Saturday, September 05, 2015

Is a Human Borg-Mind Inevitable?

There's a well-known rule that if an article has a headline in the form of a question, the answer is NO.

This article isn't really an exception ;-)

Is a human borg-mind inevitable?   The answer, I think, is kinda ...

A "borg" mind, as popularized by the classic Star Trek episode, is a group of people all controlled by a single collective will, consciousness and memory.    It's obviously an extreme invented for entertainment purposes.   A more common term is "hive mind", but there are many kinds of hive minds, of which the Borg Collective in Star Trek is a particular variety.

What I do think is very likely is that individual humans get sidelined via the emergence of some sort of mindplex ... a term I introduced over a decade ago to indicate a network of minds that has its own emergent consciousness, will, memory and individuality -- yet also allows the individual minds in the network to have these aspects on their own.

"Mindplex" is a very broad concept and encompasses options that are more "society of individuals"-like alongside some that are more borg-like.

Why do I think the dominance of mindplexes over 2015-style human individuals is very likely?

In short, because of: Brain-computer interfacing (BCI), the inefficiency of current means of communication, and the human love of togetherness and socializing.

What could stop mindplexes from becoming dominant?   Apart from horrible global calamities, the most likely thing to stand in their way would be the very rapid emergence of advanced AGI, alongside with the capability for humans to upload and fuse with advanced AGI.    If something more advanced than human-based mindplexes emerges before BCI gets to the point of enabling powerful mindplexes, then all bets regarding mindplexes are off....

Let me share a little more of what I've been thinking....

Why Many Businesses Stay Small

Reading Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo, I was pleased with his summary of ideas regarding why companies tend to become less efficient when they expand beyond a certain size.   Basically, following prior research of others, he attributes this to the cost of building links (links between people or companies in this case).

In the business world, building links between individuals in different companies is costly, because it requires lots of negotiation, legal overhead, etc.    Linking between different individuals in the same company is generally cheaper.  

Yet, when a company becomes too big, this is no longer necessarily the case.   In a big company, it's often easier for a department to outsource work to an external contractor, than to deal with another department of the same company.   This may occur because of complex internal politics, or simply due to the bureaucracy that seems to inevitably spring up when a company grows beyond a certain size.

When the cost of building the internal links needed to get something done exceed the cost of getting the same thing done using external links, then a company may stop growing in size and begin to grow in capability via networking with external entities instead.

Further, one thing we see happening in the tech biz world now is: the cost of linking between different companies, or companies and external individual contractors gets cheaper.   This is the move toward a "gig economy", as it's been called.   Cheaper links between organizations will tend to lead to smaller, leaner organizations.

Beyond Economics

One thing that I kept wondering while reading Hidalgo's book, though, is why our society is dominated by organizations that are glued together by ECONOMIC transactions.

I mean, economic interactions are important, but they are not the only kinds of links between people.  There are also emotional and relational links, intellectual links, spiritual links, and so on.   Yet it's organizations based on economic links that are currently dominant.

The obvious conclusion is that organizations based on economic links are currently so powerful, in large part, because economic links are so easy to form.    More easily formed links tend to lead to bigger organizations, as Hidalgo points out.  And bigger organizations, on the whole, have more potential to exert power....

What could change the landscape fundamentally, then, would be if other kinds of links became much easier to form.

Forming links based on, say, friendship or sexual relationship or intellectual interchange or shared goals is currently much more difficult and time-consuming than forming links based on monetary exchange.    So groups founded on other sorts of exchange are going to be smaller and less able to grow rapidly than groups founded based on economic exchange.   Given the current state of things.

I experience this phenomenon quite concretely in my AGI work.   It's possible to pull together great contributors for a science or engineering project without paying anyone -- just by recruiting people with a common goal and vision and building a shared feeling and community among them.   But in many ways this is MUCH MUCH HARDER than simply hiring and paying people.

Of course, a great community of unpaid contributors can have a self-organizing, self-motivated aspect that MOST groups of employee collaborators won't have.   But it's also possible to get great collaboration and enthusiasm among a paid team -- if you hire the right people who gel with each other....   Once a non-monetary link with a project contributor is made, it can have great persistence (or it can evaporate when the person's life situation changes and they suddenly need to spend more time earning an income).   But forming non-monetary links just tends to be a lot slower, whereas hiring a contractor is almost instantaneous these days, with sites like Upwork and Elance.

But what if we had, for instance, brain-computer interfacing technology?

Brain Computer Interfacing and Social Self-Organization

What if we had BCI hooked up to allow different people to directly interface with each others brains?

Real BCI tech will presumably be a lot less picturesque
and cool-looking than this, but hey...

What if you could drink from the firehose of somebody else's mind? -- directly suck in their thoughts or feelings?   This isn't possible yet, but first steps are being taken in the lab already.   Would this sort of multidimensional exchange, manifested more fully, make it easier for networks of people to establish other sorts of mutually valuable relationships beyond "merely" economic ones?   I would tend to think so....

And networks of people that cohere together based on deeper forms of exchange -- intellectual, emotional and spiritual -- are likely to be much more effective than networks cohering based on economic exchange.   Encoding information about needs, desires and motivations in economic terms is terribly inefficient, really.

Paying an employee to align their goals with one's own, is of meaningful yet erratic effectiveness.   Spelling out one's needs and desires to a subcontractor in a requirements specification coupled with a legal contract, is always a terrible oversimplification of one's actual needs.

How much better to have a collaborator who really gets one's goals at the deep level, or a subcontracting organization that understands one's requirements at a deep and intuitive level.   And these things happen sometimes.  But what if they could happen systematically?

For this reason I think BCI will be the death of corporations -- they will simply pale in effectiveness compared to networks of people that self-organize based on deeper kinds of exchange than the economic.   But the implications are much broader than this.   BCI may also lead -- perhaps quite rapidly -- to the obsolescence of individuals as we know them.

Between Self and Borg, Mindplex

How much of modern culture is focused on exalting the joy and moral value of "coming together."   Lovers who feel and act as one; parents who give their all for their children; work teams that act in harmony (e.g. agile software teams), thus achieving much more than the sum of the parts.   BCI could enhance all these things -- lovers could really be in each others' minds, minimizing misunderstandings; work teams could share thoughts directly, avoiding all sorts of communication bottlenecks....

Most of the use we get out of Internet and computing tech these days, is oriented toward communication.  With Facebook, SMS, video-chat and all the rest, we ensconce ourselves in interaction with others as richly and constantly as we can.    If BCI were rolled out, it would immediately be applied to various forms of brain-to-brain social networking.   Sufficient use of this kind of technology will cause brains to adapt physiologically to BCI-powered neurosocial networking.

So  -- Will this make us a borg?  Not exactly.  But it will make us part of something new, a new kind of mindplex, something between present-day notions of individual and society.

Incipit Homo Mindplexicus

A true undifferentiated borg mind is unlikely to be optimal as a problem-solving system, for the same reasons that island models work in genetic algorithms (and why OpenCog's evolutionary program learning component, MOSES, works by evolving distinct "demes" of programs).    Given realistic resource constraints, one often gets more innovation by letting different pools of resources evolve somewhat independently.  The overall system can then choose the best (by its own explicit or implicit criteria) of what the various somewhat silo'd off subsystems have created or discovered.

So one fairly likely-looking possibility is that, after the emergence of powerful BCI: Instead of individuals looking out for their own personal good, and banding together into organizations based crudely on economic exchange -- we will have networks of tightly bound group-minds, interacting based on directly exchanging goals, values and ideas ... and periodically re-shuffling or merging within a broader network of mindplex-like emergent intelligent patterns.

One big question , though, is how this will interrelate with advances in AGI.   The same tech that will let us network our minds together, will let us execute Google search queries and access calculators and general software programs from within our minds.   The same tech will also let us share thoughts with any AGI software that exists at a given point in time.

A Few Plausible Scenarios

For sake of having an interesting discussion, let's assume a positive post-Singularity world where humans have options and choices (see my chapter Toward a Human-Friendly Post-Singularity World in The End of the Beginning for a more detailed discussion of this sort of world; free PDF version here).

Once AGIs are much  more cognitively powerful than humans, then any human mindplexes that exist will, just like human minds, need to decide how far they want to fuse with these AGIs.    Full-on fusion with AGIs will likely reduce the human component of any individual or mindplex to relative insignificance relative to the more powerful AGI component.

So various scenarios are possible :

  • Advanced AGI comes before advanced BCI.   Then the only people who fuse into mindplexes, rather than fusing with AGIs, are ones who value humanity but not individuality.
  • Advanced BCI comes before advanced AGI.   Then human mindplexes will form, and various whole and partial mindplexes will make their own decisions about fusing with AGIs
  • Advanced AGI and advanced BCI come about at around the same time.   Then things really get complexicated!

Yadda yadda ... interesting times ...


Ted Goertzel said...

The prospect of a "mind meld" with even our intimate partners is troubling. How many of our relationships would benefit from having our partners really know all our fantasies and deeper thoughts? We could share them now with speech, but we don't have to. For that matter, don't we have things buried in our own minds that we don't bring to consciousness? What if our partner delves into our unconscious? Maybe we could meld with a psychoanalyst who respected professional ethics and boundaries but not with our family. This would be an interesting topic for a science fiction book.

Ben Goertzel said...

Hi Ted,

I wouldn't mind having my wife or friends or family know my various fantasies, thoughts and so forth --- if I knew theirs as well, symmetrically... I'm a pretty open person, and i don't have any particularly big secrets....

In general, after that sort of opening-up between people, there would initially be some reactions of surprise, shock, disturbance, etc. But then I bet much of the time, there would be a great feeling of relief. Like, "WHEW, I don't have to keep that stuff bottled up inside me anymore!!"

Also, it's a common observation that the younger generation is less concerned with secrecy than older ones. You're from a generation that valued privacy a lot; but current youth tend to put everything out there on social networks anyway...

I would be quite curious for my wife or friends or family to delve into my unconscious. Having taken psychedelic substances more than a few times, I'm no stranger to the feeling of all sorts of weird stuff getting unearthed from my unconscious mind. Sure, the experience can be upsetting or enraging or whatever, but then that reaction passes and the end result is generally for the better...

I thought a decade ago of writing a novel about a situation where everyone's mind opened up to everybody else's, but GRADUALLY, bit by bit, month by month, via some sort of technological telepathy. But I haven't had time to write it yet...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It's not about privacy, but about evolution as an isolated entity. So much meaning is derived from our understanding of being separate. So much culture is invented to express togetherness AS individuals.

My feeling is we do yearn for Ultimate Trust. So we no longer have to look over our backs or fear The Man or The Other. We have many traditions and customs that express our mutual interest in a pact of ego-sharing.

Yet, for all time we can shout prayers at God or Nation or Love... and never hear an answer back.

The proliferation of mobile devices and broadband are efforts to shorten the distance between us. To get ever tighter and huddled in against the terror of oblivion, around the fires of our cities in the cold night of the galaxy.

We have witnessed the frequency of brain stimulation via inter-communication accelerate nearly to the point of our capacity. Can we realistically handle much more? Our screens already have begun to exceed the resolution of optical perception. The age of "please wait.... loading" is rapidly disappearing. Do I really want to think at more than this current "rate"?

At least for this human, I sense my evolution from a brutal chain of survival that was the result of my individual prowess at Not Dying and successfully reproducing. My forty two years thus far has been constantly reminded of the limitations of our species, our bad habits, our baggage of War. In other worse, it is hard to imagine true Togetherness nor a path to it - unless you are talking about known metaphors and methods of organization (can we start a non-religion already?). Micro-Togetherness is possible and new tech will absolutely amplify it.

Finally, let me say I think you are also right. There is a certain feeling of inevitability that is beyond easy explanation. The signs are indeed there, a natural force of sorts.

Ben Goertzel said...

Ben Collins, you say "it is hard to imagine true Togetherness nor a path to it " --- perhaps it's hard for you, but it's not hard for me at all...

I guess that modern society would be hard for a caveman to imagine -- until they actually saw it. Imagination sometimes has a hard time leaping too far beyond current reality.

I think Teilhard was right about this (though I don't share his religious view): The deep Togetherness we will find in a Mindplex, is a sort of attractor-state... we are in the basin now and are converging there in an almost-inevitable way. Phenomena like Facebook and SMS are aspects of this convergence.... BCI will accelerate the rate of falling-into the attractor....

Just as a caveman couldn't foresee the kind of knowledge-sharing Facebook and Arxiv allow -- current psychology and technology are not good guides for the post-(BCI-telepathy) world....

But the beauty of exponential acceleration is that we can see radical changes, where reality way outpaces imagination, in decades rather than millennia !!

m duncan said...

aren't corporations and political parties already a kind of mindplex in your sense? or even dumb proto-agis?

Ben Goertzel said...

MIke, ciorporations are dumb mindplexes -- and they are dumb because they are glued together mainly via monetary exchange which is a very crude thing.... Groups glued together via richer modes of interaction may be expected to achieve higher emergent intelligence...

Unknown said...

Hi Ben

I'm surprised when people say BCI can lead to mind-melding in the foreseeable future. It seems to me about the same level of difficulty as uploading, and I wouldn't expect to see that without some assistance from a superintelligence.

Also, you seem to neglect the possibility that uploaded minds might want to meld. I expect they would find it much easier than meat-based humans.

Putting those thoughts together, the likely order of events would seem to be:

Uploading (assuming the AGI is Friendly)
Borg (for those to whom it appeals)

Thanks for the mind-poke!


xplaner said...

We definitely need AGI uploading/mind melding before human mind melding. It seems that when humans band together for a common goal other than monetary, it is more likely to be negative. Like kkk or ISOS. Very negative banding together is based on strong emotions like hate or fear. Higher based banding together is more complex and harder to negotiate. Higher orders of meld would need to be based on the holistic overall value to the whole not just a sub group. So a much higher intelligence both intellectual and emotional is needed for really beneficial mind meld. Perhaps if humans could be upgraded first by genetic engineering then BCI could make mind melding be beneficial. That is not to say BCI won't come first but I think it could have very negative results. I suppose negative mind melds could be stopped by filtering from the cloud but if the values that are used are provided by human programmers then how can they agree on what is a right code? Society is very divided on moral codes and basic fundamentals. We need a higher order of emotional and intellectual first.

Mentifex said...

Incipit Homo Mindplexicus

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John Kettner said...

Black Mirror just did an episode of this. It was a disaster!