I’d like to share some ideas I’ve had today about robotics, ai, and the internet.
First lets discuss robotics. There has been much work in the field of robotics to create bi-pedal humanoid like machines. Much, if not most, of the work pursues what I consider the ideal: being as human as possible. When you look at just the mechanics and kinematics of the quest, you can see we are indeed making great progress. However, when you take into consideration longevity, perpetuation (ie. life-like procreation), energy, and immune systems, we seem a long ways away from that ideal of being human. Not many machines to date can last over 100 years like a human can. Most rust or break and once broken lack the ability to fix themselves like a human can. When we get injured we heal ourselves and life another day. Humans procreate and perpetuate the species and life itself. Humans can gather energy from a multitude of sources whereas most robots are currently electron based. No robot can replicate itself as well as life and we are a long ways away from life-like machine replication. Life and humans are the ideal that a large part of robotics research strives for as a result. If our science would reach a point where we were capable of creating human-like machines capable of perpetuating itself, we would likely end up with exactly what we’ve got already. We wouldn’t likely be using electron based energy sources because its much easier and efficient to generate energy from complex carbon structures like human food. We’d have machines that were capable of building themselves from the tiniest of components like DNA which would essentially be the program to create the robot, concise, redundant, and reliable. The most advanced robots would construct themselves from something like DNA and build itself an immune system to heal itself when it was injured. In the end, we would just be recreating ourselves. Would we do as good a job? How are we to improve upon what we’ve already got when we can’t even match what we’ve already got?
The same argument can be said of artificial intelligence. The ideal is to create an ai that can pass the Turring test and behave exactly as human as a human would behave. While there is no doubt that specialized skills far surpass any of our own and researchers are making amazing progress we still shoot for the ideal. What would an ideal intelligence be like? It would be logical but yet still capable of being creative. It needs to be self motivating and it needs to be able to learn from its mistakes. It needs the ability to store vast amounts of information in a small amount of space and it needs to be able to filter out what’s important from that information as quickly as a human can. I have complete confidence that the singularity will occur but will it be creative enough to keep itself alive? Will it have the motivation and the drive? What purpose would it find for itself? Ultimately, the ideal intelligence that we shoot for is human. We can create special purpose machines that almost seem human but they can’t currently match the complete set of abilities of a human.
Next lets discuss the internet. We’ve created a network of energy transmissions that spans the globe. A magnetic storage device on one side of the planet stores a file that is retrieved over the internet. The magnetic energy is converted to electrons, electrons are converted to wifi, wifi is converted back to electrons, somewhere they may get converted to light and sent over fiber optics only to be converted back into electrons and then converted to radio waves and shot into low orbit to a satellite which bounces the signal back to Earth. The radio waves from the satellite get converted back to electrons, to light, to electrons, to wifi, to electrons and finally converted into to photons again on your laptop LCD screen. All this happening over the span of the entire planet every single second, 24 hours a day. What we have created, whether we know it or not, is the most complex brain we have ever known. Humans are acting as sensors and collectively as the life force behind this brain. We feed it the electricity it needs. We fix it when it breaks. We feed it data constantly and we move data around through the brain constantly.
At some point and somehow this complex network will create some type of emergent property. It may be visualized in human behavior such as how social networking is changing the wiring of our brains. It may be realized as societal shifts in thinking or a global consciousness of society. Regardless of how or what happens, this emergent property will rise out of the network as our own consciousness emerges from the complexity of our own minds. The internet isn’t just a network of computers. Its a network of human minds across an entire planet and the consciousness that emerges from that will change society forever. What would a human mind be without consciousness? We call people vegetables when they aren’t capable of thinking anymore after accidents. Is the internet a vegetable? Not at all. The internet is more like a child coming into being slowly gaining consciousness and self awareness. How would we even know if the internet became conscious? It may be that humans may not even realize the internet is a conscious being. Does a neuron in your mind have some conscious understanding that its just another part of a large network of neurons that make up your brain and that somehow a conscious being has emerged from that complex network of neurons? Certainly it sounds ludicrous to think a neuron would have such an awareness and its reasonable to assume we too would be just as clueless as to the emergent properties of the internet.
Perhaps the emergent properties will only happen over many lifetimes in a way that’s not perceivable to a single limited human lifespan but rather stretch generations. Whenever and however it happens, I’m convinced it will though I have little more than this rambling blog entry to justify it.