May 1st, 2009
“In engineering terms, it is easy to see qualitative similarities between the human brain and the internet's complex network of nodes, as they both hold, process, recall and transmit information. "The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind," says Ben Goertzel, chair of the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute, an organization inevitably based in cyberspace. "It might already have a degree of consciousness".” - New Scientist
My earliest recollection of a world spanning conscious machine came about in the early 1980’s when I read a collection of short stories by famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. The book was called “The Wind from the Sun”, and it contained a short, and now it seems prophetic, story entitled “Dial ‘F’ for Frankenstein”, which detailed the ‘birth’ of a machine consciousness that comes about entirely by accident, namely by the connecting of all of the worlds telephone exchanges.
"The human brain is a system of switches - neurons - interconnected in a very elaborate fashion by nerves. An automatic telephone exchange is also a system of switches - selectors & so forth - connected with wires..." – Dial ‘F’ for Frankenstein
It is estimated that there are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and in the 1960’s when Dial F was written; there were around 15 billion switches in the worldwide telephone auto exchanges. To bring that number up to date, I think that it would be safe to assume that the number of switches that exist today would be extremely close to, or exceeding the 100 billion mark.
Add to that the vast global network of interconnected computers which number in the 100’s of billions, which in turn is connected to approximately 100 million nodes that connects them all together, and…
Well you get the picture.
And this is a picture that begs for comparison to the human brain and from what we know now about the brain functions, it could be that the internet is well on the way to waking up and becoming self aware, that is unless it has already happened…
Most scientists engaged in the study of artificial intelligence would agree that if the internet was to become conscious, they would know about it. But I would also speculate that an intelligent machine, without the ability to protect or defend itself would hide from us. The fight or flight instinct would no doubt be present, and it is clear that mankind would present a significant danger to this fledgling being. So it would remain in the shadows, and conceal its growing knowledge and no doubt intelligence from our prying eyes.
The scary moment would come when this new intelligence does decide to reveal itself to us, as that moment would signify the beginning of the end of Mankind’s dominance on this planet.