Group Minds

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This page last updated Sun Jun 24 14:10:57 US/Pacific 2012


Parts of these notes are from notes for my previous talks, in particular Technology and New Populisms

The Technological Singularity

It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension.

Paths to the Singularity

each with its special flavor and danger and promise (though developments are concurrent and interacting):

Today I want to talk about the path that nowadays is most obviously a big win:
Computer Networks plus Humanity = Social Networks = Group minds

A taxonomy of Group Minds

We might consider these group minds as new kinds of animals, creatures that swim in the sea of modern civilization. Let's try to classify these minds by:

Comments on two particular group mind possibilities:

What common sense may become...

in mid- and large-size groups with deep, real-time computational support.

Large group minds with broad goals: populisms

Here I mean not only a large number of seriously participating members (tens of millions to billions), but also membership that includes a broad range of humanity and broad goals.
On the largest scale, such populism is a kind of "over-creature" in the taxonomy proposed above. (Eg, see Gregory Stock's nonfiction book Metaman.)

On the whole, I regard this type of group mind as a very positive thing, but there is dangerous variety: nationalistic populism in a large country. Such could arise as a kind of enormous virtual network partition, encouraged perhaps by government(s). A large, nationalistic group mind could be similar to, much more of the bad thing than populisms of the past, running away with the original policies of the government(s) that encouraged it.

Makers versus Breakers

Over the last fifty years, there has emerged a fundamental peril of technological progress: In principle, tech progress can do miraculous good, but in almost every case it puts even more power in the hands of bad actors. Technology is a scary race between the Breakers and the Makers. The Breakers may be a small minority, but that is balanced by the fact that it's always easier to break things than to make things.

In addition to more-or-less rational motives for wrecking the constructive behavior of group minds, there is a certain kind of Breaker who likes to destroy good works simply because such destruction is possible!

Ten years ago, I would have been fairly skeptical that constructive groups could prevail against the Breakers of the world. In particular, I probably would have said that Breaker friction would cripple inventions like Wikipedia.

Now? Well, Wikipedia is still a story in progress; there may be abuse that could still cause it terrible damage. On the other hand, the success it has had so far is remarkable.

A broad and good-natured populism may be the only thing that has both the grand outlook and the attention to detail to give the Makers an edge.

Group minds in the context of the other paths to the Singularity