Thursday, April 10, 2008

World Wide Brain Defect

Ben Goertzel's "World Wide Brain" alternates between reeking of singularity theory and reminding me of technological determinism, and simply making me think of Google.

There's no date on Goertzel's piece, though it proves its obsolescence with invitations for one to "[view] the whole WWW as a network of applets, able to be interconnected in various ways," (a common way of thinking by now) in order to see that "the WWW itself is an outstanding AI supercomputer," (3). I think most people would stop short of that last point. He warns us that "the neuron-and-synapse metaphor need not be taken too literally," but expects us to go along with his own convoluted metaphor of magicians who recognize, alter, and create patterns which can themselves be seen as magicians...and these magicians are analogous to the "abstract patterns" that make up thought in the mind.

From here, it sounds like Goertzel cherry-picks his way through physics, mathematics, and psychology to find marketably useful connections to his WW-Brain theory. He begins to hint at singularity on page 7, where he discusses "force of consciousness" and the idea of selves. I was surprised not to find a reference to Ray Kurzweil, though I guess this is from before his prime. He is not shy about singularity--he looks forward to a time when "the boundary between ourselves and our creation will be crossed," (10).

As Goertzel eases off the strict brain metaphor, his analysis of the future structure of the Web as it would construct a WebMind reminded me a lot of Google and its system of measuring relevance and providing "smart" accurate search results. A few people have suggested that Google's keeping track of the way webpages link to each other resembles the way our brains link concepts and memories. He appropriately and presciently points out that the "structure must not be static, like a Yaho category tree, but dynamic" (like Google's index) (10).

One glaring vulnerability in Goertzel's fantasy is in his conception of a "global Web operating system," which he sees as an infallible step toward the Web's evolution toward intelligence (again, singularity). Although the Web "is not under anyone's control," (8), it is totally open to power outage, sabotage, and quick disabling. Amazon and many of its customers can tell you what happens when such a high-profile pseudoneural network goes down. Even without such catastrophic crashes, accessibility on the web is not so open that any magician can really affect any other magician it likes. Wouldn't chmod permissions, among myriad other restrictions, keep a real, rhizomatic neural network from forming?

In other news, check out this brain growing on a tree.