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
Paths to the Singularity
each with its special flavor and danger and promise (though developments are
concurrent and interacting):
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Intelligence Amplification (IA)
- Computer Networks plus Humanity
- Digital Gaia: Fine-grained distributed systems
- Biomedical improvements to human intelligence
Today I want to talk about the path that nowadays is most obviously a
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:
- Origin: top down versus bottom up
- Supporting hardware and software
- For hardware: Several of the categories discussed below might be
nearly empty if not for wearable computing and ubiquitous sensors and
- Novel interface software, intermediate pipelines, and backend
processing are key to making the wildest group mind schemes successful.
- Narrow focus -- crowdsourcing
- Broad focus
- How members are motivated to participate -- a glimpse of the future of
- Number of members ( 2 <= n <= 7.0e9 )
- Distribution of members (by age, geography, ...)
- Physical resources of members
- Longevity (from seconds to forever (10 years, say :-) )
- How fast can goals, policies, tactics be changed?
- Response time (microseconds to days)
- Spatial resolution of attention and response
This could range from "No sparrow shall fall" all the way
down to organizations that don't track anything smaller than
continental weather patterns.
- Form of interaction with other group minds
- Charismatic leader (an extreme top-down case)
- Commercial service (the most common form nowadays)
- Puppetry (run by another group)
- cell-structured secret societies
- networks where even members don't know of their own membership
- Infectiousness (how fast can the group acquiring new members and/or
- Malignancy (is the group griefing, stealing, killing, blowing things up?)
- Weaknesses. This list will be very long, with new possibilities
being unhappily discovered all the time. But surely it would include
- legal attack
- physical attack (police or kinetic military)
- denial of service attack
- implantables failure such as imagined in h+
Comments on two particular group mind possibilities:
What common sense may become...
in mid- and large-size groups with deep, real-time computational support.
- Personal aides to supplement Daniel Kahneman's S1 and S2 systems.
- Automatic provision of global statistical analysis to personal questions
- Encouragement of self-goals (as with Prius mpg gamers).
- Arbitrage of risk in personal decision making
- In Kahneman's terminology, we will see a rise in "Econ"
mentality in everyday life.
- A good fictional example is the short story "Maneki Neko",
Bruce Sterling, F&SF, May 1998, reprinted in A Good Old-Fashioned Future, Bantam Spectra, 1999.
- Will people put up with this? Does it count as suppression of
- On the whole, I argue the opposite. These developments
would make the Public the most powerful intellectual player
of 2013-2019. Nevertheless, there are dangers to worry
- If this new automation were to be lost, it would be a disaster
(cf the attitude of the young refugees in
The Children of the Sky)
- There's great potential for abuse in such systems,
especially in top-down social network services.
- And there's an ethical issue: The outsourcing of moral
- What value is there in non-participants?
- Try to imagine what couldn't be done by the group
- How to calibrate and collaborate with expert individuals
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
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