Had an awesome evening with a wonderful friend the other day. Amongst all the other things we chatted about, Alan tried to explain to me how he felt the human brain and the web were very similar. We were having this discussion at La Tasca, a spanish tapas bar in Star City. I’m not going suggest that I fully understood what Alan was saying at the time, it was getting very late and one of the waitresses was distracting me 😉 ( Hey Alan, thats my excuse and im sticking to it ).
Anyway, knowing Alan as well as I do. I figured he must have published his little theory at some point, and naturally he has and you can read all about it here. We kind of got onto this discussion because during the course of our ramblings that evening I’d mentioned Strong AI, and de Garis’ work on the now defunct (presumably?) CAM Brain building project.
Alan picked up on this and said “Did I ever tell you about my theory of … “. I think the ability to share ideas and teach others in an off hand, easy, and almost anecdotal manner is something that seperates great teachers from good teachers. If I had sum Alan up I’d have to say that he’s not only a wonderful friend, an incredible mentor, but one of the finest academics and professors I have ever had the privilege to learn from.
Anyway getting back on track …. Alan’s theory revolves around his postulation that the entire internet as we currently know it has roughly the same computational power / capacity as a single human brain. So what does this mean? Well we spent a while debating whether this meant that mimicking biological processes artificially could result in the same kind of emergent consciousness human beings have. It’s safe to say we were dubious about this, and although I’d love to offer my own words on why … Alan summed it up wonderfully in his article …
Philosophers of mind and identity have long debated whether our sense of mind, personhood or consciouness are intrinsic to our biological nature or whether a computer system emulating the brain would have the same sense of consciouness as an emergent property of its complexity … we are nearing the point when this may become an empirically testable issue!
Of course, this does not mean that the web or a new super computer in some way is like or equal to the human mind. What it does mean is that the specialness of the human brain is not because of simple capacity or speed. If size were all that matters in cognition, we have already been beaten by our own creations. Really the specialness of our minds is in their organisation and the things that make us human beyond simple information: compassion, pain, heroism, joy â€“ we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.