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.

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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?

Rice shortage-Network demonstration

The matter of rice shortage is becoming increasingly mainstream. The warning of possible shortage and dangerous increase in price had been around for a long time, and unusual price hike of rice in major exporters like Thailand had been reported in (relatively) mainstream media about three to four months ago. In fact, major United Nations advisers and IMF personnel had been giving warnings since mid 2007 in mainstream sources. I myself remember scoffing at a particular warning given by a United Nations forecaster, warning of possible food shortage and criticizing the rapid increase in biocrop cultivation as a major player. I guess such is the evanescence of appealing to mainstream media, where the specific sources and logistical data to support novel claims are frequently invisible or simply unavailable.

The warning was in place, and the back-up system for possible shortage in each of the nations most heavily affected had been more or less in place. So why do we have a developing crisis at hand with reported casualties? The answer I believe, lies in the lack of distribution network in the world today. Of course, with the advent of the technology the world itself is ever more networked than before. As each second passes it is predicted that the network of the world will become thicker and wider, someday possibly encompassing every single member of humanity in direct and accessible way. But that is the network of information. What about the physical network, the infrastructure, the ones we use to ship the things we order through the virtual spaces of the net? The airlines, the shipping lanes, the railroads and the expressways. I have on reliable sources that the actual range and volume of physical shipping across the world had remained at similar or lower levels since the height of the age of imperialism so long ago (the specific source I can’t find at the moment, if someone knows otherwise please correct me). It is somewhat unlikely that there is an actual shortage of food (at least not to the degree that some sensationalist media would have us believe). What we have at hand is more akin to the lack of distribution network, so that the flow of resources are channeled into the most readily available physical network without regards to economical balance, or even, the need. In the type of eschewed free market system we have in place at the moment, there is virtually no incentive for tapping into parts of the world without pre-built infrastructure. And without the resources of the world available at hand, popular discontent is bound to rise, leading to further instability.

Living in New York city, I am physically and mentally insulated from most of such problems plaguing the world. Hipsters in fashionable clothings walk into fashionable restaurants and eat a plateful of vegetables, supposedly crafted from fashionable ingredients, possibly grown in fashinable dirt, as they clutch their fashinable laptops while hoping someone sees them writing down a ‘novel.’ In the subway a woman so bloated that she has to take up two sits and a half holds onto her third bucket of KFC. Is there something wrong with this picture? I do not particularly think so. Of course, the scene I’ve just described is certainly distasteful, but I do not believe people should be judged and criticized for utilizing the resources made available to them by the environment. The physical network of the world is configured in such a way that massive amount of cheap resources and resources expensive beyond their actual value exist hand-in-hand, composing the greater fabric of the market system.

We are all cogs reinforcing the current system of the world. And this system of the world, this world-wide system of ‘free-market’ seem to be suffering from some sort of bug. A free market system without proper physical distribution network for the market to take place on is fundamentally oppressive and exploitative, even without malice, even with good will of the individual members of the system. Perhaps it is possible to speculate that the fiasco experienced by certain biocrop based national economies are very similar to that experienced by planned and enclosed economies of the old communist nations. There had been a few novel attempts at readjusting the system of the world through various means, like freer access to information network from poorer places of the globe allowing development of a market system based on information and knowledge, but outcome of such works-in progress are unpredictable at the moment.

All I can say is, I think the problems like the kind we are seeing right now seem to stem from certain inadequacy of the global network itself, and will persist in different forms so long as that inadequacy continues to plague the system of the world. And the developed nations of the world are making a huge mistake in allowing such unbalance to continue, as such difference in network-system tend to cluster individual components into groups sharing similar traits, which in this case would be poverty and isolation of economic and cultural nature.

This reminds me, how about donating some rice to the UN? It won’t cost you a dime and you’ll probably have fun doing it.

Videodrome again…

I couldn’t sleep last night. I rustled around the house until four in the morning until I decided to watch videodrome again, a habit I’m suffering from since about four months ago. The cycle is simple. I can’t fall asleep, so I search for something to do. When I’m looking for something to do something inevitably falls in my hand. Usually that’s a copy of videodrome. The cycle had been repeating itself with unusual frequency these days… Of course, there are other things to do, and other things to watch/read when I can’t fall asleep. Yet when I’m doing something other then watching videodrome while in the kind of semi-insomniac state, there’s this odd pressing feeling that I should be dong something else.

There’s this strange atmosphere about the movie that makes it very fitting to watch while half-asleep, dead tired and in dark. Some people watch horror movies and some people read mythos novels, I guess my thing is watching videodrome. What is it that makes people have these rather unusual kinks activating under specific conditions? Is there any parallel that can be observed in behavior of other animals? Chimpanzees and monkeys come to mind, but what about dogs and cats? Bacteria perhaps? Is brain necessary for such behavior? It’s really no surprise that Hitchcock was so interested in the obsessive behavior of human beings… Is it a coincidence that first human subjects that gave the idea of universal archetypes to Jung were patients suffering from severe cases of megalomania and obsessive compulsive disorders?

And what would all this mean when applied to the concept of the human network, wherein the physical brain, changing universe and the simulacra of the real interact with each other in complex web of interactions, positively and negatively reinforcing each other.

Universal knowledge

There is an interesting notion behind some of the more network oriented mathematical researches these days, regarding possible existence of universal characteristic available to all network centric systems regardless of their physical implementation. For some odd reason I find myself coming back to such thought often in recent years, though I’m not really sure why I would pay any more attention to this fascinating subject than say, chaos in life-like system.  Regardless of the reason, if I can’t help but to think about the subject I might as well do a little musing.

How about if I apply the methods of the network-link based thinking to a bit of epistemology? The structure of the human knowledge is fundamentally network oriented in that knowledge rarely if ever come without direct reason taking the form of knowledge. In order to broaden one’s knowledge one must know something first, and from there on the individual case of knowledge is built up, one thing leading to the other and the other depending on the truth of another knowledge which plays out in complex web of positive and negative feedback like any other decent complex system in nature. What if there is a certain characteristic that the structure of knowledge must take through the virtue of taking the mathematical form of complex network? What if it is possible to arrive at previously ignored possibilities of the world simply by searching for certain structural phenomena within the knowledge network itself instead of going through every single link within the network like we do right now? Even more, what if there is a pattern that all valid structure of knowledge must follow? What if there is a way to ‘know’ the structure of the knowledge itself without being aware of all the individual components forming the knowledge network?

If there is any valid point in this musing, the implications would be quite interesting. The impact such theory of knowledge would have on the nature of artificial intelligence/life studies and natural complex systems research would be most interesting, and quite a few educators would have something to think about. They might finally begin to treat learning as a development of interface to the universal structure of knowledge instead of some twisted weeding out process to erudite the gifted (which is a process most obvious in poorer schools of the inner city area, with richer private schools taking a bit more ‘democratic’ approach, strangely enough).

All this is nothing more than talk, of course. At the moment there is no way to support such claim of universal network-centric structure of knowledge in any academic detail. There are a few interesting historical cues that might suggest in thinking such a thing, like the prevalence of the Jungian collective unconscious in many forms throughout the history, or some of the things believed by Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy movement, though both are not quite rigorous enough to lend credit to a full fledged academic research of scientific nature.

Regardless of the truth of such complex system based dispositions, mathematical phenomena seem to be getting ever closer to the structure of the real world. Maybe it is a sign of the future to come.