Thursday, 16 November 2017

ON ANTS AND HUMANITY: Collective Intelligence vs. Superintelligence

Ants and humans are equally successful on Earth in terms of biomass. They are in fact the two most successful species, and both are social, i.e. being social is the reason for their phenomenal success.

Ant colonies can contain up to millions of ants, i.e. they are comparable to large cities. An ant has about 250,000 neurons, and their brain weighs less than a gram. A human brain has between 100 billion and 1 trillion neurons and weighs about 1.5 kilograms.

The number of neurons in an ant colony is therefore up to 250,000 * 1,000,000 = 0.25 trillion neurons. That’s roughly comparable to a human brain. Nevertheless, their distributed brain manages to run an entire society, including division of labour. Moreover, in contrast to humans, they managed to survive for 140 million years.

In fact, the recipe for survival is resilience, and resilience benefits from a decentralised organization. For example, our immune system is decentrally organised, in contrast to the central nervous system. Otherwise, we would probably live much shorter than 100 years.

So, those who think that we now need to build an AI brain running humanity as if each of us were like a cell in a human body, will be proven wrong by history.

Note that the difference between ants in an ant colony and humans is that ants are more or less identical genetically while humans are diverse. That’s why human societies are quickly evolving over time while ants aren’t. Diversity is another resilience mechanism, but even more so, it is a motor of innovation, hence a motor of cultural evolution rather than just genetic evolution. Cultural evolution is obviously much faster, i.e. diversity benefits us. That’s also evidenced by economic studies.

Of course, diversity implies challenges such as complexity and of conflicts of interest, so we need to find suitable coordination mechanisms. Personal digital assistants (potentially using AI technology) could do the job, creating collective intelligence that outsmarts the smartest individual and the smartest AI assistant.

In conclusion, a decentralized organization of humanity is advised, and sociodiversity should be protected like biodiversity, if we do not want sustainability, innovation, economic power, and hence the carrying capacity of the Earth to drop.

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