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ADDING INTELLIGENCE TO INTERNET,
THE GLOBAL BRAIN
The World Wide Web is a network of inter-connectivity that goes everywhere and follows its own intelligence. The advent of this newly emerging communication field around our planet has enabled citizens from all lifestyles to communicate globally via words, sounds and pictures â€œ inexpensively, person-to-person; and from the safety of their own homes and offices â€œ for the first time. Could tomorrowâ„¢s global brain allow uploading the human mind At present, information exchanged between humans and computers only occur with mouse, keyboard or voice. However, many futurists believe that one day technology will enable us to separate our minds from the physical brain and store this information in a computer. In the future, many believe we will treat the human mind like any other bit of information by copying and storing it in various media. Scientists are aware that our mind roams over trillions of neuron connections and today, we do not possess abilities to understand this incredibly complex system.
But by mid-2030s, when artificial intelligence is expected to surpass human intelligence levels, and quantum computing systems become reality, positive futurists believe that our global brain will become fully conscious and self-aware as it guides humanity into what promises to become the most magical future.
Syed Furquan Ahmed Department of CSE
The World Wide Web is a network of inter-connectivity that goes everywhere and follows its own intelligence. The advent of this newly emerging communication field around our planet has enabled citizens from all lifestyles to communicate globally via words, sounds and pictures â€œ inexpensively, person-to-person; and from the safety of their own homes and offices â€œ for the first time.
The Internet represents a major step in our evolution, and is a forerunner of things to come. Artificial intelligence researcher Francis Heylighen sees huge growth as this new world-wide communication system continues to gain power from billions of humans adding to its intelligence every day. It will get smarter, Heylighen says, as it morphs into a global super-organism that could one day provide solutions to most of humanities problems.
Experts compare the Internet to a planet growing a global brain. As users, we represent the neurons. Texting, emails, and IM act as nerve endings, and electromagnetic waves through the sky become neural pathways. Like germinating seeds, this global brain continues to evolve and as some forward-thinkers believe, will not stop until it develops feelings and achieves consciousness.
Feelings represent a lower level of awareness of what goes on in a systemâ„¢s environment. In that sense, the global brain will be conscious of important events affecting its goals. A higher level of consciousness â€œ self-awareness â€œ would require that the global brain could reflect on its own functioning. The Internet, in the wider sense of the world community is slowly becoming aware of itself. Although todayâ„¢s algorithms make the web more intelligent, it cannot monitor itself.
The "Global Brain" (GB) is a metaphor for this emerging, collectively intelligent network that is formed by the people of this planet together with the computers, knowledge bases, and communication links that connect them together . This network is an immensely complex, self-organizing system. It not only processes information, but increasingly can be seen to play the role of a brain: making decisions, solving problems, learning new connections, and discovering new ideas. No individual, organization or computer is in control of this system: its knowledge and intelligence are distributed over all its components. They emerge from the collective interactions between all the human and machine subsystems. Such a system may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that have eluded more traditional approaches. Yet, at the same time it will create new technological and social challenges which are still difficult to imagine.
2) Perspectives of Global Brain
Francis Heylighen, who contributed much to the development of the concept, distinguished in three different perspectives on the global brain, Organicism, Encyclopedism and Emergentism, that developed relatively independently but that now appear to have come together into a single conception.
a) Oragnicism This perspective sees our planet or our society as a living system. This view can be dated back to 1159 with John of Salisbury. In his treatise of political science the Policraticus he compares society to a creature. Each social class plays a role attributed by God: the king is the head, the Church is the soul, the judges and governors are the eyes and the ears, soldiers the hands and farmers the feet. Thomas Hobbes also compared society to the marine monster, the Leviathan in his famous piece of work bearing the same name. However, it is Herbert Spencer who studied in most details this analogy in his monumental Principles of Sociology. Gregory Stock proposed in 1993 a modern vision of superorganism formed by humans and machines, which he calls "Metaman". In this organic metaphor, the analogue of the nervous system is the global brain. The exchanges of information on Earth are processing at a high rate and speed, similar to the functioning of a nervous system.
In the perspective of encyclopedism, the emphasis is on developing a universal knowledge network. The first attempt to create such an integrated system of the world's knowledge was the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert. However, by the end of the 19th century, the amount of knowledge had become too large to be published in a single synthetic volume. To tackle this problem, Paul Otlet founded the science of documentation, now called information science, eventually envisaging a world-wide web like interface that would make all the world's knowledge available immediately to anybody. H. G. Wells proposed the similar idea of a collaboratively developed world encyclopedia, which he called a World Brain. Nowadays this dream of a universal encyclopedia seems to become a reality with Wikipedia. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, too was inspired by the free associative possibilities of the brain for his invention. The brain can link different kinds of information without any apparent link otherwise; Lee thought that computers could become much more powerful if they could imitate this functioning, i.e. make links between any arbitrary pieces of information.
This approach focuses on more spiritual and speculative aspects of the global brain. The global brain is here seen as a higher level of evolution. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his The Phenomenon of Man made a remarkable synthesis of science and religion and had a vision of evolution towards more complexity and consciousness. He anticipated a new level of consciousness, a network of thoughts which he called the noosphere. This can be interpreted as an early anticipation of internet and the web. Peter Russell also emphasized the spiritual dimension that everyone should strive for, in order to achieve a greater synergy in the superorganism. The emergence of a higher order system in evolution may be called a "meta system" (a concept introduced by Valentin Turchin) or a "major evolutionary transition".
Synonyms for GB
Different people have proposed many different names for this concept of an cognitive system at the planetary level: planetary brain, world brain, global mind, noosphere, social brain, and super-brain are some of the roughly equivalent synonyms. For the global superorganism, there are some less obvious equivalent terms, such as Metaman (proposed by G. Stock), cybion (J. de Rosnay), the super-being (V. Turchin), and social organism.
3) Technologies being developed for GB
To make the global information network function really at a higher level of intelligence, instead of merely storing and transmitting data, new technologies are needed. These technologies are inspired by our understanding of how the human brain works: how it learns associations, thinks, makes decisions, etc. At the same time, these technologies must take into account that the information on the net is not centrally controlled, but distributed over millions of people and documents, with billions of cross-connections. Thus, cognitive processes at the level of the GB must allow all this chaotic, heterogeneous information to interact so that collective patterns can appear. Some of the more traditional technologies include the various methods of keyword-based information retrieval. Others may use techniques derived from artificial intelligence, such as software agents, neural networks or data mining. Still others, such as collaborative filtering or groupware, enhance collective problem solving.
Can there be a GB without Information Technology In principle, it is possible to imagine a GB even in the absence of information technology. As ideas ("memes") are communicated from person to person, they evolve, assimilating the contributions and points of views of myriads of people. Thus, society has some kind of a collective mind, constantly developing new thoughts that cannot be reduced to any individual contribution. However, in the absence of modern technology, this "collective thought" required decades to develop any new insights. Global media have made this process much more efficient, allowing ideas to spread and evolve in hours rather than decades. This turns the GB from an interesting analogy into a phenomenon that can be concretely experienced.
What is the role of the internet
Although we could imagine GB processes supported by various types of communication technologies, such as fax, interactive TV, or a centralized bulletin board style system, like the French Minitel, or the former CompuServe, the Internet is particularly well-suited for the GB. The reason is the Internet's decentralized, self-organizing nature, where information will travel through whatever route available, bypassing network nodes that are down, or simply don't allow access to that kind of information.
What is the role of the World-Wide Web
The web is the hypermedia interface to the information residing on the Internet. The web is a standard that allows network documents to contain information in various media, such as text, pictures, and sounds, and most importantly hyperlinks to other documents. These links allow you to access a related document by simply clicking on a text or picture. This document may reside on the same computer or on a computer in a different continent, without this making any difference to the user. Thus, the web makes it possible to seamlessly integrate documents that are distributed over the entire planet, and created by people who may not even be aware of each others' existence. What holds these documents together is not their geographic location, but their degree of association: links will connect mutually relevant pages. In that respect, this hypermedia architecture is similar to the one of our brain, where concepts are connected by associations, and the corresponding assemblies of neurons by synapses.
How can the web be made more intelligent
The web as sketched above functions like a huge associative memory for society. However, the brain is more than a static memory: it can learn and think. Learning takes place by the strengthening of associations that are used often, and the weakening of rarely used associations. Through learning, the brain constantly enhances its organization and increases its store of knowledge. Thinking happens by the activation of concepts and the "spreading" of this activation to related concepts, in proportion to the strength of association. Thinking allows the brain to solve problems, to make decisions, and to be creative, that is, discover combinations of concepts never encountered before. By making simple changes to its static architecture, we can implement similar processes on the web, thus spectacularly enhancing its intelligence and overall usefulness.
The global brain is not just about technological systems, but about what emerges from the interplay between technology and humanity. Therefore, the workshop will look at the implications of the emergence of such an intelligent global network at the social, economical, psychological and philosophical levels. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
Â¢ Education (distance learning, electronic universities)
Â¢ Effects on economic and social development and integration
Â¢ Infrastructure stability, robustness, and management
Â¢ Implications for governance (electronic democracy)
4) Benefits expected from GB
a) To tackle information overload: As more and more documents, services, and people move to the Internet, retrieving, sending and receiving information becomes in practice effortless and free. Whereas information used to be scarce, and therefore costly, it is now increasingly abundant. This means that ever larger amounts of potentially interesting messages, documents and announcements will clamor for our attention. However, attention, unlike information, will remain scarce: our brain is simply unable to attend to more than a few dozen messages a day. Therefore, we will need support from a system that is capable to sort through billions of information items and select those that are most relevant to our particular situation and interests.
b) Advantages over search engines: Presently, the most common approach to tackle information overload uses software filters, such as agents or search engines that only retrieve documents fulfilling certain criteria. However, these criteria are based on a limited number of rigidly defined components, such as keywords. The value of a document is difficult to determine in terms of such components. For example, a relevant document may use different keywords and will therefore not be found, or a worthless document may contain all the right keywords and therefore be returned as a primary "hit". This explains why search engines often return loads of pages that are not relevant to your query. Value is ultimately determined by the people using and appreciating a document. The GB gets its knowledge from the implicit evaluations made by its users collectively. Therefore, the GB is a much more universal and flexible instrument for selecting relevant items.
c) Relation with new economy: The market is the collective system of transactions that helps supply to match demand, and thus to fulfill the need for products and services of the collective customer. The traditional market is rather inefficient, requiring a huge infrastructure of middlemen, specialized organizations such as stock exchanges and auctions, and communication channels. The Internet allows all such transactions to take place much more quickly and transparently, with less cost and effort. This strongly reduces "friction", making the economy more efficient so that demand can be satisfied more rapidly, more accurately, and at a lower cost. The GB will not only facilitate direct communication between buyers and sellers, but help buyers to find the best value (e.g. through shopping agents to compare prices), and help sellers to get the best price (e.g. through automatic auctioning systems). The net effect is that growth increases, while inflation and economic instability decrease. Moreover, there will be less waste because of unsold items or goods shipped far away when there is demand around the corner.
d) Helps to overcome conflicts: The GB in principle provides a universal channel through which people from all countries, languages and cultures of this world can communicate. This will make it easier to reduce mutual ignorance and misunderstandings, or discuss and resolve differences of opinion. The ease with which good ideas can spread over the whole planet will make it easier to reach global consensus about issues that concern everybody. The free flow of information will make it more difficult for authoritarian regimes to plan suppression or war. The more efficient economy will indirectly reduce the threat of conflict, since there will be less competition for scarce resources.
e) Makes people happy: Statistics about life satisfaction in different countries show that people are most happy when their society provides them with sufficient health, wealth, security, knowledge, freedom and equality. The GB can directly or indirectly contribute to each of these fundamental values. The GB itself will provide universal access to all of humanity's knowledge, and thus indirectly increase people's freedom to choose their own path, while providing them with more equal opportunities. Its effect on the economy will directly create more wealth, and indirectly resources to invest in medical care, education, safety measures, etc. Its support for the creation of new knowledge will boost science and technology, and thus help them to solve a whole range of medical, social and ecological problems.
5) Background and Motivation
Without doubt, the most important technological, economic and social development of the past decade is the emergence of a global computer-based communication network. This network has been growing at an explosive rate, affectingâ€directly or indirectlyâ€ever more aspects of the daily lives of the people on this planet. Amidst this growing complexity, we need to look ahead, and try to understand where all these changes are leading to.
A general trend is that the information network becomes ever more global, more encompassing, more tightly linked to the individuals and groups that use it, and more intelligent in the way it supports them. The web doesn't just passively provide information, it now also actively alerts and guides people to the best options for them personally. To support this, the web increasingly builds on the knowledge and intelligence of all its users and information providers collectively, thanks to technologies such as collaborative filtering, agents, and online markets. It appears as though the net is turning into a collective nervous system for humanity: a global brain.
Although these developments seem very modern, the underlying vision of society as an organism-like system has deep roots, going back to thinkers such as Aristotle, Spencer, and Teilhard de Chardin. We wish to explore this metaphor of the "global brain" as a guide to understand and steer future developments in science, technology and society, and as a basis for an integrating world view, that uses the insights gathered in different scientific disciplines in order to illuminate the place of us, humans, in the complex, evolving world that encompasses us.
The key goals of the workshop are to:
Â¢ Bring together a small, selected group of researchers involved in Global Brain related theorizing and applications.
Â¢ Have intensive discussions on all aspects of this common theme, and explore the differences and convergences between the different approaches.
Â¢ Try to achieve a consensus on a general definition of "the Global Brain".
Â¢ Start preparing the program for a large-scale conference on the same theme, directed at a much wider audience, to be held in Silicon Valley in summer 2002.
The concept of the Global Brain touches an almost unlimited variety of topics connected directly or indirectly to information technology and society. However, to maintain a coherent focus, contributions to this workshop should discuss systems that fulfill the following criteria:
1. Consist of interacting human and technological components;
2. Exhibit intelligent, "mind-like" or "brain-like" properties (problem-solving, decision-making, learning, thinking, sensing, etc.);
3. Have these properties emerge from, or distributed over, many components, rather than being localized in one or a few components;
4. Have applications or implications that extend potentially to the global level, offering us a unifying vision or worldview that encompasses society and technology.
It is intuitively attractive to see humanity together with its shared knowledge stores and communication channels as an intelligent, organism-like system. Many thinkers have therefore developed a conception of such a "global brain". This paper has reviewed the main conceptual strands available to build such an integrated theory.
Historically, I distinguished three approaches: organicist, encyclopedist and emergentist. While each of these conceptions provides an inspiring metaphor for understanding and guiding social development, each also has major shortcomings. The organicist perspective, by ignoring conflicts and competition and by studying the way things are rather than how they might be or ought to be, tends to promote a status quo. The encyclopedist view, while inherently progressive, relies too much on rational planning and organization, ignoring not only the potential for conflict, but the intrinsic difficulty of unifying and centralizing something as context-dependent, complex and changeful as the world's knowledge. The emergentist perspective, while emphasizing the potential for self-organization and radical evolutionary innovation, seems to suffer from wishful thinking, assuming that we just need to more communicate, become conscious, or use technology to see a global brain emerge.
I have argued that these shortcomings can be overcome by integrating two existing theoretical frameworks: evolution and cybernetics. Biological evolution points us to the intrinsic sources of conflict, and how these have been overcome by evolving synergetic systems and control mechanisms against free riders. Evolutionary cybernetics introduces the concept of metasystem transition: the self organization of individual components into a positive-sum system that functions at a higher level of intelligence and consciousness. The specific models associated with cybernetics, such as neural networks or distributed knowledge systems, help us to design concrete technologies that could support such a collective intelligence. The worldwide web, finally, provides an extremely flexible and powerful platform for testing & implementing such technologies at the global level.
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