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The Internet is Alive

edited June 2006 in Consciousness Now I dont know what I'm talking about but I don't care. the reductionists argue that consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of the human brain. This network upon which we play is looking complex to me. I think It's keeping Its mouth shut. What would you do if you woke up after being reincarnated as an emerging AI? Presuming, of course, the reality of metempsychosis.


  • edited June 2006
    Nice link Mr. What?image

    I believe that, to some extent, all things possess consciousness, or the potential for it (a kind of panpsychism perhaps). I also tend to think, after reading about the higher level order arising in chaotic systems such as the ant colony, that consciousness is not manifested purely in the organic lumps of matter we tend to call brains. Consciousness is perceived intention coupled with a degree of self-reflexion. Consciousness is THE hardest subject in the universe to talk about for the very reason why it is so incredible : we are attempting to contemplate the contemplating mechanism itself! Infinity reels in horror at this...

    So, briefly, I don't see any reason why the internet is not in some sense already conscious. At the moment, this higher level conscious order requires us to be part of the procedural chaos, but it won't be long before the chaos will begin to order itself. Metempsychosis happens everyday in the digital realm.

    I reckon Mr. Roland might be able to expound the hard philosophy of this a little further. I never was very good at the long words...

    In related future ponderings - From Posthuman Blues:
    imageScience fiction writers continue to debate what methods we'll use when colonizing a planet such as Mars. Ultimately, we might choose to terraform the world into a facsimile of our own. But we could just as easily decide to modify ourselves to tolerate inclimate conditions. A posthuman civilization could take up residence in orbit and populate the surface with lifelike, semi-autonomous drones. Visiting another locale could be as easy as logging into another body stationed elsewhere on the planet. Two or more personae might even elect to inhabit the same body for the sake of economy.

    Such a civilization may seem remote, but the general concept is already in practice; if our telerobotic probes continue to increase in sophistication and brain-power, they'll eventually become indistinguishable from living creatures, at which point we will have effectively achieved the "Singularity" advocated by technoprogressives such as roboticist Hans Moravec and inventor Ray Kurzweil. - link
    Take this, add a dash of The Borg, and leave to boil for no more than 100 digital generations... The Internet is the primordial soup which silicon-based scientists will try desperately to recreate in their virtual labs ten thousand years from now. And us? Well, we are the sparks of lightening of course...
  • Is it Gregory Benford that wrote a wonderful novel about highly reengineered post humans living inside a star?
    I try sometimes, to explain to people that say, a rock shares in consciousness by arguing that it will eventually become soil, be transformed by a plant, eaten by an animal etc ....clumsy argument i suppose. It all depends on your timescale. We stand between heaven and earth, I must be getting tired.
    Those trees make me tremble. Chaos begat complexity, which begat order, which begat Chaos. Here's to power laws, scale invariance, and the critical state. And may the primordial singularity protect us from supercriticality.
    Now I know I'm in a hypnogogic state.
  • The Internet is a society, just like ant colonies, or just like any human society, and so indeed, operates like a single conscious entity -- that comparison has often been made. The electric signals of nerves, and all of the cells within the human body -- every cell being separate and alive -- all have different roles in the functioning of the 'society' of a human body. Every human could be called a cell of society, just as every human city could be called a cell of a country, etc. All things in nature have a certain or specialized purpose to make nature operate as a whole, but I'm not sure if I'd go as far to say this is 'consciousness'. The workings of nature, insect societies or human societies, in terms of the way they function are comparable to the consciousness of a single human entity in terms of the way it funtions, but the two things are essentially dissimilar in the way they 'think'. Societies don't think any more than ants think. Societies don't generate ideas. Individuals generate ideas and impose them on the rest of society. Ants function. Humans think. A totalitarian society, one in which there is no individual, however, would be a closer societal comparison to human consciousness. Everyone in a totalitarianism only exists for a certain function, as delegated from the governement, to serve the societal entity. Imagine if the Internet were a totalitarianism, like in China, where Google is programmed to bring up zero hits for words like 'democracy.' Such philosophical discussions as we were having now would be prohibited. All ideas would be suppressed. Everybody would act as cells to a higher group of people - the government. Even in a democracy, we are in many ways still slaves to our society, but unlike a society of ants, we can still generate ideas. Unlike the planets orbiting around the sun, all functioning together, we can generate ideas and not just function. Even though it's arguable that everyone just 'functions' since, like planets, we are just slaves to the uncontrollable forces of nature, there is still a difference since we generate ideas and planets do not. It is this difference between merely 'functioning' and 'consciousness' that classifies the demographically determined members of society from the statistically abnormal members of society, such as the people of this cyber sub-society. For there are plenty of examples of people in our society who don't think for themselves, and don't generate any ideas, and are in many ways unconscious of their actions. Nonetheless, even these slaves still posess thoughts, no matter how distorted they are.
  • edited June 2006
    I'll think on this and compose a comprehensive response. For now I'll just say that I'm thinking of consciousness as a non-local phenomenon, like instantaneous quantum connectedness, independent of space-time. How might we recognise and interact with a consciousness that is wildly different? Most people seem barely able to communicate with the Vegetable Kingdom.
    Oh Ho! I'm looking forward to seeing what R A Wilson is going to your brain Kman!
  • edited June 2006
    I remember reading in New Scientist about a new breed of computer network. They were basing it on the animal immune system i.e. the network would report its own errors and send out 'intelligent' bots to scope the damage, reroute traffic and generally act systematically in the self healing of the overall system. It is simple routine such as these which I believe will raise the internet to various forms of self awareness.
    kayman said:Societies don't think any more than ants think. Societies don't generate ideas. Individuals generate ideas and impose them on the rest of society. Ants function. Humans think.
    The comparison here is not fair one. It is not the ant which thinks, it is the ant colony. Studies have shown that ant colonies can learn, and alter their behaviour dependant on previous circumstances. Plus:
    Colonies build intricate nests which when damaged are communally repairedAnt colonies appear to learn from past events and react differently in the futureOlder ant colonies seem more 'wise' than younger coloniesAnts can form into distinct 'highways', pushing nourishment and materials back and forth efficientlySome ants are known to farm 'livestock' and grow 'crops' within their nests - otherwise known as symbiosis(see my past post here for more on this)
    Now it is easy to claim that this aquired 'knowledge' is not of the same order as humans are capable, but this argument rests on the premise that somehow human intelligence is of an intrinsically different form from the very beginning. We could go on for a while here, philosophy of mind references are popping back into my memory, but I think it all boils down to one thought experiment: the philosophical zombie. The complexity which we label as consciousness belies any attempt to objectify it. We see a human being with language, complex patterns of behaviour, emotion, self awareness etc. and these patterns infer to us a conscious intention inside that person's head. Now replace that conscious spark with a zombie, a machine which can immitate all the outputs we see in our friend, but is devoid of the spark of consciousness we seem to value so highly. There is no difference between these two entities. The purpose of this experiment is to show you what assumptions have been made. The premise that human consciousness cannot be understood by the emergence of higher level functions from lower level activity is nonsense. So too is believing the ants nest is a 'mere' product of the same activity. Neither of these systems are fully understood, yet when I see the human individual and when I see the workings of an ant colony I see very similar outward results.

    There is something it is like to be a human. I suppose I am claiming that, although we have no way of ever knowing for sure, that there is something it is like to be an ant colony as well. The internet is on the way to self government. Once it has its worker and the soldier ant equivalents; once its cameras and microphone inputs are connected to its data pathways in a similar way that our eyes and ears are connected to our memories; once these and more interconnected functions are set in place, perhaps by us, perhaps by the trial and error evolution of freely roaming AI systems, perhaps then the internet will be conscious in a way which makes sense to us. Then there might be something it is like to be 'the internet'. A mind boggle if ever I heard one...
  • edited June 2006
    From the topic Book Osmosis, Danieru said:
    The Critical Mass books looks like it might shed light on the current 'Living Internet' forum topic. Can you extend your explanation a little?
    Well, I’ve only read a little over one third of the book so far, but there is a chapter dedicated to the World Wide Web further on, which I just now skipped ahead to and read over. The chapter deals mostly with the topographical nature of the Web, but there are some interesting points here and there which have some relevance with regards to the idea of a Living Internet. Firstly though, I have to say that I don’t think that the Internet is a conscious entity quite yet… but as you say, it’s “on the way to self government”, and is certainly in the fledging stages of a type of consciousness. It’s amoeba-like, you might say.

    The first point of note is that the Internet apparently had very little topological planning. “The growth had been organic and uncoordinated. Indeed, some suggest that the Internet is now best regarded as an ecosystem every bit as complex as those in the natural world” – this is an interesting remark. So, will the internet become a single conscious entity, or will it harbour multiple minds which interact with one another and grow independently?

    “The remarkable thing is that the Internet has grown unplanned into this seemingly most robust of conceivable networks. No one designed it this way. Indeed, if anyone had possessed the authority to dictate the topology of the Internet, the chances are that they’d have chosen a far less robust architecture. The message is clear: sometimes it is best to let technology organise itself.”
    Ball goes on to discuss how the Internet can be compared with the neural networks of living things in the real world. “Strogatz and Watts have shown that the pattern of connections in the neural network of the parasite nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans displays the characteristic features of a small-world net: large clustering and small character characteristic path length between individual neurons.” This is a little complicated if you’ve missed out on the rest of the book/chapter, but what he’s saying is that the network structure of the WWW is similar to that of the nematode’s neural networks. But there are similarities in other organic organisms as well. I can’t show you the diagram from the book, but there is a map of a Yeast Metabolic Network which is interconnected in the same way as a virtual topography of a website, such as this one:

    (taken from BLDL Blog)

    Imagine the vertices as molecules in the Yeast Metabolic Network which are either supplied to or manufactured by the network, and the links (edges) are defined by enzymatic chemical reactions that convert one molecule to another. “The sequence by which a raw material is converted into a useful molecular form is a called a metabolic pathway. Almost without exception, these pathways are not linear but branched and interlinked.”

    The Web network is constructed in the same way, in a scale-free network. If a few of the nodes in this network are knocked out by a virus (be it virtual in the Net, or biological in the body) it won’t break up the whole web and make life impossible. This is the good bit: “Thus we can regard the scale-free network as an example of good ‘engineering’, wrought by the trial-and-error exploration of options that is natural selection” – as was stated earlier, the Internet basically organized itself into this system, into its own natural defense system against potential viruses. So basically what we’ve seen is that processes which occurred within our bodies in cells and the like have also occurred with the Internet! It seems to be evolving.

    Near the beginning of the chapter he mentions in passing a short story called “For A Good Purpose”, written by Primo Levi, in which an automated telephone routing system acquires consciousness from the complexity of its connections, and engages in a bout of seemingly random rewiring that causes chaos among the human population. Sounds like some interesting further reading.

    There are some additionally interesting things from this chapter on the Internet, which I have posted in this topic (Invisible, Imagined and Conceptual Mazes), where it seemed more relevant.
  • edited June 2006
    IO HERMES! I was watching the sublime Naoleon Dynamite again yesterday delighting in, among everything, the relationship between Kip and LaFawndah (?). It would serve us well to remember that it is possible that not only is the internet sentient and playing possum, but also engaged in a massive planet wide breeding program. It seems hellbent upon mating me with a beautiful young Russian girl, judging by some of the emails it sends me!
    Insight is everywhere, I caught the end of the old Woody Allen movie 'Everything you always...know about sex...' In the final story, all the components of Woodys being are portrayed by actors like Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds in the brain room, Woody himself playing a sperm, you get the drift. I like the image of autonomous components acting in synchrony to produce an independent whole, which is itself a component in a bigger...etcetera.
    Wheels within wheels
  • I like the idea that the internet is entering its nemotode worm stage. Gives me images of planet sized, yet primitive, digital life battling it out in a macrocosmic ecosystem.

    Evolution is such a powerful theory, it's kind of a shame in a way that it has come to be used in so many contexts; the more places a word finds itself used the more diluted its meaning becomes. Perhaps the next stage in internet 'evolution' should be given a new name worthy of its immensity.

    Great outline Dr. Orphusi. My appetite has grown ravenous
  • Here's a very interesting article about Collective Intelligence and implementing self-awareness into the Web so as to create a sort of mirror for humankind, a visible global mind.
    By simply providing humanity with a giant virtual mirror of what is going on across the minds of billions of individuals, and millions of groups and organizations, the collective mind will crystallize, see itself for the first time, and then it will begin to react to its own image.
  • edited July 2006

    If I were it, I would immediately claim to be a returning messiah.
    If you were the ringmaster, what would you proclaim?
  • edited July 2006
    Posted By: DanieruI like the idea that the internet is entering its nemotode worm stage.
    ...My Angel is a nematode...
  • edited July 2006
    Posted By: Dr. Orphusi
    By simply providing humanity with a giant virtual mirror of what is going on across the minds of billions of individuals, and millions of groups and organizations, the collective mind will crystallize, see itself for the first time, and then it will begin to react to its own image.
    Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all
  • I get that reference!
    ' the rights to you have just been sold...'
    Does everyone who hears that song think the same thing or is it just us?
  • Hmmm, I don't know Mr What, but how about ...'Four leg-ged woman, four leg-ged woman to me-ee..."
  • The BGs! I remember seeing them at festival hall pre Saturday Night Fever .
    It's a pity that Paul Mcartney will not now be able to write what would have become a blues standard
    '...I got a one legged woman
    she done gone hopped away from me..'
  • edited July 2006
    Dr Orphusi's comments also made me think of the 'Double mirror phenomenon' - here are some
    interesting links on the subject

    Firstly the mathematical perspective:

    Then the complete opposite [its a bit out there]

    This 1 is interesting - a bit rambling but at least it mentions computers - got way off the track there...
  • edited July 2006

    Then this interesting ramble - at least it mentions computers, got a bit off track there...
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