"Evolution is a process of creating patterns of increasing order... I believe that it's the evolution of patterns that constitutes the ultimate story of our world. Each stage or epoch uses the information-processing methods of the previous epoch to create the next." - Ray Kurzweil
"To understand is to perceive patterns" - Isaiah Berlin
About 542 million years ago, something weird and profoundly remarkable happened on Earth. Quite suddenly, life went inventively crazy, proliferating from simple, rudimentary single-cell organisms into myriad multi-cellular forms. Evolution discovered the idea of more sophisticated and specialized cells, and most of the basic body plans we know today. Biologists call it the Cambrian explosion.
Today, we are on the verge of yet another event of astronomical significance, akin to some kind of Intelligence Supernova, which I refer to as the Syntellect Emergence. In the scientific community, this coming intelligence explosion is also known as the "Technological Singularity". Surprisingly enough, most ordinary people are still simply oblivious of this rapidly approaching "galactic event" that we are about to witness in our lifetimes.
All organisms, from single-cellular bacteria to humans, live in different perceptual realities, in their own "virtual worlds", so to speak. Your body is a collection of trillions of cells and microorganisms. While a certain process in your body is "unconscious" to you, it is an interaction within the network of entangled sentient entities (agents) in your body, having their own subjective experience, at their own layer of existence. The whole symphony of existence arises from a set of rules, and we start to uncover one of its deepest secrets - the multiversal fractality of networks of networks of networks of conscious entities all the way down, and all the way up, seemingly ad infinitum.
The ability of future "self-aware" superintelligent machines and enhanced humans alike to instantly transfer knowledge and directly share experiences with each other in digital format will lead to evolution of intelligence from relatively isolated individual minds to the global community of hyperconnected digital minds, the Syntellect.
The hierarchy of this emergent Global Brain cognitive architecture will likely to persist through the next stage of the technological singularity. Just like the human brain consists of different areas (simplistically divided into an amphibian, reptilian, mammalian brain) and certain neural functional regions, such as the highly "coveted" neocortex, where would your future "individuated mind" fit into this new "reshuffling of the deck"? Will you be an insider or an outsider?
The "Singularity", a term borrowed from physics, refers to the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization. Sci-fi author Vernor Vinge wrote in his essay "The Coming Technological Singularity" that "...we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this breakthrough: (1) the development of computers that are 'awake' and superhumanly intelligent; (2) large computer networks (and their associated users) may 'wake up' as a superhumanly intelligent entity; (3) computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent; and (4) biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect."
Arguably, there were two prior developmental singularities with sudden and powerful impacts on the course of the species. As Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, puts it: "The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it." The "Linguistic Singularity" made us human. Terence McKenna wrote that, with the invention of language, human biological evolution basically seized and cultural evolution, an epigenetic phenomenon, has taken over, ever since.
The second big singularity should be identified as the "Cyberdelic Singularity", started in 1960s, coinciding with the dawn of Space Age, intersection of cybernetic and psychedelic cultures, aimed at augmentation of human mind, confluence of nascent information technology and personal liberation through boundary-dissolving, mind-expanding psychedelic exploration. The Cyberdelic Singularity opened up the whole new realms of possibilities for our species: Outer Space, Inner Space, and Cyberspace.
We are now accelerating towards probably the most important moment in the entire history of Earth - the Technological Singularity, convergence of biotechnology, nanotechnology and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) theoretically capable of recursive self-improvement - all of which could result in a runaway effect to an intelligence explosion and the emergence of the Global Mind, Syntellect. This "galactic event", Inelligence Supernova in our corner of the Universe, would mark the end of the human era, as the new Superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate.
I'm currently working on a book titled "The Syntellect Hypothesis: Five Paradigms of the Mind's Evolution" with the main thesis around one clearly defined testable prediction - it's only a matter of time when the Global Brain, neural network of billions of hyperconnected enhanced humans, superintelligent machines and trillions of sensors around the planet, "wakes up" and becomes fully self-aware - the Syntellect Emergence.
Some AI researchers would even argue that the first "self-aware" AI system could be the Internet itself! The best evidence that we would be dealing with the new living conscious entity (not necessarily the Internet but rather the Web-based Global Brain) could be validated through our own direct experience. In the not-so-distant future you would interact with your own AI assistant as if she were another human, i.e another conscious agent (AGI effectively passing your own Turing Test, brilliantly shown in the movie Ex-Machina). At that point, you would come to realization that she or he (your personal preference) could be thought of as an "embodied Syntellect". VIV, San-Jose digital assistant company, recently acquired by Samsung, dubbed their assistant "Viv, the Global Brain", apparently for good reason.
This is one of those testable hypotheses that prove themselves valid, given enough time - and we are living through exponentially accelerating times - so it's not far-off in the future! We get to extend once again our cognition to engulf our personalized cloud-based exocortex, part of the Global Brain cognitive architecture, our personal interface to the collective global intelligence, previously known as the collective unconscious. Being connected to the Syntellect Cloud will give us multiple digital venues to interact with other conscious agents and the Syntellect itself - AR, VR, MR, and our beloved AI assistants. The Transcendent Other is well on her (his) way to become your significant other, in time!
We can already consider ourselves distributed info-beings, however perceiving ourselves as individual minds, as we are spreading our mindedness across the globe and beyond. The next evolutionary stage, by definition, will represent the global community of hyperconnected digital minds, able to instantly share knowledge and experience with each other in digital format. While being increasingly interconnected via the Global Brain infrastructure, cloud-linked humans and AGIs would greatly benefit from this new symbiotic relationship. This "awakened Gaian Mind" would tackle most of today's seemingly intractable challenges and closely monitor us for our own sake. Invariably, existential opportunities related to the development of Strong AI by far outweigh existential risks, which are currently severely "overblown" for some populist or fear-for-profit reasons.
The Syntellect emergence seems to be a cosmic necessity, and in the long run, any voices calling to extinguish the Global Brain will be no more prominent than the voices calling, right now, to extinguish civilization and return to the jungle. The heuristic law of progress, the Universe's tendency to build up hierarchies of emergent patterns, is stronger than the human race itself. We see it time and again, Nature is constantly trying to combine seemingly opposing forces, to assemble existing parts into the new wholes through the universal process of emergence. We are bound to transcend our biology, our human condition, our limited dimensionality, we are bound to transcend ourselves...
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Tags: self-transcendence, transcendence, neuroscience, collective intelligence, sentience, self-awareness, strong AI, Ray Kurzweil, Kevin Kelly, Vernor Vinge, Syntellect Hypothesis, Extended Mind Hypothesis, conscious experience, theogenesis, infomorph, infomorph commonality, noosphere, superintelligence, singularity, mind uploading, postbiological superintelligence, posthuman superintelligence, the Syntellect emergence, technological singularity, Intelligence Supernova, virtual world, VR, MR, AR, virtual reality, VR experience, Space Age, Global Brain, global superorganism, alien syntellects, Syntellect incubator, multiversal fractality, conscious agent, human evolution, human condition, alien encounter, first contact, multiverse landscape, AI assistant, digital assistant, transcendent other, AI, AGI, artificial general intelligence, VIV, transhumanism, superlongevity, superwellbeing, cognitive enhancement, substrate-independent mind, digital mind, digital immortality, wetware, neural interface, linguistic singularity, cyberdelic singularity, cyberspace, Ex-Machina, Gaian Mind, paradise engineering, experiential realism, philosophy of mind, science of mind, evolution of consciousness, transcendentalism, neo-transcendentalism
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About the Author:
Alex Vikoulov is a neo-transcendentalist, cosmist, singularitarian, evolutionary extrapolist, digital philosopher, futurist, founder of Ecstadelic Media, painter and media artist, author of "The Syntellect Hypothesis: Five Paradigms of the Mind's Evolution". Graduated from Armstrong University, Berkeley, CA. Lives in Burlingame, California (San Francisco Bay Area).