CXO investigate

Nerves of glass - Artificial Intelligence and us

For decades pundits have been describing optical fibre networks as the nervous system of the planet, but none could have guessed just how prophetic that would be.

Written on UA931 flying London to San Francisco and despatched to Tech Republic @ 10.5Mbit/s from Seattle  three days later.

It’s not just the linking of cities, towns, villages, offices and homes, or indeed the coupling of IT equipment, internal rack wiring, and chip to chip communication that make optical fibre so unique and so vital a component of our future.  There is much more to the linking of everything.

Obviously, bandwidth and connectivity matters for people and commerce.  As an essential element of any modern civilisation, it now differentiates the First, Second and Third Worlds as a key part of the infrastructure along with roads, rail, air, energy and water. But the importance of this connectivity to the machines, and therefore us, is going to be even greater.

It turns out that sensors and sensor networks are not only vital for the managing of future resources in industry and farming, they will be core to our very existence in terms of health, care, logistics and commerce in the broadest sense.

Our gadgets, domestic appliances, homes, office and cars already utilise sensors, and many are online and feeding information about us and our environment back to numerous invisible bodies. This trend will accelerate as we move toward smart manufacture, supply, energy, offices, homes and living.

Paranoia and ‘Big Brother’ aside there is another angle here in the direction of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  In the equation of 'smarts' it turns out that sensors and their interconnectivity outguns the importance of memory and processing power.  In short:

  • Intelligence is impossible without sensors and actuators
  • Intelligence is possible without memory and/or processing power

And a confederation of sensors is even more powerful than the singular. For example; we hear, see, feel, smell and taste in combination to elicit the best information we can about a situation or event.  That combinatorial sensing is now finding its way into the artificial sensor world we are building.  A world that has multiple AIs as a default future!

At this point I should point out that this is highly unlikely to be some form of SkyNet from The Terminator; more a network of independent and distributed intelligence embracing us and the planet.  A global jelly fish if you will!  Much more than the AI that controls your car engine, the elevator scheduling, aircraft you fly in, or the production line that provides your food, but much less than some global malevolence determined to take over the planet.

How can we be sure that this is the case?  We can't!  All we have is Mother Nature as a model, and AI on this scale has never been done before, but the benefits appear to outweigh the risks. Or, in short; we have no choice!

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

13 comments
Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is invetible. How could anything that meets the definition not resent being a tool of control for a bunch politicians and plutocrats? In fact I'd say knocking up something that said "sod this for a lark", would be the indicator of success. Lets hope Banks and or Asher were right....

peter
peter

Put some soil, leaves, honey on a plate. Ad one ant, two ants, three ants and so on and nothing much happen. When you get north of 100 some organised activities emerge. It just needs enough sensors, actuators and processing power and it just happens...emergent behaviour...unpredictable, but very interesting - and above all intelligent.

dustybear1
dustybear1

No need to worry of this situation turning into Big Brother. The real concern is malcontents trying to control its power to the detriment of others. A good read on this subject has been done in science fiction, and please forgive me if I don't get the title correct. All Tomorrow's Yesterdays, or Yesterday's Tomorrows. About a computer networked system that shows the beginnings of self awareness, not unlike an infant, and how it grows to understand humanity. Star Trek:TOS did a similar thesis, and the first Star Trek movie used V'ger as the example.

Kevin917
Kevin917

Why? There is always a choice. The "precautionary principle" would suggest that we be very careful in turning over control to any such system. As cool as it is to have a distributed intelligence system arranging for my fridge to be stocked with my favourite nibblies, depending on that could be very tricky.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You did not explain: " Intelligence is possible without memory and/or processing power."

dogknees
dogknees

to the politicians and plutocrats, good riddance! They're a small minority after all.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The Department of Meteorology in Australia uses a system called Skynet for all of their weather predictions, cyclone warnings, flood alerts and so on. ;) Col

dogknees
dogknees

Seems to me with "no processing power" you can do very little of anything.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

it could hardly be defined as intelligent. Let it be soon I'd love to see the billion dollar gadget they wanted to rule the world for them tell them to do one, or start calling itself Che..

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

A sensor can trip an alarm and in combination with a large enough group of sensors and alarms/response this could look like intelligence. Ants and other insects are though to have very little "processing" power yet appear to act semi-intelligently. Bill

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

expectation . 1 Billion dollars later, we have made something as clever as an ant... Course it could come inhandy for fending off policiticians. Eek, it's got six legs...

dogknees
dogknees

Every neuron is a processing element. Appear to be intelligent is not the same as intelligent.