Friday, November 23, 2012

Will the Net gain sentience?

Jeff Sibel has an idea that should cause us all to take note.

The Internet is really a living thing.  Its wires and systems mimic human brain function in many ways.  What's more, it will only get smarter as time goes on, altering human society in transhuman ways that we cannot yet predict.

Mr. Sibel is a brain scientist and probably knows of which he speaks.  
"When you look at the Internet," he says in the BBC interview linked above, "the Internet is intelligent.  Rudimentary of course, with computers instead of neurons...we're creating a global brain."
We can see evidence of this, he argues, in the concept of "collective consciousness."  Through social media and sites such as Wikipedia, we input our information and our questions and the Internet gives us answers.  Sibel then went through a bit business-speak and my eyes and ears glazed over like a Christmas ham, but he then brought up a concept that I find intriguing: using the Internet to create "real intelligence," not "artificial intelligence." 

Taking a transhuman approach, Sibel talks about what he sees as the most significant change on the horizon: how the human brain is changing as it interacts more and more with the technology of the Internet.  He emphasizes that the Net, as it continues to be fed more and more information, will continue to evolve and grow in intelligence.  Now I know, having information is not nearly the same thing as being intelligent, but it goes a fair distance towards it.

The Internet as a living organism, perhaps one day becoming self-aware.  Far out stuff to be certain.  However, it may not be nearly as far off as people on the street might want to believe.  An aspect of this that truly makes me curious is "what happens when we cybernetically enter direct interface with the Internet?"  Are we essentially entering into another mind?  Will it be more like a hive mind?  Who knows?

I am not scared of what is to come, not in terms of transhumanism.  In fact, I foresee numerous balsamaceous opportunities.  There is, however, pause for concern and consideration of "The Law of Unintended Consequences." 
Wow.  Now I really want to write that play that I wrote about yesterday.

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  1. Great post! It really got me thinking.

    Let me start off saying that I am fully aware of modern, working human/cybernetic (for lack of a better word) artificial limbs and prosthetics that give a bit of hope to those that need it.

    But, as cool as the whole singularity, and the mensch-maschine idea is, I'm a bit worried that the idea of anyone being able to "jack-in" (sans computer) to some larger mainframe is merely another flying car that we dream of today.
    It is for this reason that I don't think that machines will ever take over the human race. But I reserve the right to be a hypocrite. If there ever is a point when machines become self-aware, it won't be the "internet" that becomes self aware. I think it will be one hacker's computer in particular that might start the whole uprising, and it will be guided by a human hand the entire time.

  2. Thanks!
    I concur that the whole "the machines will take over" meme makes for good fiction, but I don't see it as a realistic probability.
    Ask not what the Singularity can do for you!


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