The Internet Has Feelings Too

Over at The Atlantic, Steve Paulson has a fascinating interview with "romantic reductionist" neuroscientist Christof Koch about the science of consciousness and the possibility of a sentient internet.

Riffing on the workings of the brain, Koch explains that it is not so much what the brain is made of, but the "relationship of that stuff to each other". The complicated relationship and activity of our neurons, it is not so dissimilar to the way the internet works. Maybe.

The internet now already has a couple of billion nodes. Each node is a computer. Each one of these computers contains a couple of billion transistors, so it is in principle possible that the complexity of the internet is such that it feels like something to be conscious. I mean, that's what it would be if the internet as a whole has consciousness. Depending on the exact state of the transistors in the internet, it might feel sad one day and happy another day, or whatever the equivalent is in internet space.

This is only a small sample of the kinds of ideas Koch brings up for discussion. Definitely check out the entire interview in full here. Incredible stuff. [The Atlantic]


Comments

    Today the internet is feeling introspective and philosophical.

      Really? I found the internet quite angry and upset this morning. Must be its lack of sleep making it irritable.

    At long the realization that the Internet is well on the way to becoming the next cognitive entity on this planet is gaining traction. Replete with the sentience that cognition entails.
    It is a model outlined in my books "Unusual Perspectives: An Escape From Tunnel Vision" and, more recently "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" , a(both available as free downloads in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)
    Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet.It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly. You may have noticed that we are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the net.

    We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

    Consider this:

    There are at present an estimated 2 Billion internet users. There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.
    That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but can adopt multiple states.

    Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power.
    And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.The culmination of this exponential growth corresponds to the event that transhumanists inappropriately call “The Singularity” but is more properly regarded as a phase transition of the on-going “life” process.
    An evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.

    The broad evolutionary model that supports this contention is outlined very informally in my writings.

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