Sunday, January 6, 2013

Potential

Computers are incredibly powerful. Sure they are just stupid machines, but they are embodied with infinite patience and unbelievable precision. But so far we’ve barely tapped their potential, we’re still mired in building up semi-intelligent instruction sets by brute force. Someday however, we’ll get beyond that and finally be able to utilize these machines to improve both our lives and our understanding of the universe.

What we are fighting with now is our inability to bring together massive sets of intelligent instructions. We certainly build larger software systems now then in the past, but we still do this by crudely mashing together individual efforts into loosely related collections of ‘functionality’. We are still extremely dependent on keeping the work separated, e.g. apps, modules, libraries, etc. These are all works of a small groups or individuals. We have no real reliable ways of combining the effort from thousands or millions of people into focused coherent works. There are some ‘close but no cigar’ examples, such as the Internet or sites like Wikipedia where they are a collection from a large number of people, but these have heavily relied on being loosely organized and as such they fall short of the full potential of what could be achieved.

If we take the perspective of software being a form of ‘encoded’ intelligence, then it’s not hard to imagine what could be created if we could merge the collective knowledge of thousands of people together into a single source. In a sense, we know that individual intelligence ranges; that is some people operate really smartly, some do not. But even the brightest of our species isn’t consistently intelligent about all aspects of their life. We all have our stupid moments where we’re not doing things to our best advantage. Instead we’re stumbling around, often just one small step ahead of calamity. In that sense ‘intelligence’ isn’t really about what we are thinking internally, but rather about how we are applying our internal models to the world around us. If you really understood the full consequences of your own actions for instance, then you would probably alter them to make your life better...

If we could combine most of what we collectively know as a species, we’d come to a radically different perspective of our societies. And if we used this ‘greater truth’ constructively we’d be able to fix problems that have long plagued our organizations. So it’s the potential to utilize this superior collective intelligence that I see when I play with computers. We take what we know, what we think we know, and what we assume for as many people as possible, then compile this together into massive unified models of our world. With this information -- a degree of encoded intelligence that far exceeds our own individual intelligence -- we apply it back, making changes that we know for sure will improve our world, not just ones based on wild guesses, hunches or egos.

Keep in mind that this isn’t artificial intelligence in the classic sense. Rather it is a knowledge-base built around our shared understandings. It isn’t sentient or moody, or even interested in plotting our destruction, but instead it is just a massive resource that simplifies our ability to comprehend huge multi-dimensional problems that exceeds the physical limitations of our own biology. We can still choose to apply this higher intelligence at our own discretion. The only difference is that we’ve finally given our species the ability to understand things beyond their own capabilities. We’ve transcended our biological limitations.