Thursday, February 12, 2004

I'm still thinking about Steven Den Beste's excellent post about Hive Minds, in particular this part:

The emergent result may well be that some will exhibit behavior indicating intelligence at a level beyond that of individual humans, capable of "thinking" thoughts no single human could conceive of. Even with industrial-level technology, that's already happened. Science, in particular, is such a thing, as is modern engineering. Engineering at a primitive level has been with us since the creation of the first stone tools. But science as we now know it is very recent, only going back about 500 years (though one can identify predecessors extending back millennia before that).

Science was limited by the communications technology available. It was impossible without industrial-level communications technology, but was slow and inefficient even with it, and it picked up speed as communications technology improved.

Partly that's because of an internal feedback loop inside science itself: the more you know, the easier it is to understand more. There's also an external feedback loop: engineering improves as science advances, and in turn engineers creates better tools for scientists and better communications technologies scientists can use to share their results. (And engineering in turn has its own internal feedback loop, as engineers create better tools for other engineers to use.) Once this goes beyond a certain low level, it begins to produce exponential growth in both engineering and science, and that began about 200 years ago.

And because of that, the collaborative effort we call science is the first major case I know of where the collective "thought process" transcended the ability of a single human, even though it "thought" much more slowly than a human did.

And now we have reached the point where the science/engineering feedback loop has given engineers the tools and technologies to create the internet, the most recent of my four most important inventions in human history. And just as with the other three (spoken language, writing, movable type printing) it will cause a "knee" in human capabilities and behavior. And because of that, a true superhuman "intelligence" may appear during our lifetime.

He also write more generally on what Hive Minds might be like:

At any given instant, there will be a myriad of such hive-minds exhibiting a broad range of behaviors and capabilities. New ones would form all the time and old ones would falter and die. Some will only "think" in very restricted realms, while others may range broadly. In terms of observable intelligence level they would fall on a continuum. Some might be "geniuses", some "morons", some might operate at the level of animals or even plants. There will be the equivalent of diseases (i.e. chain letters). There will be the equivalent of parasites (file sharing networks pirating music and movies). Some will be valuable and constructive, some will be trivial and useless, and some will be insane. Some of those will be dangerously insane.

Sometimes hive-minds will form in response to others in order to oppose them. Hive-minds will compete and contend. Some will cooperate, forming coalitions. Sometimes that will cause them to merge. Some hive-minds will break into pieces, yielding children whose contributing members sort themselves based on their disagreements. And generally they'll be self-organizing, and many will be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

Yet I find it interesting to compare the latter to the former. Suppose science and technology to be a single Hive Mind, since they interact so frequently. How could another competing hive mind form? To be sure, an individual might decide to do research and not communicate with the rest of the scientific establishment. A large group communicating with each other might even do so. Unless this state of affairs continued for hundreds of years, it's hard to consider there would be more than one Hive Mind thinking about science in any meaningful sense. The history of science has no precedent for that - if the results were interesting and useful, they would leak out, and eventually other scientists would start working on the same thing. If not, they would die out. In other words, either the two hive minds would merge, or one would sputter out. In a fundamental sense, there may be only one hive mind for our species, like it or not. While we cannot choose to not be part of that Hive Mind, it doesn't restrict our freedom or individuality, but is instead composed of them.

That Hive Mind is composed of more than scientists and engineers. Perhaps they are the core (and cortex) of this mind, but the economic value of new discoveries and the respect of the most prosperous of us for science and engineering have played a major part in it's development. Perhaps even those most opposed to the changes it has wrought are part of it, as our own doubts are still part of our brains.

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