04 November 2008

Hive Minds and Collective Intelligences

Utopian visions of a technological singularity occupy the individual minds of tens of thousands of Earthers. At the recent Singularity conference in San Jose, attendees were reminded that the human mind remains far and away the most capable cognitive machine in the known universe. But that did not stop them from dreaming utopian visions of all-powerful artifical intelligences, and machines capable of "storing" human consciousness, simulating a full-sensory paradise for its uploaded minds.

From there, the idea of a collective mind, a mental "super-organism" of global proportions, arises easily. Particularly for anyone who has been exposed to the Star Trekkian vision of "The Borg." Kevin Kelly's essay on the Superorganism elaborates on the concept of consciousness evolving out of the growing internetwork of networked co-evolving humans-machines.

An interesting web attempt at creating an evolving future-oriented collective intelligence, is The Space Collective. Combining clear speculative thinking with crisp visual artistic values, TSC is a future oriented website worth visiting more than once.

Our own brain-minds are an example of a hive mind of sorts, at least a modular consciousness. Humans spontaneously organise socially as families, clans, tribes, guilds, militias, hunting parties, religions, etc. Further, had any ancient astronaut observers of human civilisation taken the time to film time-lapse documentaries of the rise and fall of human city-states and cultures, a definite social insect-like quality of the onset and decay of culture would be clear.

Humans are desperately in need of an "organising principle" to lead them to a more enlightened and sustainable era of safe-branching futures. While socialist economics is known to be a destructive dead-end, it continues to attract more blindly utopian and less mentally endowed humans like moths to a flame. And while capitalist economics combined with libertarian politics provides the excess wealth needed to finance evolutionary projects, the deeper level of guidance needed to help choose workable long-term directions of effort is lacking.

Hives too often degenerate into mobs, as more personally powerful individual interests assert themselves in counter-productive directions, assuming amplitudes strong enough to skew the crowd away from ordinary and more productive activities.

Religions have always failed in the end, as have philosophies and ideologies. Whatever guiding principle an enlightened group mind may adopt, it should be simple, subject to test by reality, and resistant to co-option by charismatic or ruthlessly powerful individuals.

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