Intelligence Augmentation

October 1, 2010
Amara D. Angelica

Education in the Year 2110

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
—Alan Kay

Dear future anthropologists of the year 2110: The following thinking should give you some good laughs. As you undoubtedly now know, the much-heralded (and often hated) "technological Singularity" —an event or period in which artificial intelligence (AI) machine entities with greater than human intelligence have taken over and changed everything—has long since happened. Unfortunately for me, this makes predictions impossible, and thus this article is absurd. So go ahead, have your laughs.

Or not …

It's perhaps just as likely that war and terror technology—and dwindling natural resources—have accelerated even faster, and civilization by now has totally crumbled. And you perhaps have somehow reconstructed these strangely archaic words from an old abandoned hologram in the back of some cave. In that case, I can only hope that these now-primitive thoughts will somehow help you reconstruct some semblance of civilization—and education ...

Technological progress is a central feature of our time, with computing power and capacity increasing exponentially in a process of seemingly limitless change. In 100 years,  the rate of technological progress that this creates, and the accelerating and dramatic influences on our societies and culture will likely alter all our perceptions of what it means to be human. The final result of this change will be the “technological Singularity,” a concept proposed by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge (1993). With our exponentially growing machine intelligence and computer networks, aided by biological science, he suggested, “we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth ... [caused by] the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence.”

The popular model of this is superintelligent machines that take over. The technological Singularity may arise because of computers (or computer networks) that appear to become awake and contain artificial intelligence (AI) that appears to be all-knowing. 

But Vinge also suggested another path to the Singularity: intelligence augmentation (IA), which could arise through AI combined with biological modifications and computer interfaces (biological and technological blurring) that become so intimate that people may reasonably be considered to have superhuman intelligence. I’m going to suggest that IA may indeed be the direction in which we are moving. I personally find the idea of enhancing our own intelligence a much more appealing (and arguably more likely) scenario for how a technological Singularity might happen. But let’s hear about it from the man himself:

IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. Even now, the team of a PhD human and good computer workstation (even an off-net workstation!) could probably max any written intelligence test in existence.

And it’s very likely that [Intelligence Augmentation] IA is a much easier road to the achievement of superhumanity than pure [artificial intelligence] AI. In humans, the hardest development problems have already been solved. Building up from within ourselves ought to be easier than figuring out first what we really are and then building machines that are all of that.

What’s fascinating here is how relevant these ideas may become to the future of education—if by “education” we mean the development of intelligence and knowledge communication in the broadest and most interesting sense. Vinge suggests the following ways to augment our human intelligence with machines:

  • Develop direct brain-to-computer interfaces to accelerate learning.
  • Human/computer team automation: Take problems that are normally considered for purely machine solutions (like hill-climbing problems) and design programs and interfaces that take advantage of humans’ intuition and available computer hardware.
  •   Develop human/computer symbiosis in art: Combine the graphic generation capability of modern machines and the aesthetic sensibility of humans.
  • Allow human/computer teams at chess tournaments.
  • Develop interfaces that allow computer and human network access anywhere.
  • Exploit the worldwide Internet as a combination human/machine tool. As connectivity and bandwidth, storage space, and computer speed all increase, we might be seeing something like a vision of the biosphere as the data processor. A vision that Lynn Margulis has suggested, but at a million times greater in processing speed and with millions of humanly intelligent agents (ourselves).

I believe future-oriented educators today could have an important role to play in developing this IA approach. The ultimate nightmare of superintelligent machines is an all-seeing Google-like technology, encapsulating and controlling all knowledge in a digital cloud that will sink us into a global “FacelessBook” or Terminator-like “Skynet” ruled by ubergeeks. However, rather than humans becoming increasingly dependent on impersonal (and potentially hostile) superintelligent machines, humans and machines might evolve a healthy symbiotic relationship.

Let’s make that wildly optimistic assumption. So what might education based on this assumption look like? Let's take two snapshots of the future, one four decades ahead, and the other 10 decades forward.

2050: Omninet and the Rise of Experience Enhancement Environments

Intelligence Augmentation is here. Knowledge and communication have become invisible and ubiquitous. The Omninet, which superseded the Internet, is a vital, fast-evolving information virtual organism at the core of all thought and all knowledge on planet Earth. Direct brain links are now commonplace among people. This technology works via terahertz signals—signals that exist between light and radio waves—that penetrate the skull and link directly to a person’s neural networks on multiple high-bandwidth channels. All humans are now part of a vast global organosilico mental network (blending of organism and silicon), where thoughts and ideas have merged into vast data structures, but controlled by individuals and filtered to meet each person’s own world view and preferences.

Of course, knowledge and reality have become infinitely more complex with Omninet, as most of a human’s lifetime is now spent constantly learning, with the role of educators becoming central and vital. But this role of educator has also radically changed. Growing out of the merger of entertainment, computer science, advanced physics and information science, the educators of 2050 are imaginative producers of experience enhancement environments (EEEs). The EEEs are ubiquitous 3D-surround virtual “superrealilty” environments with image resolutions that are higher than even the human senses can detect.

There is no longer any separation between human and machine brains. The EEEs and Omninet have developed into a system in which knowledge is synthesized and communicated at ultra-high speeds. In many cases, this is aided by advanced imagination-enhancing drugs like piracetam that were developed in the early 21st century. Many human brains have also been rewired through advanced genetic modifications and uploaded into computer networks created by reverse-engineering human brains.

EEEs are distributed throughout the world in a global sensor, processing and knowledge-generation network, and available to all humans in real time. (People can decouple from the EEEs at any time they choose, and there are decompression chambers everywhere to restore and revitalize a person.) Individuals can also use what Ray Kurzweil called “experience beaming,” exchanging experiences directly, combining the technologies portrayed in movies from the early 21st century like Inception, Surrogate, Avatar and Brainstorm.

A major role for educators is packaging experiences to communicate knowledge. Educators have become much like movie producers. Their motto, as Einstein put it, is ”Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

2110: Universenet and Beme Neural Architecture

As the Earth’s resources have become scarce, and to prevent wars, humanity has spread out to thousands of space colonies, including large outposts on the Moon and Mars. The Omninet of 2050 has grown beyond that of planet Earth and has merged with NASA’s interplanetary digital networks linking spacecrafts, the Moon, Mars and beyond into what is now called “Universenet.” Universenet grew from the desire of residents on Earth to connect with other remotely located residents on different planets or spacecrafts that are constantly in transit between colonies with different intelligences in the universe, including those of aliens.

As these interplanetary outposts have become more diverse, they have evolved into a wide variety of ideas and practices. Educators have taken another leap and have become a combination of entertainers, knowledge archivists and ambassador astronauts travelling between space outposts. Their role includes translating and communicating between these separate societies, enriching them by cross-pollinating the best of each. However, an educator’s main role is in packaging and disseminating “bemes.” I described the possibilities of the beme as a way to immortality in “Communicating with the Universe,” a chapter in the book The Year Million:

Dr. Martine Rothblatt, who founded Sirius Satellite and other satellite companies, has suggested a related method for connecting with Universenet: sending bemes or units of being—highly individual elements of personality, mannerisms, feelings, recollections, beliefs, values, and attitudes. Bemes are fundamental, transmittable, mutable units of being-ness in the spirit of memes (Richard Dawkins’s term for the replicators of cultural information that a mind transmits, verbally or by demonstration, to another mind). The main difference is that memes are culturally transmittable elements that have common meanings, whereas bemes reflect individual characteristics.

Rothblatt suggests that a new Beme Neural Architecture (BNA) will outcompete DNA in populating the universe ... that just by spacecasting your bemes, you can already achieve a level of immortality, and so can all of humanity.

Beme me up, Scotty.

References

Angelica, A. 2008. “Communicating with the Universe.” The Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge. New York: Atlas & Co. Retrieved from www.kurzweilai.net/communicating-with-the-universe.

InterplaNetary Internet Project (IPN). Retrieved from http://www.ipnsig.org/home.htm.

Kurzweil, R. 2005. The Singularity Is Near. New York: Viking.

Lagrangian point. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point.

Margulis, L. and D. Sagan. 1986. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors. New York: Summit Books.

Vinge, V. 1993. “The Technological Singularity.” Whole Earth Review. Winter. Retrieved from www.kurzweilai.net/the-technological-singularity.

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Amara D. Angelica is academic model/curriculum lead, Singularity University and editor, KurzweilAI.