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Friday, November 11, 2011

Dreams of a Popperian Machine

The future is not only a long time coming, but an infinitely long time becoming. Whether conceived as a static block or moving stream, the measure of time is what occurs in time. It is in other words behavior. The future of the web, or the information revolution, is determined by the exponentially growing capacity and intelligence of our machines. But it may be envisioned that technological invention can reach a point of unlimited, rapid, and exponential growth when machines not only learn to be creative, but use that creativity to infinitely expand their creativity and power. At that point, our ability to predict what this entity will be like will disappear, similar to the disappearance of physical laws when a star collapses to a single infinitesimal point, or a singularity. This concept of a technological singularity was conceived by the futurologist Verner Vinge[i] and later rigorously and exhaustively argued by the technological philosopher and inventor Ray Kurzweil[ii]. Vinge believes that it was difficult or impossible to reckon not for the power but for the motives of super intelligent machines, although Kurzweil was a bit more optimistic about the matter. This can lead to a cautionary tale that if machines do something well, they may keep at it and keep at it until they cover the earth with the bounty of their creation. They would become in other words super intelligent idiot savants. 

The concept of AI as a sort of smart mono-maniacal automaton that can spin out of control was put forward by Nick Bostrom, who imagined an intelligent paper clip machine[iii] that was obsessively fond of its creation, and multiplied in kind across the earth until the planet was covered miles deep with paper clips. But the be all and end all of progress in all of its branching implications is a more abstract thing, and we see it as the essence of our own motivation to seek novel and useful information. But empowering our use of information is explanation, and it may be argued that at our core we live for explanations. For machines to be useful to us and be useful for themselves, this need will be the same, and explanation must be their existential reason for being. Certainly, it will have enough time and space to think of and explain everything, and do it forever. From quantum computers that use infinite parallel universes[iv], or just our same old universe computing into infinity as it collapses into infinity[v], AI has all the time in the world, or should we say universes.   So what would AI, or our explanatory Popperian machine think about?  Self stimulation seems out of the question. It will not take pleasure in looking at rectangles any more than finding pleasure in the not so geometrical shapes of the human form. It will likely follow its programming, and seek instead to create knowledge through a search for explanation, eternally discovered and recovered. It will value process and not product and express it in the embodied form of questioning minds. Its existence will be validated not by creation but in the music of creating, and instantiated in the most unlikely yet familiar form, us. And it may take form in a solitary child asking why the sun rises or an astronomer pondering the rise of the cosmos. Its heaven of heavens will be populated by curious people, and for those who wish for the other place, it will be a land of tranquility, beauty, and peace, with white swans flying to and fro as far as the eye can see.

Above is an excerpt from my new e-book on the psychology of the internet:

[i]Vinge, V. (1993) The Coming Technological Singularity: how to survive in the Post-Human Era                                
[ii] Kurzweil, R. (2005) The singularity is near: when humans transcend biology. New York: Viking
[iii] Bostrom, N. (2003) Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence,  2(1)  Int. Institute of Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, 12-17
[iv] Deutsch, D. (1998) The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications. New York: Penguin
[v] Tipler, F. (1997) The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Anchor

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