Rise of External Brain – Prosthetic Memory – Chaos

17 December, 2009 at 17:32 3 comments

Greg Linden has the following post on blog@CACM (Communications of the ACM), “Rise of External Brain” (full article after the fold) in which he says search over the Web is achieving what classical AI could not, an ‘external brain’ that supplements our intelligence, knowledge, and memories. It kinda made me misty eyed because it brought back so many memories, no pun intended, of my own thoughts and what could have been pioneering work in the area if only I was not such a dick while at the University of Glasgow. You know what they say, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that is why it is called the present. I dont really believe in that because we have to look back at history and try to invent the future.
Where were we? Ah yes, my research. That ship has sailed but the light is being carried by Jim Gemmell and Gordon Brown. They recently brought out a book called “Total Recall” that has come out and their blog has some wonderful pointers of how we are on the path to create digital surrogates on the web already. Our bookmarks, history, thoughts, expertise, appointments, events, friends, bits, interests, locations, places, reminders, TV shows, artifacts like photos are all being archived/available on the web and with the right aggregator and linking services, one can pull together a fairly accurate digital version of oneself. Irrespective of all this progress, from my early days of internet access and even today, I am aware of the vastness of the WWW which overwhelms and underwhelms me at the same time because the web is really large and massive and gives me exposure to many brilliant people and ideas. Like the narrator emphasized in the “Hitchhikers Guide To Galaxy”, it is just unbelievably vast, huge and mind-bogglingly big. Whenever I go online, I feel like my neurons are connecting to the collective sentient consciousness of an entire species (well, those who have connectivity) residing on a little blue rock…

December 14, 2009: From the early days of computers, people have speculated that computers would be used to supplement our intelligence. Extended stores of knowledge, memories once forgotten, computational feats, and expert advice would all be at our fingertips. In the last decades, most of the work toward this dream has been in the form of trying to build artificial intelligence. By carefully encoding expert knowledge into a refined and well-pruned database, researchers strove to build a reliable assistant to help with tasks. Sadly, this effort was always thwarted by the complexity of the system and environment, too many variables and uncertainty for any small team to fully anticipate. (cue: ode to Vannevar Bush and “Memex”)
Success now is coming from an entirely unexpected source, the chaos of internet. Google (and smart search engines of tomorrow) has become our external brain, sifting through the extended stores of knowledge offered by multitudes, helping us remember what we once found, and locating advice from people who have been where we now go. For example, the other day, I was trying to describe to someone how mitochondria oddly have a separate genome, but could not recall the details. A search for [mitochondria] yielded a Wikipedia page that refreshed my memory. Later, I was wondering if train or flying between Venice and Rome was a better choice; advice arrived immediately on a search for [train flying venice rome]. Recently, I had forgotten the background of a colleague, restored again with a quick search on her name. Hundreds of times, I access le external brain, supplementing what is lost or incomplete in my own. This external brain is not programmed with knowledge, at least not in the sense we expected. There is no system of rules, no encoding of experts, no logical reasoning. There precious little understanding of information, at least not in the search itself. There is knowledge in the many voices that make up the data on the Web, but no synthesis of those voices.
Perhaps we should have expected this. Our brains, after all, are a controlled storm of competing patterns and signals, a mishmash of evolutionary agglomeration that is barely functional and easily fooled. From this chaos can come brilliance, but also superstition, illusion, and psychosis. While early studies of the brain envisioned it as a disciplined and orderly structure, deeper investigation has proved otherwise. And so it is fitting that the biggest progress on building an external brain also comes from chaos. Search engines pick out the gems in a democratic sea of competing signals, helping us find brilliance. Occasionally, our external brain leads us astray, as does our internal brain, but therein lies both the risk and beauty of building a brain on disorder. I have seen/played with future and it is not classical AI.

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    Entry filed under: Computers/ICT, CWorks, Glasgow-Travails, Life-Theories, Projects, Research, WebXP.

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    3 Comments Add your own

    • 1. Pharmd79  |  29 December, 2009 at 19:14

      Very nice site!


    • 2. John948  |  3 January, 2010 at 09:18

      Very nice site!


    • 3. John948  |  3 January, 2010 at 09:18




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