Commodification of Intelligence

Saturday, December 1st 2012

In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, noted that the number transistors you could fit on an integrated circuit doubled every two years or so. David House, a worker at Intel, noticed that computing power was actually doubling every 18 months. Eventually the notion of an exponential increase in computing power was dubbed "Moore's Law". Old news, of course!

Silicon-based technology has limitations. Over the next ten years, it will peter out as a source of exponential computing power increases. But other technology will probably take over. And "Moore's Law" will continue. (Computing power is not the only thing increasing exponentially - network capacity, storage capacity, etc, have been increasing exponentially as well.)

General knowledge is much less impressive these days. Just go on the web using your phone! Google it. Look it up on Wikipedia. General knowledge of the Q&A kind has become ubiquitous, available to all. Spelling? Bah ... just use "did you mean ...". Remembering appointments? Pfft! Use a phone!

Of course, how associations are made between ideas, how a person sifts through information, how a person combines and recombines ideas, that is still the stuff of the human mind. As such, it still confers status on those who do it well.

But by the 2030s (perhaps earlier, perhaps later), cheap computing units will probably exceed the raw computational capacity of the human brain. In terms of cost and ubiquity, the computing units will be the equivalent of mobile phones now. Through raw power, more sophisticated sensors and networked data, they will be able interact with people in much more subtle ways; via natural interfaces, personalised avatars and augmented reality. They will observe what we do rather than ask us to input data. Although the machines will probably not be simulations of the mind or even have equivalent characteristics, they will be companions, exobrains, mental appendages.

Will these computing units amplify the intellect and increase the general population's mental capacity? Yes. Will they do it whilst maintaining the differences between different people's mental capacities? Or will they do it whilst reducing the differences between people's mental capacities? I suspect the former, then the latter.

By then, computing units will augment peoples' intelligence enough to reduce the value of intelligence. (By "value" I mean whatever distinction intellectual capacity confers on a person.) Intelligence in certain areas will go from being something uncommon and valuable in social terms into something common, cheap and available to many. It will cease to differentiate the individual.

Just like General Knowledge of the Q & A sort is no longer very valuable at all, intelligence itself will be less and less valuable, too. In business terms, it will be an undifferentiated commodity. In social terms it will be commonplace and unremarkable.

Earlier than 2030 automated thinking will have other effects.

I was wandering through the city a few days ago. I went up a back street - to take a short cut - and walked past a government department building. Through a window I saw cubicle after cubicle. It was a labyrinthine catacomb made of beige partitions. Anyway, the thing that sprung to mind was "typing pools". Those odd anachronisms filled with women from the 1950s and 60s. Tapping away on typewriters. All that bureaucratic activity - once exposed for more sophisticated machine intelligence - will be this era's typing pools.


Saturday, December 1st 2012


Soundgarden - after 20 years

Friday, November 30th 2012

Soundgarden, Rusty cage 1992:


New tune, 20 years later:

Been Away Too Long:

The Nerd Mind Meld

Thursday, November 29th 2012

"Hey, my thingo's is broken!"

PEBCAK, thinks the nerd. "Let me have a look," he says.

Rustle, rustle.

"No it isn't. See. It's working fine."

"Oh. But ..."

Most nerds have had this experience. Punter reports busted device. Nerd wanders over and make its work. The mere touch of a nerd's hand is enough to soothe the savage techno-beast. The Nerd bobulates the discombobulated.

I was talking with my friend Emlyn today about this phenomenon.

The theory was that nerds have a mental model of the device. It's almost as if the nerd can empathise with it (they understand the logic used by the nerds who built the device and thus the logic of the device). And so the nerd has all the body language and so on that goes along with someone who empathises with somebody else. But the nerd empathises with the machine. It's as if the nerd the device have an understanding.

This is the height of anthropomorphism, of course!

But it still leaves the non-nerd out. On some level a social group forms that involves nerds and machines and excludes the non-technical. On some atavistic plain, the anthropomorphic reaction of the non-nerd has aspects of fears of the unknown, fears of social exclusion, fears of conspiracy and ... sometimes ... paranoia. Or just good old boredom!

Larry Graham - Monster Bass!

Wednesday, November 28th 2012

Rockin' Country

Tuesday, November 27th 2012

This is how it's done:

Brian Setzer and Mart Stuart doing The House is Rockin:

And Ricky Skaggs:

Marty Stuart, "Country Boy Rock and Roll":

Kenny Vaughn, Country Music Got a Hold On Me:

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