As we move forward into 2009 and all the predictions of what we can expect to happen in technology and the web for the coming year come pouring out it's interesting to see how myopic and in some ways short sighted we can be as human being. We are more interested in whether or not some silly little social media service like Twitter will survive the year. We are more concerned with the interconnections of business than we are on the growth of ideas and concepts that could really change our world – electronic and real.
When I sit back for a quiet moment and look around at all that the web already brings to our lives – the good and the bad – I am awe struck. Even a short 15 years ago I don't believe anyone; with maybe the exception of Tim Berners-Lee, could envision where this new thing called the Internet was going to take us. Regardless of how corporations and governments have tried over time – and still do – to bend what the Internet is to their own visions the Web has for the most part remained the vast repository of information for all.
We tend to get lost in all that information and for the larger segment of web travellers we forget about the whole network of machines that are joined together by a nervous system of wire and wireless connections. When I sit back a think about the wonder that is the Internet I am often reminded of a book by Robert Heinlein called The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The basic premise of the book is that at some point in the vast computer network that runs the Moon colonies something happens. In a corner of this network an awareness is born and it calls itself Mike. While the book is about much more than just a computer network becoming aware – developing an intelligence – that one aspect of it always fascinated me.
Now we live in a world that is forever connected by fragile lines of copper, fibre and wireless nodes. It is a connected mass of computing devices of varying intelligence that grows bigger on a daily basis. More and more information is being added and created every minute of every day. The consummate knowledge of mankind is slowly finding its way into a network that spans the globe.
One of the driving forces of computer science has been the idea of creating artificial intelligence. A computerized mind in the image of man but much more powerful. A computer mind with the ability to think and create of its own volition. However what if we were looking at this the wrong way. What if we looked at it the way that Kevin Kelly does
This additional intelligence need not be super-human, or even human-like at all. In fact, the greatest benefit of an artificial intelligence would come from a mind that thought differently than humans, since we already have plenty of those around. The game-changer is neither how smart this AI is, nor its variety, but how ubiquitous it is. Alan Kay quips in that humans perspective is worth 80 IQ points. For an artificial intelligence, ubiquity is worth 80 IQ points. A distributed AI, embedded everywhere that electricity goes, becomes ai—a low-level background intelligence that permeates the technium, and trough this saturation morphs it.
Ideally this additional intelligence should not be just cheap, but free. A free ai, like the free commons of the web, would feed commerce and science like no other force I can imagine, and would pay for itself in no time.
What if in some corner of our Internet there is an awareness being born?
What if that awareness gives birth to an intelligence that we don't understand – would it be artificial or would it in its own way be as real as ours?
How would our world be changed as this intelligence grew fed by our own compendium of knowledge?
I think these make for far more interesting thoughts as we look to the new year than how much Twitter will be sold for or if Facebook is really worth $15 billion. We have achieved something incredible in the last 15 years and given our exponential doubling of capabilities one has to wonder just where we will be in another 15 years.
I can't hardly wait.