Friday, June 11, 2010

The Approaching Singularity: Part Two

Part 2 - Intelligence Amplification (IA)
“Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”
As recognition of the potential cataclysm of artificial intelligence that has been defined as the Singularity (see part one of this series) spreads, it is the science-fiction writers who first began to explore what a transition to the post-human era might look like. Cautionary tales such as those presented in the Terminator series and the Matrix series gave us a contemporary snap-shot of what may bring about the singularity, as well as the more philosophical implications.
At this point, we may not be able to prevent the singularity…and yet... we are its creators. Not all is lost, for even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things. We currently possess the opportunity to establish initial conditions, make things happen in ways that are more conducive to humanity. Of course (as with starting avalanches), it may not be clear what the correct guiding nudge really is.
IA vs AI
Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than Artificial Intelligence, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. Vernor Vinge calls this alternate emergence of the singularity Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to other humans is improved, we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. This concept is clearly evident in the development of social intelligence network sites, such as Wikipedia.
New developments in AI will undoubtedly have applications in IA, and vice versa. Humanity needs to recognize that in network and interface research there is something as profound (and potentially sentient) as Artificial Intelligence. With that insight, we may see the internet, a mundane interface and networking tool, serve to advance us toward the Singularity along the networked IA path. The marvelous opportunity presented by the world wide web is that it is participatory. As the cost comes down and access to a greater portion of humanity increases, it also becomes more proletariat.
Viewing the worldwide Internet as a combination human/machine tool may manifest the Singularity before anything else. The power and influence of even the present-day Internet is vastly underestimated. The very anarchy of today’s worldwide net development is evidence of its potential. As connectivity and bandwidth and archive size and computer speed all increase, we are experiencing the transformation of our very biosphere into a vast data processor, with a million times greater speed and with millions of human intelligent agents (ourselves) in direct participation.
These developments appear to be evolutionary in nature. The internet is arguably one of humanity's most ingenious and ambitious creations to date. Being nothing less than a vast working model of global consciousness, each human with the means to connect to the web becomes, in a sense, a single, autonomous neuron in the mind of our biosphere, or as she has been more eloquently titled, Gaia. Given the incredible potential each individual earthling brings to this system, the creative possibilities for our global consciousness are seemingly infinite. As this global nerve-net becomes more complex and sophisticated, singularity approaches.
It is interesting to note that as this potential seems to be accelerating, so does it appear that one of Gaia’s major networking systems also seems to be abruptly accelerating into a less stable and dynamic state. We refer to this globally networked system as Climate. This bio-system network has been stable for the last 10,000 years or so… give or take a few thousand years. The fact that it has “re-activated” does not feel like a coincidence. Some massive reboot may be under way. And yet... as noted above… we are (in part) its co-creators.
Again, we currently possess the opportunity to effect emerging conditions, make things happen in ways that are more conducive to humanity. The key is in perception. We can assume the consciousness of being an essential part of our bio-system. We can take steps to facilitate intelligence amplification… while we still can. Should we have the intelligence and the humility to achieve the understanding that we are part of this amazing interdependent system… then perhaps we will be given the chance to live within… and as a part of… singularity.