Joslyn, Goertzel and the Global Brain

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In a recent article for H+ Magazine, AGI reasearcher, and Ben Goertzel interviewed cybernetisist Cliff Joslyn about the Global Brain.  The Global Brain is a metaphor for the worldwide intelligent network formed by people together with the information and communication technologies that connect them into an "organic" whole. As the Internet becomes faster, more intelligent, more ubiquitous and more encompassing, it increasingly ties us together in a single information processing system, that functions like a "brain" for the planet Earth.

As Joslyn explains the global brain:

...the transition to the global brain we will see both trends operating simultaneously at different levels. On the one hand, we are seeing a vast increase in the variety of kinds of activities and information available to individuals. This does not just facilitate human freedom, it effectively is human freedom in the sense of there being an increasing variety of possible states of human experience and actions. But on the other hand, constraints are introduced from the global level through economic and technological processes, and “canalization” and self-organizing around norms, protocols, and economic structures. One can start to see this already as the IT landscape evolves and forces of centralization e.g. doom MySpace while crowning Facebook. Note that this is not new specifically to the GB in the sense of the penetration of global IT, but rather is a general feature of social evolution greatly exaggerated by the GB experience.

One exchange in particular is enlightening:

Ben:And what about the Singularity – how does that tie in with the Global Brain in your view?  You’re familiar with Ray Kurzweil’s and Vernor Vinge’s notion of the Singularity, obviously.  When we discussed this years ago you seemed skeptical and talked about how development tends to follow an S-curve rather than an exponential curve.  Ray’s standard refutation to this is that if you pile a lot of S-curves on top of each other in the right way you get an exponential, and that’s how he perceives human history.  What’s your current take on this?  Is the Singularity near?   Max More likes to talk about a Surge rather than a Singularity — a steady ongoing growth of advanced technology, but without necessarily there being any point of extremely sudden and shocking advance.  His Surge would ultimately get us to the same (radically transhuman) point as Kurzweil’s Singularity, but according to a different slope ofprogress.  Are you perhaps more friendly to  Max’s Surge notion than Ray and Vernor’s Singularity?
Cliff:I recall that discussion, but didn’t follow through on the math of it, how an ascending sequence of logistic curves can act. I don’t know More’s work, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve heard of Kurzweil’s theory. A relatively nearer-term prediction of his which could really be significant, would be the development of effective photo-voltaic technology. And it would be good to identify precursors of his predictions concerning biological nanobots. I think it’s a good observation that engineering of the human form may be instrumental in advancing a GB. We’ve certainly been seeing how , recent IT advances are quite dependent on human form factors (next stop: iWatch). Vinge’s recent book – Rainbows End – suggests a world approaching the singularity, and one completely consistent with current IT: I do want my heads-up contact lenses, now! 
Ben: Hmmm… so, hearing you talk about these things now, it seems to me that you’ve become more amenable to the Singularity hypothesis over the last decade? Would you say this is accurate? If so, what would you say have been the main reasons for the shift in your opinion? 
Cliff:Well, the basic structure of the argument is hard to avoid, that exponential efficiency improvements have been dominant over decades, a situation which cannot be projected forward indefinitely. But it’s a quantitative issue, if you’re on a slope being measured at a time scale where noise is a dominant factor, how can it be known whether you’re observing exponential, polynomial, or logistic behavior over the long run? Or to say it another way, how fast is Moore’s law approaching physical limits (quantum, information theoretical), say barring a breakthrough in e.g. quantum computing? No doubt something “different” will be happening in a few more decades, but whether we push through a singularity, bounce (or crash!) off a limit, or ease into a logistic deceleration, I think does not admit to any easy models.

Joslyn has recognized the meaning that technology developing exponentially leads to a plausible argument for The Singularity. Although the discussion does not explore or define the technological and scientific vectors towards this direction in depth, it does provide an interesting exploration as to how multiple AGI agents may interact with and utilize the internet as a global brain.