Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I've been wondering if I've been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking how an emergent global brain should work, maybe we should ask why it's not working instead - why a global brain capable of turning our world into a near utopia hasn't already emerged. Of course there's an implicit assumption here, since not all units show emergent behavior when gathered together in large numbers, and not all emergent behavior would be considered intelligent in terms of the goals of the individual units that make up the emergent entity - even to the extent those units have coherent goals.

There is some evidence for the idea that such a global brain would naturally emerge if no obstructions arose - although hardly conclusive. Recently I've visited this essay by Paul Cox several times. While I don't know enough about the history of the Cloudmakers to be competent to comment independently, what I've viewed of the website so far is interesting.

From Part II of What is Mathematics:

A hive mentality, sometimes called a "hive mind" is similar to an insect colony (i.e. ants or bees) which individually behave seemingly independent, and almost unpredictably random, but when thought of as a whole, they manage success far exceeding what any one of them could accomplish. Examples of human based hive minds include the scientific community, including the mathematics community, governments and charitable organizations. Most of these "hive mind" societies are too large or too complicated to study up close and find out what makes them successful or failures.

Cloudmakers is a fairly controlled environment, it shows all the signs of success, and it numbers between 1000-6000 participants world wide over a span of just a few months. By studying the behavior of this group, a lot can be learned in understanding the behavior of much larger groups over longer periods of time.

I should point out that there is a difference between "hive mentality" and "mob mentality", that difference is an informed hierarchy. One of the things the Cloudmakers did early on was establish two groups, a free for all discussion group and a moderated group that featured the most important and informative messages of the free for all group. If you want your point to get attention, you need to convince a moderator, and it will be forwarded to the "important" group. The moderators are not there to dictate, they are there to keep things productive and civil. If they wanted to take control, I doubt it would be possible.

All "hive mind" structures have similar structures. In the sciences, you have publishers of prestigious journals. If you want your opinion read or recognized, you need to convince an editor first. Representative democratic governments have a hive mind structure, which may explain their superiority over other forms of government. A true democracy is a free for all. In a representative government, proposed laws and policies have to go through the legislators for consideration.

In chapter two of his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talks about how several thousand strangers self assembled themselves into a hive mind capable of playing a game of pong with only a few seconds worth of instructions, although the collective probably did not play as well as the most dextrous person present would have played alone.

It seems that under the right circumstances intelligence may emerge from groups of humans with a common purpose even if none of them have an abstract interest in or knowledge of emergent intelligence. Perhaps neural intelligence is even scalable, so that some of the devices used by neurons and groups of neurons to create an intelligence are similar to strategies that human groups use to cooperate. At any rate, although this idea may ultimately fail to shed any light on the subject of emergent democracy, I think it's worth trying.

Some individuals are fully as capable of engaging in self destructive behavior as is our species as a whole. One form of this is when parts of our brain seem to be struggling against other parts, or at least not working well with them. This can be as simple as one part of your brain deciding to diet, while other parts seem to be prompting you to eat. Dr. Fredric Schiffer has written interesting book on how some psychological problems might be caused by struggles between different hemispheres of our brain. Those who agree with him are still a small minority among scientists, although some of his research has been published in peer reviewed journals.

Certainly polarization is everywhere among our species. Perhaps this is one of the things impeding our self assembly into a functional global brain. If so, to some extent our path is cut out for us, although it will be neither simple nor easy. When two sides disagree, the blame is not automatically equal on both sides. On the other hand, it is all of us collectively who have failed to become a cosmic mind capable of reshaping the universe.

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