Sunday, October 10, 2010

Artificial Intelligence

Maybe I've said it before, but the idea that any intelligence can somehow be artificial feels misleading. If you separate the element of humanity from intelligence, it is easy to see that all intelligences are real, not artificial. On the other hand, the concept of artificial doesn't make any sense to me to begin with. Regardless, consider the mechanical structure of the mammalian nervous network: it is indeed a network of trillions of cells, little nodes, communication points. When you touch something, a change in net potential electrical charge of ions over neural cell membranes travels from your fingertips through nerves (made of neurons) to your brain. When it enters your brain, it traverses a number of distinct pathways en route to the mammalian cerebral cortex, which is a recent development in Life; mammals specifically have this part of the central nervous system, whereas lizards and other less evolved creatures do not. This construct of many individual nodes networked into some meta entity with whatever emergent properties is not a unique one though. Perhaps the greatest example I can think of other than the brain is this thing called the internet--it too is composed of many networked nodes, and in several senses of the word. For one, the internet works thanks to a tremendous amount of electronic switching nodes, which are in many ways similar to the neurons of our own brains. Alternatively, perhaps people are nodes in this "higher" mind called the Internet, each mind some small part of a more complicated implementation of consciousness. It is difficult to say with any certainty if the systems of switches and wires performing our rote requests is experiencing some kind of consciousness--after all, how could we tell? We can't even measure or readily define our own conscious experience, how are we to begin to hope to communicate with this higher mind!? Even then, it is certain that the construction of this higher mind is very different from the mammalian brain, and doesn't this seem to strongly suggest that its experience or manifestation of consciousness would likewise be very different? I'm reminded of higher dimensions: when you think about one, two, or three dimensions, things make a reasonable amount of sense. But when you get into higher dimensions, even just four, things cease to make hardly any sense at all. So imagine it from a different perspective, one conscious dimension lower than the one we're used to: if you were a cell, one among trillions, could you even begin to imagine the everyday human experience? And yet cells are stupendously sophisticated machines, sophisticated enough to prevent us from answering many questions about human health, answers they have to reveal.

It goes without saying that the value of science is very real, which is another way of saying that our intuition frequently misleads us--if thinking alone were enough we'd have faster than light zero-energy transportation and the galaxy would be colonized by now because the easiest way to do those things would be obvious, as obvious as the Earth revolving around the Sun nearer the edge of the Milky Way galaxy among hundreds of billions of others. Once it is seen that our rough draft perception of things is generally wrong, the confidence in human intelligence erodes, and I think makes a stronger case for "intelligence" being something not anthropospecific.

Note it is institutionally correct to capitalize Internet; it is a proper noun. Even if all this somewhat ambiguous babbling about higher minds is patently false, there's no loss in the magnitude of the Internet. For certain it has become something fairly hard to define on all levels, and regardless a boon to our lifestyle to an inconceivable degree. Imagine, if some great mind were born a few decades ago just a bit too lazy, they might never flourish for lack of access to information. Now however, an inconceivable amount of information is literally available at our fingertips (I was just getting a refresher on the mesencephalon, and earlier I was playing with Wolfram Alpha which can show you how to solve even ambiguous equations like 2x3 - 6.543x = x2, among many other things). If there were any aspiring minds starved of information before, there are definitely a lot fewer now.

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