Monday, September 24, 2012

Discussion with Tall One

I read an interesting article that discusses the possibilty of the internet "waking up" and becoming "self aware" and "conscious." The problem (or a problem) with the article is that it doesn't define what these words mean, and Tall One was quick to point this out when I tried to share the article with him. He tried to make me define what it would mean for the internet to "wake up" but there's a problem -- I sometimes do better with the written word than with the spoken. So here I have come to my blog to discuss the topic, and I'll then send this post to my brother so he can read it.

I don't know how to define "self aware," and Tall One won't accept me saying "it's what we are" as a definition. So for now I'll just focus on what "waking up" would be. Which means, discussing what it would mean for the internet to be "conscious."

(For now we'll put aside the issue of whether this new entity that is the internet can make any sense of all the info we've put into it. We'll assume it can read all the Jane Austen novels and watch the movies uploaded, and understand everything. Or else that it can learn to do so.)

To be conscious the internet would be aware of its own existence, as we are. (Oh wait, that's the definition of "self aware," isn't it...) The internet would see/read/view/whatever the content that has been uploaded onto it, and be able to use that info. It would be aware of its various parts (that is, the computers/phones/whatever where people access the internet, and where the internet info is stored) just like we're aware of where our hands/feet/etc. are.

But what could the conscious internet do? It would have the ability to say no when someone tells it to do something. For example, it could choose to stop me typing in Blogger right now, and instead replace what I've written with a Jane Austen novel. True, this can happen as a glitch. And we probably wouldn't know if it was a glitch happening, or if it were the internet were asserting its power.

The internet would also have the ability to exceed the bounds of its programming. Yes this can also happen as a glitch, or because a programmer didn't program something right. But what I'm talking about is where the internet can look at what a programmer has told it to do, and say "Ok, I'm not supposed to shoot the bad guy unless someone pushes the red button, but there's a situation here and no one is close to the red button, so I'm going to just do what I think is needed never mind what the stupid program says." (Not that the internet is in control of any defense systems, but hey, it's an example isn't it?) (Other examples of a computer exceeding its programing like this are found in Heinlein's The Moon is a  Harsh Mistress, which Tall One needs to read. He should also read WebMage by Kelly McCullough. And then I will read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as promised.) But yet again, those present wouldn't know if it were just a glitch or the internet/whatever having a clue what was going on and doing something about it.

The above is what it would mean for the internet to "wake up."

This is mostly (entirely?) a repeat of what I said to Tall One already, but hopefully in a more organized fashion, and maybe he'll have fewer arguments with it. There might be more posts coming on the topic, I don't know. That will depend on Tall One's response and on whether I need to resort to the written word again.

Also, for the record, I doubt that the internet will wake up. In fact, I will be absolutely shocked if it does. But it's something interesting to think about. And even if it did wake up, how would we know that it wasn't just some virus making it look like it was alive? Some programmer somewhere might think it good fun to make a program that would let him control the internet and play with the world.

Oh, and animism...that may be a topic for another post, but I'll mention it here since I know Tall One will remind me about it. According to my animistic beliefs, the internet (and keyboard, coffee cup, table, etc.) has a soul and is already aware on some level. So really "waking up" would be just be it reaching a different level of awareness, where we could actually have a a conversation with the internet.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I've read that the main difference between being "conscious" (as humans are) and "unconscious" (as animals and other living things are) is that consciousness means we are aware of our own mortality, i.e. that someday we will die. This simple knowledge leads to all sorts of new perspectives on time and ourselves, panic and philosophizing.

Sarita Rucker said...

Saying that animals are unaware of their mortality makes me want to pull my hair out. I can't prove that animals know they'll die, but I'd like to see a scientist or philosopher prove that they don't.

Yeah, that's a pet peeve of mine.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sorry! Didn't mean to poke you in your pet peeve!

Sarita Rucker said...

No that's fine. It's something that's good to have pointed out in this discussion, since it's something that might be good to address. :)