Individuality is unnecessary for intelligence

Computers + artificial intelligence + robotics will not lead us where techno-ideology prays it will. We will not have an android like Data, who will be able to do all the things that we can, only better. To manage to do all that we can, such a technological entity would need to be as versatile, robust, and massively parallel as we are. This might be achieved via incredible inefficiency, or via some form of biological route. The former disqualifies itself from the running, if we are to require that this is to be a project undertaken on a large scale, to augment our reality via an alternative, artificial intelligent life-form of our own making which would be an addition to our existence. The latter is basically growing another, harder, better, faster, stronger version of ourselves, and falls under trans-/post-humanism.

The alternative is to allow technology to do what it does best: allow tools to be excellent at what it is that they are for. This gives specificity, where all the energy and computation is given focus. Let these tools do these tasks amazingly well and without distraction, and then we have a start. Admittedly, this sounds like the Adam Smith view of technology as mass-produced, mono-function widgets. Smart-phones seem to be a counter-example to my throw-back to the industrial revolution. They are and they aren’t. The point about computers as we find them today is that they are often capable of many different functions, but in the final reckoning, more often than not these additional features (camera, music player, ebook reader, gps) are not as good as the individual piece of kit designed with said feature as the sole goal. An SLR will inevitably trump an iPhone, as it does not have the restricting factors of weight, size, etc. Features that exist almost exclusively in software may have this advantage of multi-functionality, but even in this supposedly immaterial realm, this too can be a burden. In terms of multi-functionality, I cannot help but think of increasingly distended operating systems that provide us with ever more features – the vast majority of which we will never use – as a means of appearing up to date in market terms. Sadly, such bloatware does impinge on the entire system by taking up more storage than is necessary, and proceeds to slow down the entire system.

A point to be made here is that humans are social beings, and society is a technology. It is a metaphor of our individual human operations, of thought and memory. But we need so much more paraphernalia than a robot, who can outsource and decentralize everything inessential, leaving only the function operations for which it is optimized, and then the other necessary means of communication with other units. Humans require peripheral vision, liquid pumping systems, air ventilation, on average a third of total operating time in stand-by mode, regular system purges, communication devices to both send and receive, sophisticated sensor systems, etc. These are the bare minimum to keep the most important unit, the computer, functioning! This is because, of biological, evolutionary necessity, these various functions must take place in one, centralized unit. The advantage of a sentient technological entity is that it can be an ecology, rather than a species. In that sense, A.I. will exist, but there is no reason why individuality need be a parameter.

Individuality is an adaptation, an evolutionary kludge. Removing ‘ego’ would then give us the Platonic ideal of intelligence as thoughts, without the meatspace mess of the thinker. If we focus on features and function, and then the other necessity of communication, then we are led to quite different alternatives for an intelligent technological entity. Where we are restricted by the power of our voices and the sensitivity of our ears, these beings would be limited only by the speed of light. Even our one sense that relies on light cannot detect infra-red or ultra-violet, nor do we have any means of sensing radio waves, etc. As such, we humans are not the prime analogate of intelligent being. If we realize this, we could unite the Noosphere and Gaia in the one powerful metaphor of intelligent life.

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One thought on “Individuality is unnecessary for intelligence

  1. I am curious as to your thoughts on this:

    Yesterday, in honor of the centenary of Alan Turning’s birth, an orchestra in Europe performed a piece of music that had been entirely created by an AI:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jul/01/iamus-computer-composes-classical-music

    They actually live streamed the performance and I took the chance to listen to it. I am not a great classical music fan, but the piece seemed haunting and beautiful, and the more I reflected on it- a little creepy.

    Here was this beautiful piece of art produced by an algorithm completely empty of any emotional life that was nevertheless able to have an emotional effect on me.

    It struck me that the one of the questions we have to address when creating these things is not what will the world be like if we create machines that are like humans, but what will the world be like the intelligent machines we create are not like humans at all, and at the same time better, potentially incredibly better, than humans in those very things that we have up to now used to define ourselves?

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