing indefinitely. And the change usually isn’t gradual or predictable. It happens rapidly under certain critical threshold as Stuart Kauffman put it very succinctly on his book “At home in the universe.” Internet is very obviously following in that pattern. The last graphic map of the internet I’ve seen displayed certain number of nodes (websites/services) with overwhelming number of links with a lot of nodes with limited number of links. Similar pattern is also observed in the growth of neural pathways and formation of galactic clusters, and who knows what other phenomenon in this universe escaped our notice, considering that complexity science is still a new field. Now I don’t have a very clear idea of what form that central structure would have to take to make the internet truly intelligent to observable degree… I assume it would be something on par with designing CNS for the distributed system that is the internet, possibly with a hint of recursive structure via Douglas Hofstadter, but this is all just some ideas bouncing around and I have no idea what physical/informational form such a construct would take. I’d assume it is something far past the simple matter of linking a lot of links within network nodes or providing raw processing power (that would be like saying any game of go can be won with large enough number of stones, which is just dumb. This isn’t a chess, kiddo)… I should definitely give some more thought to this, the ideas on the nature of the ‘central structure’ might as well be the catalyst I’ve been looking for.

The problem that continues to bother me whenever I think of artificial intelligence is the vague definition of intelligence we seem to share. Just how can we tell what is intelligent or not? Most definition at the moment seem to be about figuring out how human-like other organisms/systems are without regards to the actual ‘intelligence’ of that organism/system. I may not be a professional but I smell a very homocentric perception whenever I read something that pertains to the nature of intelligence. If intelligence is about being able to communicate with other beings then antisocial foreigners are not intelligent. If intelligence is about being able to react to the environment so that you can find sources of food and multiply, then bacteria are intelligent. Maybe even viruses. Both of them do not have any sort of nervous system like we do with ‘higher organisms’ so it makes the problem of intelligence a bit more complex.

Internet may become intelligent someday. This is the year that the internet will have the equal or higher number of hyperlinks as there are synapses in our brains. The real question is, how will we be able to tell if it is intelligent? Are we looking for intelligent traits or are we looking for human traits?  How would we be able to tell the difference when the time comes? Maybe the first machine intelligence that blossoms on the world wide web will be trampled on by us as a mere bug in the system. After all, we do it to each other all the time.

On a little side note, the diy-bio NYC had our second meeting this Monday. We made a gel box, extracted DNA, and had a jolly good time. More on that later.


American Gods and patterns in stories.

I finally got through the American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He’s a terrific writer. He’s not the best writer out there or anything (he won’t be winning any Nobel prizes anytime soon, but then does it really matter anymore?), but he’s certainly above the fray in bringing his ideas to life through words. His characters feel genuine and endearing, even the villains. None of the plot elements feel like a cop-out from a hairy situation of an author having to create unique situations for living, something I’ve seen a lot of writers succumb to.

Through the end of the book I was embroiled in some very mixed-up emotions. I wanted to see the story progress, but I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted to see the story between shadow and crow to its possible happy conclusions. I wanted to see shadow grow old and meet someone and I wanted to read what he would have been thinking at the moment. I wanted to see if he’d get to meet any other gods, and I wanted to know if it would be as humorous and wonderful as most of his other encounters with the gods of the world, past and future. As I read on to sate my curiosities, I couldn’t avoid finishing the book, and that’s the biggest gripe I have with the American Gods.

There are all sorts of heavy stuff that people trained in such arts can debate and write about all days and nights in American Gods. Some would like the feeling of America as a collection of old, used-up ideas and modern god like ideas struggling for control, afraid to be forgotten. Some would call it an old and washed out idea just like the gods of old, since it’s an archetypal picture of the American that journalists and novelists and anyone else who can write and has good enough eyes to see things around them had been writing for past half a century or so, maybe even longer. I don’t think it matters. Neil Gaiman didn’t write this novel so he can have grand disposition on the fate of the American ideas (if that were the case the future of America would lie in somewhere around Iceland, and that would be funny, not serious). He wrote this novel to write a good story with good people living in it and he did one heck of a job. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting about the three sisters, Mr. Wednesday, shadow, Laura, crow, and etc etc anytime soon. It would be great if I don’t forget about them for the rest of my life, but no one knows what will happen in the future, and hopefully I might be able to experience something even more intense.

I’d love to write about some elements in the story, but I don’t think I should. I made a blood oath never to write down spoilers when ‘reviewing’ a book in a public place. Let’s just say that I really enjoyed the book, and I never wanted it to end. I think I spent about four or five days reading this book. I would have finished earlier, but then I had sudden burst of workload on me this week so I had to pull a few late nights. I mostly read this book in the subways, and in the bed with the reading light on. I would frequently curse at myself for reading past three AM on a work day, just hoping that I would be fresh enough to not look like a zombie by the time I wake up a few hours later. I would actually anticipate the ride on the subways since it was pretty much the only time during the day that I could sit down and read for close to an hour or so. The crowd didn’t bother me but I might have bothered some nice old ladies for making weird faces while reading the book, from deadly seriousness to strange smile (the kind you get when you suppress an even bigger smile because it would be weird laughing out of the blue). But then I guess there were even weirder things on New York City subways at eleven in the night, so I probably didn’t stand out too much… Which reminds me, I’ve never seen people reading on subway who change their facial expressions before. Is it that everyone else is so well trained in managing their faces or are the books just really boring? I would say it’s the training issue, since I also become excited when I’m reading through particularly illuminating passages on a physics book, and most normal people probably don’t do that.

As I read through the American Gods, I was reminded of just how much I like reading, and sometimes even writing, creative stories. With my official status as a student I usually have to dig through a lot of journals and data, where they usually deal with diagrams and numbers without much creative license (I think I remember one of my teachers telling me that use of creative license in any scientific writing is a single ticket to ending your career. Or did I read it in a story somewhere? I can’t quite recall). Reading those dry, albeit enlightening, academic scripts seem to have taken its toll on me, and sometimes I feel like I’m a dry person myself. It’s like the case with Marge Simpson. I only think of crazy jokes or stories only after I leave the party and start my car. It drives me crazy.

That being the case, reading through the American Gods and some other fictional works before that was a cathartic experience for me. I wonder what kind of trait drives us to enjoy and seek out well-made stories involving fictional people and places? Was there some strange need for living organisms to be able to tell fantasies to each other in order to survive? The kind of fantasy where both the storyteller and the audience knows it’s fantasy but indulge in it anyway? That would be an interesting venue of research, something I sadly cannot seem to be able to find anywhere.

The American Gods also had me thinking about the archetype of stories. Whether we like it or not, elements of the ideas composing stories from various authors end up being similar to each other. Usually the difference is only made up through the skills of the writer/storyteller in masterful use of the language the story is transmitted to their audience. C.G. Jung built up a whole sub-discipline of psychology based on those archetypes found throughout human culture and even dreams, and it’s almost as if human beings are capable of only telling certain types of creative stories with varying degrees of proficiency. What would that imply in understanding human creativity? Maybe the trait of creativity isn’t as limitless as we tend to believe. Maybe creativity is just like most other mathematically derived abstract act, based off of some type of pattern that circles around itself. If that were the case, we would be able to make a machine capable of creating stories not by linking relevant words together but through linking relevant ideas together, into a preset pattern. An idea of conflict, an idea of resolution. The individual set of vocabulary and the storyline composing that single idea would be irrelevant as long as it can lead to the next part, and the transition won’t even have to be singular. It can be polyphonic like Bach’s composition, each event happening with  another in ceaseless pattern. However while I’m sure it would be interesting to create such a program/machine, I’m not sure how I would be able to handle the task of making a machine capable of creating a character. Will characters simply emerge out of the polyphonic storyline? Will their personalities simply emerge out of the series of events that the characters are subjected to, each of them simply beginning with a name?

The first thing I tend to do when I want a deeper understanding of a writer’s work is to look up information on the life of writer him/herself. The research can be illuminating in a lot of cases, which is funny when you think about it since most writers I know of make their living by creating stories that are considered very unique compared to the rest of the ‘writer population.’ Would that imply that the trait of creativity is inseparable from memories of the individual? And what should writers do when they are so prolific that they are faced with the possibility of patterns and familiar ideas appearing again and again within their works? Do they embrace the patterns and ideas and try to refine them? Or do they try to break free, staying away from such patterns and ideas appearing in their works altogether?

artscience rant

Just a little something I jotted down a moment ago on notepad, about art, science, and artscience (and possibly what artificial life has to do with it all)


A machine to create as we know it can only a machine that follows certain mathematical patterns giving output that can be interpreted by both the machine and observers as being coherent. Would it imply that there is something missing in such interpretation of the acts of creation or that act of creation and all subsequent endeavors are in effect replicating mathematical algorithms/formulae? Moreover, what exactly is the drive behind the origin of the will to create? In case of artificial machines we can say that we coded its mind/body to act in certain expected way, but the same cannot be applied to the creators of the creating machines, since (as far as we know) we haven’t been programmed by some entity in such specific manner as to will to create objects and ideas (and even that would create the question of who created the entities, so the whole line of questioning is more or less a dead-end). The obvious answer to the explanation of the behavior of creativity as things stand right now, would have to be drawn from the thermodynamic characteristics of the life-like intelligent systems themselves. Arts, and any type of object/idea creation by life-like intelligent systems must be a direct result of the thermodynamic system that forms the basis of the life-like intelligent systems themselves. In short, art is science.

A note- engine of creativity

Juergen Schmidhuber is supposedly working on an artificial scientist. I’ve come to a sudden realization that I am very interested in creating an artificial creator, or an engine of creativity, and that my interest in artificial life might have in fact been an interest in studying the origins of the trait we refer to as creativity.

It is rather curious. Will an artificial scientist be different from an artificial construct capable of demonstrating the trait we refer to as creativity? From what I am seeing, artificial scientist is an informational construct while an artificial creator is more of a physical system, thus the term engine of creativity.

Only known case of creativity exhibited in nature is us. If we ignore that the universe itself demonstrates ingenious and unexpected things through emergence, self organization and evolutionary principles, the only observed and somewhat-understood case of creativity in the universe are demonstrated by life-like systems. Would this somehow imply that only life-like systems can demonstrate traits of creativity? Would this mean that any artificial engine of creativity formed by human hand would have to be alive? Considered alive?

Brain Simulacrum

There is a semi-community project to simulate human brain using spare computing cycle in the works.

The members of the projects seem to be looking at eventual commercialization of what they achieve using this project. I assume that it might turn off some of the more devoted advocates of GNU philosophy among us, but I still think this is project is interesting enough to devote some of my unused cpu cycles to the cause… Since, well, what’s the point of letting the spare computer time go to waste? Right?

Science is fundamentally specialist and will never be able to achieve the kind of 2.0-everyone pitch in- status afforded by larger community web services today. However, the systems such as BOINC (the system used for the simulation project as well as a number of other worthy, non-commercial projects) gives us a glimpse of what ‘open-science’ in the future might be like, in that it allows concentration of necessary energy and resources to make the research come to fruition, not through any large scale departmental bureaucracy but through a sort of grassroots recycle programs of the commonly wasted byproducts of our civilization. Indeed, I’d refer to it as making full use of the machinery of the human civilization itself.
I’d like to urge anyone even passively interested to visit the BOINC website and participate in a project of your choosing. They have a number of projects in progress and the list is likely to grow in the future. Who knows, our little contribution might make the future a bit more interesting place to live.