Fearing the Machine: AI vs. Cybernetics

And now for something completely different...

Elon Musk, Steven Hawking, and a long list of scientists believe artificial intelligence is no longer science-fiction and may one day present a danger to society. Musk has likened super-intelligent machines to nuclear bombs and fears we may be "summoning a demon"; and Hawking has said that AI "could spell the end of the human race."

Given my past writings on this topic—particularly the massive influx of fully-automated high-frequency trading systems into the stock market—a reader asked if I was still worried about AI "taking over" as Musk and others fear.

The short answer is no and the long answer is that I've come to realize that the debate over superintelligent AI is much more complex and nuanced than I first considered many years ago.

To put it quite simply, the Skynet view of superintelligence espoused by Musk, Hawking, and others is probably too narrow. Believing AI will eventually outpace human-level intelligence and possibly wipe out the human race stems from an implicit assumption that technology and human society are evolving along somewhat separate, though parallel, lines. Thus, the thinking goes, at some point in the future, technology will become so advanced that it will develop a mind of its own and have no need for us. This is the AI-centric view since the focus is largely concerned with AI and its development over time.

On the other hand, there's a completely different view that sees technology and society mutually influencing one another in terms of a highly-integrated evolutionary process. This is what we might call the cybernetic view, incorporating the more recent framework of complex adaptive systems, which also places more emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between man and machine at both the individual and societal level (although cybernetics is not widely known, it did make its way into pop-culture via the prefix "cyber-" and the word "cyborg", which is short for cybernetic organism. At larger scales, human society, our economy, and financial markets are all examples of cybernetic organisms or, more commonly, complex adaptive systems.)

Extending this line of thinking further, there are many groups of people that are less concerned with technology developing a mind of its own but believe instead that technology + society = a global brain. Here is a summary of this view:

The Global Brain can be defined as the self-organizing network formed by all people on this planet together with the information and communication technologies that connect and support them. As the Internet becomes faster, smarter, and more encompassing, it increasingly links its users into a single information processing system, which functions like a nervous system for the planet Earth. The intelligence of this system is collective and distributed: it is not localized in any particular individual, organization or computer system. It rather emerges from the interactions between all its components—a property characteristic of a complex adaptive system. Such a distributed intelligence may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that have eluded more traditional approaches. Yet, at the same time it will create technological and social challenges that are still difficult to imagine, transforming our society in all aspects. (Source)

Personally, I find this view makes much more sense. When viewing society and technology as an integrated organism, remarks made by Hawking, Musk, and others hold less relevance. If some Skynet-like superintelligence were to emerge from the billions of people across the earth integrated through cyberspace would it then try to kill us off—the very thing that gives it life? Not likely. Why? Because in this case, "it" is actually "we".

In my next article I'll explain how the market fits uniquely into this equation, including the role of automation, big data, and what we learn from neuroscience.

Dr. Ben Hunt on Big Data, Cybernetics, and Technology
The Crowd Mine
Big Data and the Doomsday Machine
Is AI Taking Over the Stock Market?

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