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January 06, 2006

It's Singularity Day At Ace of Spades HQ

It's really cool of Bill from InDC to come over here and blog for me. He argues (I think rightly) that there is nothing special about organic consciousness that can't be replicated by cybernetics:

If you look at evolution of organic systems drily - as the accumulated complexity of an information coding system (DNA) - the individual components of which are a mere four different nitrogen-containing compounds (A,G,T,C) - it's more easy to see the mind as just a software program with acquired structural complexity. The fact that any information coding is "organic" vs. "non-organic" could very well be immaterial.

There is a computing term called Cellular autonoma, which basically sets up a program wherein an array of cells can exist in a finite number of states, proliferating and updated in certain discrete time periods according to a finite number of hard and fast rules, rules dependent on the state of the cells surrounding each individual cell.

Modeled in biological systems, using the four nitrogen-containing compounds contained in DNA and setting this model in motion, a mathematician (his name escapes me) has shown how relatively complex patterns have arisen out of randomness, assuming the application of non-random rules. This is a model for how "random" evolution has coded intelligence (human and otherwise) via proteins, as well as all biological systems.

If you grasp this concept and then apply it to a situation where we have computing machines that are powerful enough to mimic the structure of advanced biological brains - given that brains are comprised of a set of information instructions - then it is pretty plausible that machines can generate consciousness at some point.

Because that's what we are. Pieces of information with operating instructions, everything from how our synapses fire to how our toenails grow.

The A-Man adds that the mathematician whose name escaped Bill is Steven Wolfram.

I think it's always hard to imagine a change from one binary state to another. Dualities seem like, well, dualities. So it's hard to imagine how life could have arose from pre-life; one's obviously alive, the other obviously dead. Or how consciousness could arise from something which is, as of yet, not conscious in the least.

But there are usually in-between cases. Viruses are kinda living, and kinda not living, just nuclear matter in a protein coat which nevertheless can reproduce (by hijacking living cells' reproductive material, of course). And the smarter animals must have some level of consciousness. They're not self-aware as humans are, but they're somewhere on the scale. It's not like they're at 0 and we're at 1. They're in-between, too.

Computers can't think, but then, neither can a shovel paint a fence. An AI machine won't really be a computer at all. One can imagine in-between states mimicking animals' various levels of consciousness -- first, somewhat changeable "instincts" as very dumb animals have, then slightly more learning-power as, say, fish have, until you start getting up the level of a mouse and then even a dog.

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posted by Ace at 04:47 PM

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