Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Extropy: Pantheism

While enjoying an espresso and a book on cognitive science at the lovely Gutenberg Cafe, I had a provocative idea I would now like to share with you.

Is AI an emergent property of any tech-species? To put it another way, is AI inevitable given a species which can manipulate parts of the physical world, i.e. technology?

I believe that it is. It all stems from the properties and products of recursive processes. This also has to do with autopoiesis. Once the tiniest most simple instance occurs, an explosion of intelligence has to happen, barring any apocalyptic event.

I see it proceeding as follows: life stems from nature and the ingredients which comprise this planet, then human level intelligence stems from life and the ingredients which comprise organic chemistry, then artificial intelligence stems from human intelligence and the ingredients of metal and silicon.

This progression should be obvious, but is it inevitable?

Now I am really taking the concept of autopoiesis and running very far with it but it was originally introduced as a way of describing self-sustaining life and any other dissipative structure. I saw the convenience of this definition simply as life supporting life. Instinctively keeping one's species in existence and all that Darwinian hullabaloo. The original 'motivation' of life has always been to keep itself alive. This is how evolution came about because with a changing environment some separated areas of life learned how to keep themselves alive better than the rest. (I now slightly digress to ask for some pardon regarding my anthropomorphizing the chemical processes of DNA and mutation. I am doing so to help make it apparent that we are experiencing the same force of nature but seems different because we are sentient and natural selection is not.) As I was saying, life became so good at keeping itself alive it became able to manipulate the environment so that it would be easier to stay alive. This of course refers to us.

Now is where it becomes interesting. Humans have created artificial intelligence and are currently working to make better ones. Why? Humans do this because AI tends to be very good at making living easier for the humans. Humans have invariably continued the process of life keeping itself alive. Not only that, humans have made it much faster. Some say exponentially so.

Now I know you are going to ask how AI has made it easier for you to stay alive. I would respond that what it means to live is much more sophisticated to a human than it is to any other form of life on this planet. We have reached a level where if one had access to any large compendium of information as is normal in any developed nation, one would be able to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and "live off of the land" without any problem. Some have even tried this. I make this point to make it obvious that we have reached a ceiling with regards to evolution through natural selection. Natural selection will not be able to make it easier for our species to survive. We have created our own form of evolution. The evolution of ideas, principles, and information. Our collective minds have made it so easy for our bodies to survive that it has turned on itself and raised its own expectations. We seem to have to keep moving, which may be more evidence supporting the embodied cognition school of thought.

I thoroughly enjoy the concept of extropy, as informal as it may be. It is such a beautiful view of life. The opposite of entropy. While entropy increases disorder in the universe,extropy increases order in a particular neighbourhood. While entropy starts out as a rapid change and slows down as it dissipates, extropy starts out as the slow evolution of life and speeds up as it progresses.

The biggest critique of entropy is that it seemingly tries to nullify the second law of thermodynamics. This, however, is not correct. The second law is only interested in very large systems, i.e. the universe. Extropy, or rather the description I have here, deals primarily with increasingly smaller systems. The human civilization may expand up to and even beyond the solar system, but intelligence is not defined by how much space its proponents take. It is defined by ability and amount of organization. A system can increase in extropy without increasing in size. Consider the Big Bang as an example of entropy along with the fact that the universe is still expanding; while considering the pulling together of mass to form planets as extropy.

I share all of this because it has portrayed to me the world and life in general in such a sublimely beautiful way only a pantheist could experience it. The advancement of intelligence and order in general is the quintessential anthropic concept. It preceded us because we are products of this propensity for autopoiesis to develop self-aware systems. This thing called life has not been given to us by some higher power. We are not children in a playground given to us by some omniscient parent. We were born from non-conscious star dust. To quote Carl Sagan we are: "star stuff contemplating star stuff". The secrets of life are not being governed and hidden from human eyes. They are here and we are immersed. Maybe the future is not variable and can be predetermined, but if it is we are the only ones responsible.