Ape Brain Narcissism Misses the Singularity: An Artificial Life View
Since 1996, I have developed a simulation called Noble Ape. It creates a rich biological ecosystem and simulates the cognitive behavior of the ape-like creatures that inhabit the biological simulation. The Noble Ape cognitive simulation is used by both Apple and Intel as a processor metric. The unit BCPS ((Noble Ape) Brain Cycles Per Second) is demonstrated both internally and to third party developers. In this regard, I have become intimately acquainted with contemporary computing and the immense power we seem to ignore.
Since 2005, I have been the editor of Biota.org. The site brings together a number of simulation authors, academics and users broadly described as the artificial life community. Artificial life offers an applied philosophy through computation. There are a number of fascinating problems ideally suited to the kinds of applied philosophy artificial life explores. One of my favorites relates to the intelligence of vastly complex systems.
For more than a decade the artificial life community has developed metrics for computer power, complex systems intelligence and a broader metaphysics that is distinctly different from what we hear from most advocates of "The Singularity movement." When contrasted with theoretical Singularity works like Nick Bostrom’s "Are We Living In A Computer Simulation," artificial life challenges Singularity thinking in a number of ways. I would like to offer two particular challenges.
1: Survival is a far better metric of intelligence than replicating human intelligence, and…
2: There are a number of examples of vastly more intelligent systems (in terms of survival) than human intelligence.
These challenges have not come through a priori philosophical posturing but are the result of years of simulation and the iterative understanding and discourse that has come through the artificial life community.
The primacy of human intelligence is one of the last and greatest myths of the anthropomorphic divide — the division between humans and all other (living) things. Like most fallacies, it provides careers and countless treatises regarding paradoxes that can be explored at great length, leading to the warm and fuzzy conclusion that the human is still on top. If only it were so.
For starters, let’s look at the pre-Cambrian period where the floating entities, our distant ancestors, began to optimize their paths between feeding grounds. The simple rule in life is that survival (to reproduction) is the only meaningful metric. In fact, as these pre-Cambrian critters, began to make well-floated paths they were starting the long road that would lead to us — and our aforementioned countless treatises of paradoxes on the primacy of human intelligence.
First Insight: Survival is intelligence.
When choosing a metric for survival intelligence, I was drawn to Teddy Roosevelt’s analysis of hunting big game in the 1900s. Roosevelt’s analysis related to the size of bullet (or caliber of bullet) required to stop a large animal. I was interested in a measure of the number of humans required to stop a vastly complex system. If there was to be a similar caliber of intelligence based on stopping a vastly complex system, why not make it a human centric metric. To paraphrase Roosevelt:
It took but ten humans to slay this system.
Due to the rough nature of the approximation, I employed a base-10 logarithmic approach. If it took a human to slay the system, the survival intelligence value would be zero. If it took ten, the survival intelligence value would be one. If it took a hundred humans, the survival intelligence value would be two.
My second insight comes from the need to normalize the definition of simulation. When the physicist, the biologist, the lawyer or the accountant goes to work, they don’t have a bright glaring light shining down on them, constantly reminding them that what they are doing is not, in fact, reality but is based on the broad constraints that have historically and intellectually been applied to them. Through my editorial duties with Biota.org, I raised the idea that simulation authors should stop holding a marked division between what they did and reality. In fact, what was needed was a pluralistic view of simulation. The definition I offered was simple:
Second Insight: A simulation is any environment with applied constraints.
This definition showed that nearly everything was fair game for simulation analysis. The legal system, the road system, the health care system, the financial system, even the internet could be analyzed and parametrized with the insights from studying simulations.
Combining the metric of intelligence for survival and the idea that nearly anything is fair game for this metric, let’s explore a couple of examples.
The legal system, the road system, the health care system, the financial system, even the internet could be analyzed with insights from studying simulations.
The road system of a given city may require between ten to a hundred human obstructions to shut it down. This is what it takes to cut off major arterial roadways and possibly other minor linking streets. Actually, it may take significantly more human obstructions to fully shut the system down, but these numbers give a good baseline metric of a survival intelligence of between one and two.
Recall the recent court cases of the polygamist group in San Angelo, Texas. Here a few hundred cases shut down the legal system in that county. This shows a metric of survival intelligence between two and three.
This survival intelligence, with the zero-base considered as a single human, highlights the sublime nature of these systems and — in contrast — our stature compared to them. These systems are created and maintained by humans. Yet their complexity and necessity merits their survival over any individual human. By all meaningful descriptions of intelligence, this should show that these systems are incomparably more intelligent than individual humans. Conversely the value of individual humans is substantially diminished in the maintenance of these systems.
There is a lack of scholarship in this area. This is, in large part, because most ideas about intelligence are deeply and fallaciously interconnected with an assumed understanding of human intelligence. Since scholarship with regards to these vastly complex systems is lacking, scholarship associated with our place amongst these systems is also lacking. As passive maintaining agents of these systems, we must wonder if we need to redefine our ideas about human purpose in this context.
I offer this as a basic sketch of ideas that I have evolved as the editor of Biota.org and the creator of the Noble Ape Simulation. The time for new scholarship relating to these issues is overdue.