Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Emergent Hive

   In summary, a hive mind will emerge as a result of economic and cultural interdependence in a slowly consolidating global society, in combination with emerging technologies. this "Global Hymenoptera" (GH) as I call it, should come about not when its technological viability is first demonstrated, but when its psychological and economic value compels its creation. There are several factors that will influence the emergence of this new cloud-like network of minds, but more importantly, there will be distinctions between the varying facets and tribes of crowdsourcing hives. 

   In other words, when linking human minds becomes profitable for corporations  (or States) and valuable to consumers; without offending the ideological and philosophical sensibilities of Eastern and Western societies, it may become a reality. I'll address these avenues in particular after explaining the technological advances that facilitate its existence.

      Linking human minds is no small feat. Consider the implications: We have yet to determine the algorithms of the brain. Our lack of understanding on the human brain has not been understated, particularly in fields that engage in its study. We have not yet made a comprehensive model of the human brain and its connectome. At most, we have scanned and analyzed neural columns of 10, 000 neurons or less. 

       Keep in mind that there are billions of neurons and trillions of synaptic connections in the brain. Not only that, but there are even differentiations of neurons that make understanding one particular kind of little value, such as the electrochemical differences, genetic expression, and protein designation of each individual cell. Despite the daunting challenges that researchers face with respect to understanding the human brain, there is a vehement effort to integrate supercomputing, resolution, and nanotechnological advances to accomplish this task. 

       For example, IBM recently released a publication detailing a new kind of chip that mimics the malleable biological characteristics of neurons, called "cognitive computing," which is a silicon substrate that replicates the function of neurons, axons, and synapses. This is an effort between Lawrence Berkley's National Laboratory, IBM, and the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Colombia University. The publication was unveiled last week, with the goal headline to "Unite neuroscience, supercomputing, and nanotechnology to discover, demonstrate, and deliver the brain's core algorithms."

       The significance of this project reaches beyond it's implications for reverse-engineering the human brain. There are already dozens of projects attempting to simulate human brain activity, as well as others to build wetware which can be implanted into the human brain to interact with neurons. For example, there are now implants for Parkinson's Disease. The implant is updated and monitored wirelessly, and has shown extraordinary results in reducing patients' symptoms.

      The relevance of these breakthroughs with respect to the Global Hymenoptera is the convergent method with which they are pursued. Biological evolution is fundamentally convergent - systems gravitate toward each other and merge to produce emergent properties. Science is using this methodology to transform the way discoveries are made. In the past, scientific disciplines were fairly segregated and that didn't overlap much; mathematics, biology, physics, engineering, and neuroscience were distinct in their goals and methods. Now, those fields that once interacted in select circumstances are unifying in collaborative effort. Supercomputing is now used ubiquitously in finding the algorithms of the brain as well as in identifying and understanding biological processes such as protein folding, which had been a mystery for decades (they have used supercomputing and cloud-computing to accomplish this). . There have been other cloud-computing projects of a similar nature, such as with SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).
I discussed technological synthesis somewhat in an article of philosophy here:

      It is a rough and incomplete theory, with a presumptuous title. The implications of it, though, are accurate enough. It details the core progression of evolutionary processes (not just biological) and how they converge for mutual benefit and create “speciation” (when one process becomes distinct from its forebear - containing new properties that neither component possessed before).
This symbiotic clustering was present at the Big Bang, during the Cambrian explosion of biological variation and continues in technological and cultural trends.

Hive mind technology requires the following advances in order to become viable:

- Cheap, safe, super-fast, nanoscale computing technology that integrates with biology
- Cloud computing algorithms that can link human brains for media purposes, but also for harnessing their accumulative processing power.
- Quantum computing (specifically, quantum servers that individual brains can connect to). *Quantum computing would also be necessary for Anti-Virus and Privacy.
- Large-scale virtual reality platforms and programmers (it may be possible to use the brain itself toward this end).

     All of these technologies should be possible within the next 30-40 years. The most difficult advances will be with regards to quantum computing and safe, non-invasive application. However, these are not impossible. For example, quantum computing has undergone several crucial advances in memory, error-correction, and scalability in the past 8 months. Also, neural stem cells have been found to "migrate" from one location in the brain to another; meaning a technology that mimics this process could be inserted, for example, at the base of the skull in the brain stem, and move to the necessary areas to facilitate total brain computation (corpus collosum and neocortex might be involved, deep in the center of the brain and in the gray matter at the top). The procedure could even be a self-replicative nanotechnological "injection" costing very little.

     What is more important than the technological facilitation of this possibility, though, are the cultural, psychological and economic prerequisites. In order for a hive mind to be viable, it needs to have symbiotic (mutual) benefit to each person within the hive, as well as benefit to the hive as a whole (or the corporation, government, or 'Queen' of that hive). In the case of the Human Hymenoptera, the "Queen" would likely be an entity like Google, IBM, Zerox, Lockheed Martin, the US, Chinese, and European Union governments, or a superintelligent AI. The members of the hive would be human consumers, such as you and I.

The appeals of a Hive for consumers would, in brief, be as such:

- amplified intelligence
- accessibility to vast pools of information (for example, superfast learning: piano, physics, Kama Sutra etc.)
- Vivid virtual reality
- unification of consciousness (on small and large scales - an implant in the occipital lobe for "seeing" what someone sees, or an implant in the auditory cortex to "hear what they hear,")
- The ability to alter behaviour and personality characteristics, such as addiction or psychological "deficiencies."
- World peace.

The appeals of a Hive mind for the "Queen" would be:

- cloud consolidated information processing and parallel distributed computing on a massive scale (essentially taking a portion of each brain's computing power and using it for their own purposes). This would make the Hive virtually free for consumers, and highly profitable for “Queens.”

     This first point is the most important, as radical abundance of nanotechnology may substantially devalue physical manufacturing and agriculture, while amplifying the value of algorithms, metamaterial programming, and the mathematics of quantum physics. Massively parallel distributed computing would allow for increased discovery, propelling the institution (Queen) into a feedback loop of exponential self-improvement.
Algorithms are a finite list of instructions for performing a specific function - Google uses algorithms to direct search results, for example.
Metamaterials - Metamaterials are specially designed substances that have been engineered on the subatomic level. For example, a recent publication unveiled a new metamaterial that can change, reverse, and reprogram its electrical circuitry - an essentially self-rewiring computer.
The Mathematics of Quantum Physics - Each paradigm of physics provides an increase in the power of resolution technologies, computation, materials science, and energy. We are emerging from the Nuclear Age and into the Quantum.

The Hive would be beneficial to governmental institutions, and sadly, to oligarchical corporatocracies, and tyrannical regimes. Below is a list of characteristics that a hymenoptera would have under different ideologies:


- Capitalistic
- Free expression
- Privacy
- Diverse, healthy creation of free information
- Unbreakable voting system
- Focus on issues instead of ideologies
- Transparency
- Collectivist will
- Redirection of excess resources for optimal distribution of welfare
- Peaceful
- Low human rights abuses
- Memetic consolidation (unifying human thought toward single ideology)
- Internationally cooperative


- Xenophobic economy

- Controlled information makes for very limited diversity of ideas and information
- No privacy
- Secret internet police, paramilitary occupying force
- Filtering international information
- Secretive
- Warlike
- Individualistic will
- Concentration of resources
- Low algorithmic output
- High human rights abuses


- Capitalistic
- Controlled expression
- No privacy
- Controlled ideology
- Susceptible to corruption
- Focuses on central ideologies
- Low transparency
- Collectivist will
- Can be warlike
- Can be peaceful

 (merging with AI - "Good" AI and "Bad" AI both possible)

- Free expression 50/50
- Free speech       50/50
- Capitalistic
- Diverse information and ideas
- High algorithmic output
- Individualistic will
- Concentration of resources
- Can be warlike
- Can be peaceful
- Low transparency 50/50
- No privacy            50/50
- Memetic consolidation and control

     The truth of this technology is its an ideological amplifier - whatever poltical schema is in place, it will be reinforced.  It is important to begin reform now, before these tools are used improperly.
     Eastern psychology tends more towards collectivism and community, whereas Western psychology tends toward individualism, freedom, and choice. These may seem like lazy generalizations; however there is some evidence to support the conclusion: "individualism is characterized by engagement in competitive tasks, by public situations, and by an emphasis on what makes the individual distinct. In general, in societies in which agreeing on social norms is important and jobs are interdependent, collectivism is preponderant, whereas in complex, stratified societies, where affluence, independence, and differences are emphasized, individualism is preponderant (Desai, 2007); In particular, individualism is mostly seen in the cultures of Western Europe and North America, whereas collectivism is mostly seen in the cultures of Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe and Latin America (Triandis, 1993; Nelson & Fuvish, 2004)."

     There have been studies corroborating this conclusion using "imagination inflation" of empathetic events between Chinese and US students, as well as studies that pitted US versus Chinese participants in an "empathy game" in which participants were required to anticipate the desires and actions of their team mates. The conclusion was that Chinese participants were more empathetic with respect to collective tasks than were the US participants.

     A comprehensive conclusion regarding the empathetic capacities of collectivist versus individualist societies can be made, but it hasn’t been. There is a growing body of evidence for genetic and neurological influences on empathy, and the subject has not yet been conclusively addressed. Although there have been some studies with respect to empathy, the results seem to be somewhat spurious.
     As it relates to the creation of a Hive Mind, the importance of collectivism versus individualism cannot be understated. How a society will react to the concept of a hive mind will be highly different between Western and Eastern societies. In order to compel consumers to join, each version of a hive will need to appeal to these characteristics. For this reason, I foresee the emergence of two types of hymenoptera: collectivist and conscious-collectivist networks.

     The collectivist network will have an emphasis on the amplification of intelligence, the speed of communications, the availability of media and information, and business orientation. There may be "workplace networks" that are segregated into many clusters, and unified at higher “meta-levels” in this type of society. The power structure of a collectivist hive would be characterized by many parallel hierarchies.  

     As for the conscious-collectivist hive, it is likely that the characteristics of individual consciousness need to be preserved (and exemplified) in order to draw consumers in. For example, they might appeal to "love,” a highly glorified ideal in Western psychology. A unified mind between two people would be possible in a way that traditional lovers, separately, would be incapable of. Access to information, the ability to share video and music, and the amplification of learning will be hallmarks of the conscious-collectivist model.

     It also boasts the benefits of ending political corruption in modern democracies, by allocating policy power into mass-referendum style digital voting.  The republic mode of governance was created in ancient Europe, where men were representatives of 'the people.' But in a technocracy, each person may represent themselves inexpensively and with complete agency.

     Consider this seemingly audacious idea:

   Using Canada as an example, we can tabulate the cost of the legislature at around 425 million (to give them the benefit of the doubt, this is an underrepresented cost).   If we dissolved the house and created a digital legislature, in which bills could be crafted, presented, and voted upon in an open source manner, we could cut the cost of Canadian government by 50%, and reduce corruption to 0, all while increasing the level of representation that Canadians receive in the legislative process (American lobbyists have more leverage over bills than Canadian citizens do right now). 

     Whether this technology is good or bad is not the object of this article. I believe there will be a significant debate on this topic in 10-15 years as the final stages of neurological reverse-engineering are in play (see the Blue Brain Project). For now, we can only really speculate on human and computational symbiosis; but upon serious consideration, you may find that this trend has already begun: smartphones are miniaturizing. My iPhone is much more powerful than the laptop I purchased in first fear (simultaneous increase in power and decrease in cost). Social networking encourages a division of identity: the digital self and the real self. We are already replicating ourselves in an informational reality. The question may eventually become, do you prefer this reality, or the other?

Post edit:

Jan 14, 2013:

Since the time of this article, the Blue Brain Project has simulated 200, 000 neurons.
Processor density is approaching 14 nanometers.

The most powerful supercomputer on earth is called Titan, and is located Oak Ridge National Laboratory, at 17.59 petaflops per second.

Rhea is a freely available, manually annotated database of chemical reactions created in collaboration with the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB)