Collective Intelligence

“Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community. The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close social cohesion.” – Albert Einstein

The Internet is the closest we have to a collective brain at the planetary scale. Data in the order of 10 to the power 100, accessed by close to 10 to the power 10 human beings, each one of them having 10 to the power 11 neurons. Does this exponential scaling up of collective information necessarily translate to exponentially higher collective wisdom? Are we as individuals and as a society making significantly wiser decisions? Is this all necessarily translating to us focussing on and solving the important problems of the world? If the Internet is indeed making the world flat, why is the world still seem so skewed?

Echo chambers, filter bubbles and confirmation bias are some of the whirlpools and blind spots of the Internet. Interesting over rides the important, loud over rides over the whisper, popularity over rides meaning. The bottleneck of the Internet will not be the pipes that carry the data nor the scale of the cloud storage, but our attention spans and finiteness of time in one’s life.

How do we minimise the effect of these phenomenon while accentuating the strengths of the Internet.  I have found curated sites like Brain Pickings,  Edge, TED solving this to a great extent. Massive Open Online Courses are another end of the curated spectrum of learning. Delicious, Wikipedia and Quora are very good different flavours of social curation. What is the architecture to extract and churn all the wisdom of the Internet? Is the model a mosaic of several other models? Is there a way to architect a self curating, a self organising, self learning super wise Internet?


“If you could see your whole life from start to finish would you change things?”

The science fiction movie ‘Arrival’ based on the ‘Story of Your Life‘ written by Ted Chiang creatively extends the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis “that the language you speak determines how you think”. Is the way we think the way we dream? In the movie, the aliens heptapods happen to communicate using circular logograms based on non linear orthography. Could they actually be thinking non linearly? The movie beautifully plugs in the idea that if some one truly immersed themselves in a non linear language, they could start understanding time non linearly. The boundaries between the past, the present and the future would all blur. One could then walk into the future and back into the past with the same ease as one would walk forward and backward physically. How would we then make our choices in our lives?

Deep Learning

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Artificial intelligence has caught the imagination of the public. Many dream of a world in the future where we will have autonomous cars, ubiquitous presence of robots and bots with whom one could not just have meaningful conversation but fulfilling relationship. While others are worried and concerned about the impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence on jobs and the future of work. There are also others worried about a monolithic artificial intelligence taking over the world, with disastrous consequences to humanity itself.

Some of the key areas of focus in the artificial intelligence space are autonomous driving, natural language processing and image recognition.  There are many questions that are still unanswered. There are still many questions that have not yet been asked.

How safe the automonous cars need to be, before they are considered safe enough? In safety don’t extreme outliers matters as much as averages? What would be the ethical consequences of an accident? How do we factor morality into a series of rules to be learnt by a machine? Does conversational fluency with a natural language correlate with knowledge and wisdom? Does language impact the way we think and as a corollary the way our minds are wired or is it the other way around, that we use language the way we think? How do we embed deeper constructs like empathy and compassion into natural language processing?

I had a chance to attend an inspiring lecture by Yoshua Bengio, co-author of the recent book on Deep Learning (an MIT Press book), made available online for free in the spirt of Open AI. My key take away from the lecture was though we have made very significant progress in several areas right from image recognition, natural language processing and autonomous driving both in academic and industry research groups, there is still a long way to go, before we can claim that we have come close to proclaming that we have truly understood the human brain all in all.