Blogging and the Singularity

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by: Jennifer Rice

This is a bit off my normal subject matter, but it's something I've been thinking about lately.

Since I started blogging, I'm starting to feel like a neuron in a vast brain; my thought processes are improving and speeding up with every new connection that's formed. Yet I just started my weblog a month ago; where will I be in one year from now? Ten years from now? And just where is this whole blog thing going, anyway?

No ideas are truly new; they evolve from prior knowledge. Centuries ago, it took years for an idea to be disseminated throughout society and find a mind who had the capacity to adapt it, refute it or build upon it. More recently, ideas are transmitted through mass media: books, TV, magazines. They are spread like seeds into the soil of society; however, only a few minds are capable of both evolving the idea and having the connections to mass-publish the updated version, often months or years later. The advent of the Internet helped speed up the process, but not by much. It's primarily used as a glorified library, and if users don't stumble across the data needed to validate or evolve their idea– or attract the right visitors to their websites — the ideas can often stagnate.

Now enter the blogosphere, where ideas are born, nurtured, transmitted and evolved — all in a single day. Ideas have a life of their own; good ones seem to create their own connections. I may have a seed of an idea; you recognize it and spread it; someone on the other side of the world has complementary knowledge to expand and evolve it. In brain terminology, neurons that fire together, wire together. The same principle applies to the blogsphere: bloggers who think together, link together. And so the connections form, faster and faster. More pathways for an idea to spread, evolve, mature. This, I suppose, could be called hyper-meme theory: self-propagating ideas combined with exponential pathways that enable rapid evolution (see Thought Contagion for more on memes; it's a fascinating subject).

And blogging is still in the early adopter phase. Where is it leading us? Could it be a factor that brings us closer, quicker, to the Singularity? (the Singularity is a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot imagine what will happen from our present perspective.) At first I was doubtful; I didn't know that much about the Singularity, but based on my own personal experience it seemed plausible. I can see a time when a much higher percentage of the population is plugged in to the blogosphere: more neurons, more connections for this growing electronic brain, and an exponentially faster evolution of ideas.

So I Googled the topic and found this white paper by Vernor Vinge. He believes that the Singularity could be caused by two events: the creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Intelligence Amplification (IA: computers plus humans). He states that one scenario could be to

"Exploit the worldwide Internet as a combination human/machine tool. Of all the items on the list, progress in this is proceeding the fastest and may run us into the Singularity before anything else. The power and influence of even the present-day Internet is vastly underestimated."


What the Internet facilitates is 3D parallel processing, which is how our brains work. I chatted with Graham Glass, who knows a heck of a lot more about this topic than I do… he believes that we'll start seeing a transition from humans as 'neurons' or nodes in the network (bloggers!) to an increasingly higher percentage of machines (and/or 'enhanced' humans) as nodes. As this occurs, the overall system gets exponentially smarter.

Ray Kurzweil in his paper, The Law of Accelerating Returns, believes that we'll experience 20,000 years of progress in the next century. Vernor Vinge believes that, based on current technological progress, we could see the Singularity in less than 40 years. Reading Ray and Vernor's papers makes one believe that T3 and The Matrix are not just imaginary movie constructs but could quite literally happen in our lifetime. It's an unsettling thought. But to paraphrase Agent Smith, it has the sound of inevitability. I find it interesting that my last blog post dealt with the unraveling of our social fabric, whereas this one addresses the rapidly increasing connections of our minds. Perhaps the former is fuel for the latter. I can only hope that we use our human endowments of morality, intuition and reason to direct this runaway train down a path that won't end in our ultimate destruction.

(Whoa, a lot of gloom and doom for the first week of 2004!)

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