Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Postverbal, part 1

As our protagonist lounges in a recliner, sipping kombucha and enjoying the gently swaying trees, mostly clear skies, and fragrant air of a warm, early-summer day in Cascadia, something fleetingly occurs to him regarding his own name, Zen Coolidge.

Growing up, people often complimented him on his name. "COOL name!" - a nice enough, if somewhat obvious and literal-minded, comment to hear frequently from new acquaintances. If names mattered - and they did matter in many ways in those relatively superficial times, the late 20th century of Zen's childhood and the early 21st century of his early adulthood - then his served him reasonably well.

But now, it's been quite a while since the last time he saw or heard or used the words "Zen Coolidge." Have you ever suddenly remembered an old friend whom you hadn't thought about in what seems like a very long time? It feels a bit like that when Zen thinks of his name.

It's not that he has changed his name or assumed a different identity. It's just that people don't use words much at all anymore.

Zen lives in a postverbal era. Words can help to convey the events of this sci-fi scenario to those who still live in a verbal era. But postverbal people like Zen largely think and communicate in other ways. Words are nostalgic.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

the Internet as the AGI hardware substrate

What type of hardware substrate do you envision for the first artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Many scenarios seem to envision AGI emerging in a particular computation system, and/or perhaps in a robot or robots. Many scenarios involve the system being connected to the Internet, as a crucial aspect.

What I tend to envision is that when an AGI first emerges, the substrate will be millions or billions of Internet-connected devices, along with their human operators. Not only will the collective computing power of all these Internet-connected devices dwarf the computing power of any particular system, but the inclusion of millions/billions of humans in the mix may also be crucial.

The software platforms through which billions of people currently interact -- Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- are (compared to what seems possible) fairly stupid/limited, focused significantly on goals like maximizing users' engagement/attention in order to more profitably sell their attention to advertisers. But creating more intelligent ways of connecting these existing biological intelligences (ourselves), to each other and to software and information, could well help us congeal into a more effective, coherent global mind, which would begin to have many of the capabilities that we expect AGI will have.

Such scenarios have been envisioned by science fiction authors and others. The salient strategy that seems to suggest itself is for AGI projects to be structured as social media platforms. I've blogged about some of what I'd like to see such platforms do in the early stages:

  • focus on post-verbal communication, using graphics and nonverbal sounds instead of words, pervasively and increasingly.
  • focus on giving users the greatest possible control over the behavior of their interfaces.

This can facilitate vastly more efficient cross-pollination of information and of programming components: We'll see, in this graphical environment, visual representations of information, including the tools that others are using to filter/curate/manage their info-streams. We can take those tools and plug them into our own control panels, which regulate the behavior of our interfaces/info-streams, allowing us to more efficiently locate and create additional information (including additional tools for info-stream filtration/curation/management), and so on.

This strategy seems like a great way to optimize our screen time and speed us toward optimal cultural evolution, if nothing else. And I suggest that through it could emerge something we would feel compelled to recognize as AGI.

This is not to say that existing and future AGI projects with complex cognitive architectures running on particular systems are misguided strategies. It's just to say that such architectures can - and for maximum impact, should - be deployed in an open, distributed, social media context, contributing maximally to the creation of optimal experiences for Net users and to the growing intelligence of the Network (all interconnected devices and people) as a whole.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The obsolescence of words

Words remain a crucial technology for coordinating our efforts, for accomplishing cooperative tasks -- from preparing a meal to launching a rocket ship. And words remain a crucial medium through which we perform less tangible (but equally valuable) activities -- learning, imbibing the wisdom and creativity of the ages, sharing experiences, expressing heartfelt feelings and thoughts, getting to know each other. Even solitary activities like thinking, planning, organizing, and doing chores, involve words.

And yet, along with the ubiquity and extreme importance of words, there's something else about them that we ought to appreciate: They're potentially on the verge of obsolescence.

At this moment words remain a crucial part of life in multitudinous ways because we don't yet possess communication systems that can replace them. But we have the ability to create such systems. It's entirely possible for us to create, in fairly short order, media that will:
  • do many or most of the jobs that words do, and
  • do those jobs much more effectively.
The salient point to appreciate here is that the effort and resources required to create these new systems are minuscule, compared to the benefits that will result. Improved information systems, improved modes of expression and communication, facilitate creative and imaginative growth and progress. And internal, intangible aspects of growth and progress are directly linked to external, tangible aspects. Constructing post-verbal communication systems is a vital part of achieving vastly greater prosperity, i.e., material abundance for everyone.