"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Was JFK killed because of his interest in aliens?


Was JFK killed because of his interest in aliens?
Secret memo shows president demanded UFO files 10 days before death

Assassination: Was JFK shot to stop him discovering the truth about UFOs?
Assassination: Was JFK shot to stop him discovering the truth about UFOs?

An uncovered letter written by John F. Kennedy to the head of the CIA shows that the president demanded to be shown highly confidential documents about UFOs 10 days before his assassination.

The secret memo is one of two letters written by JFK asking for information about the paranormal on November 12 1963, which have been released by the CIA for the first time.

Author William Lester said the CIA released the documents to him under the Freedom of Information Act after he made a request while researching his new book 'A Celebration of Freedom: JFK and the New Frontier.'
 
The president’s interest in UFOs shortly before his death is likely to fuel conspiracy theories about his assassination. UFO researchers say the latest documents, released to Mr Lester by the CIA, add weight to the suggestion that the president could have been shot to stop him discovering the truth about UFOs.

In one of the secret documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, JFK writes to the director asking for the UFO files.

Released: Letter from JFK to CIA director asking for access to UFO files, which has been released to an author under the Freedom of Information Act

In the second memo, sent to the NASA administrator, the president expresses a desire for cooperation with the former Soviet Union on mutual outer space activities.

The previously classified documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act to teacher William Lester as part of research for a new book about JFK.

He said that JFK’s interest in UFOs could have been fuelled by concerns about relations with the former Soviet Union.


Unclassified: A second memo written by JFK on November 12 1963, 10 days before his assassination, which has been released by the CIA

‘One of his concerns was that a lot of these UFOs were being seen over the Soviet Union and he was very concerned that the Soviets might misinterpret these UFOs as U.S. aggression, believing that it was some of our technology,’ Mr Lester told AOL News.

‘I think this is one of the reasons why he wanted to get his hands on this information and get it away from the jurisdiction of NASA so he could say to the Soviets, “Look, that's not us, we're not doing it, we're not being provocative.”

But conspiracy theorists said the documents add interest to a disputed file, nicknamed the ‘burned memo’, which a UFO investigator claims he received in the 1990s.

The document, which has scorch marks, is claimed to have been posted to UFO hunter Timothy Cooper in 1999 by an unknown CIA leak, but has never been verified.

Disputed: In the 'burned memo' the CIA director allegedly wrote: 'Lancer [JFK] has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow'
Disputed: In the 'burned memo' the CIA director allegedly wrote: 'Lancer [JFK] has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow'

In a note sent with the document, the apparent leaker said he worked for CIA between 1960 and 1974 and pulled the memo from a fire when the agency was burning some of its most sensitive files.

The undated memo contains a reference to ‘Lancer’, which was JFK's Secret Service code name.

On the first page, the director of Central Intelligence wrote: ‘As you must know, Lancer has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow.

‘Please submit your views no later than October. Your action to this matter is critical to the continuance of the group.’

The current owner of the ‘burned memo’, who bought it from Timothy Cooper in 2001 told AOL News that it shows that when JFK asked questions about UFOs that the CIA ‘bumped him off’.

UFO investigator Robert Wood said he has tested the paper it was printed on, the ink age, watermarks, font types and other markings.

He said: ‘I hired a forensics company to check the age of the ink and check several other things that you can date, using the same techniques you’d use in a court of law.’



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Friday, 29 April 2011

Reaping the World Wind: How To Make Love Last

Reaping the World Wind
How To Make Love Last

photo


How in the name of heaven or hell did you get here? Why are you reading these silly words by some unknown savant or savage? But let’s ignore the obvious for now – let’s not look for someone else to praise or blame, before we return to the heart of matter and the hearth of the Mother.

For we dwell on the edge of the eaves of destruction and salvation in the manifold mansions of our forefathers’ follies. We’re ready to awake from a healing slumber that’s befallen all humankind’s sleeping beauties, a comatose numbness that preserved the seeds of the future by closing our eyes to the errors of a now bygone age. And now on the brink of eternity’s blast, our eyes are opening again and at last to a world that’s forever outgrown its past.

The unclear nuclear era is gone if not forgotten by those who must breathe its billennial vapours. Welcome to the Sage of Aquarius, who still has to chop wood and carry water, albeit often by novel and easier means than primordial ones. The need for unending work is dead if we only use our minds for something better than rank competition.

Times have changed. We’ve entered a brave new world of geoweaponry where the hubris of game playing musclebound warriors and envious monkey mind scientists has delivered up the tools of the gods of yore. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tidal waves and all the injurious forces borne by the children of Earth at the hands of past planetary deities are now at our beck and call. Humankind wanted to become gods, and so we have, ready to face the wider cosmos. One being’s ceiling is another’s floor. Thank you, Mr Tesla, for creating a fresh Slate on which to draw.

Fallen angels with electronic haarps seem to have forgotten that when you sow the wind you reap the whirlwind – and flood and famine, pestilence, death and a cavalcade of apocalyptic horsemen, all arrayed and ready for cavalier destruction. But after all, that’s business as usual.
Let’s try something unusual for a change, now that we have the chance.

Being a god is overrated. It’s better to live in paradise on earth than to serve or rule in heaven or hell. It’s better to dance on your feet than fight on your knees. And to all would-be leaders or followers – forget the rest, it’s the environment, stupid, not a falseconomy of impoverishing ‘progress’ where people work most of their waking lives just to keep an overpriced roof over their heads and toxic food in engorged poisoned bellies.

The time to be economical with the truth has passed. What really matters? The economy? Really? Economical? Hardly. A mess far more appropriately described by its anagram – ‘one comical’ display of pound foolishness and penny wisdom so hideously stupid it beggars belief.

Can you imagine the folly of building a society where everyone borrows against tomorrow to pay for yesterday’s outdated desires? Where everyone steals from their children to fatten their obscene obesity? Yet almost everyone has succumbed to the thrall of gilded frippery and wilfully surrounded themselves with a toxic cocoon of plastic ‘luxuries’ – inhabiting self constructed barred and locked cells of the damned into which they lock themselves each and every night, afraid of their own shadow.

Our elected ‘leaders’ are clueless sycophants to damaged industrialists who believe in dust, as the only reality. They all want you to believe that pointless destructive labour for their personal benefit is a virtue. Lol to their monetary lollies; I’d rather loll around laughing than fall along with them.

The religions, superstitions, cults, credos and fraudulent sciences on which these pillars of society were reared have subtly assured these inductees – who imagine themselves leaders – that it matters little what they do, for the world will surely end someday soon; and, if not the world, then their lives will certainly be forfeit at the end of a tidily tiny allotted span and they won’t have to eat of the spoiled fruits of their actions. Many have been led to believe that they and you are merely biological mechanisms with no hope of a resurrection by reincarnation, with no purpose other than pointless propagation and blind repetition.

What can anything really matter to self obsessed narcissists who don’t give a damn what happens to everything or anyone else if they are personally foreordained to utter dissolution and extinction – or worse still, to redemption in a new Earth, under a freshly remade heaven? Might is right to their shortened sight, so they might as well take it all (down) along with them.

Those ‘elite’ who believe they’re the ‘elect’ and that everyone else is doomed to extinction are even more insufferable than the born again atheists – they think they’re doing some jerkoff deity’s work for them and every crime they commit and mistake they make is excused by the will of some doggone externalised god or another.

And yet we’re all immortal; there’s only one escape from the Wheel, and fleeing into computerised fantasies or space habitats won’t turn the trick – you’ll be sucked back into the Well of Souls whatever you do to escape it. Not even destroying the world will work; it’s been tried, you know, as the husks of once living nearby planets will attest.

Just ask any bodhisattva. The only way out is in, and true enlightenment can only come when it lightens the load and illumines the lives of all. Heaven or hell is what we make of the world we’ll be reborn into, subject to the whims and fallacies of the grandchildren we’ve misguided or weaned onto truth. That’s one reason why it definitely matters what we believe – and it matters whether what we believe is true or false.

A more pressing reason is that you are literally creating your reality from moment to moment. This is enlightenment, pure and simple, stated in bald monkey language. An aspect of you has written this screed that you’re reading. There’s no-one else to blame or thank. There’s only one god who’s going to save you and you’re standing in it.

Wake up to yourself, as the old timers say. Wake up and be the best beloved.







photo

Change is usually incremental but it’s too late now to tinker at the margins if you’ve already read this far. It’s time to approach the essential and abandon the lies that most people believe. What we do with out time is what we really believe. Talk is cheap but freedom is free. What do you really want? Hope or fear, fruition or Armageddon, freedom or slavery? Look around. You have placed yourself precisely where you are for a reason known only to you. What is it?

What is it?

Who are you?

How can you make it all better? By buying yourself out of enslavement – or by looking at the world with eyes washed clean, shorn of the scales that have slithered before them?

How can you change the world without changing your self?

You can’t. Almost everything you’ve been taught to believe that you need to survive is just a raft of addictions en route to extinction. Many foolish shopaholics believe all problems can be solved by buying the ‘right’ things instead of ‘wrong’ ones, when the real problem is the notion and practice of shopping and buying itself – selling and buying into all that crap on every level.

Many think that by buying pure water and organic food they can escape the toxins in the air they breathe and that congeal onto their skins every day. It’s not only unwise to be purified in impure surrounds – the outer toxins will flood your system by reverse osmosis and kill you even more quickly that if your system was buffered against them with ambient toxins.

The only way you can have clean water, food and soil is to be their custodian and protect them from the ravages of ignorance. The world that surrounds you is a projection of what you really are. Your bloodstream can only be as clean as the rivers and seas – and the rain that falls in the water tanks of the cities of humankind.

The easiest route out of this hazy maze is by non-compliance to outer bosses and inner addictions. What if they gave a war and nobody came? What if no-one participated in their jobs for the boys or bought their tiresome tinker toys? What if everyone stood their ground to ask, ‘Why?’

What if you just left it all behind – and what is the ‘all’ that must be abandoned? ‘How can I live without money?’ most ask. Might as well ask, ‘How can I live without mummy?’ We all have to learn how to grow up sooner or later. By the time you’re an adult – by thirty or so – you’ve had plenty of time to learn what to outgrow. Avoid mammoney by arranging your life to have as little to do with it as possible. If you’re open to opportunities and suggestions – and recognise and accept them when they arise – you’ll find The Way without need of those heavy chains masquerading as plastic coins of the realm.

Yet material things are mere masks; the things we really need to abandon if we’re to be freed from our worst contrivances aren’t things at all – they’re far more ingrained in the timbre of our souls.

You can’t just move your locks, stocks and barrels of crude crud to ‘the country’. You have to abandon all the lies and insecure attachments to people and things, to filthy thinking and filthy lucre – or you’ll just destroy whatever purity you touch, regardless of self-styled intentions. You want paved roads and shopping trolleys? Then please go to hell in a hand basket and leave Mother Nature all one. I live in a diluted paradise struggling to recover from the fear and greed of past interlopers. The planet doesn’t need any more well intentioned road pavers.

It needs softly treading friends.

Abandon all fear, ye who would enter here. To paraphrase the great Frank Herbert, fear is the world killer. Acting from fear of loneliness or loss is what damns us to loneliness and loss. Imagination and hope and living our hopes are the only things that save us. There’s always a better way than the wrong way and in the land of the blind where the one eyed man is king there is always a blindspot loophole in the relentless oversight of control freaks’ systems.

There is always a third choice. There is always a way out. There has to be – because you are the one who constructed the Midas mirror maze that swallows the flower of each generation. You are the captain of your soul and destiny, and need no adversity to toughen or harden you.



Your only duty is to life and love. Your only responsibility is to respond wholeheartedly and compassionately to whatever is right in front of you. You know you’re doing the right thing when it feels good for you and the world that surrounds you. Every other way is a dead end, not only superfluous but completely destructive.

Imagine what you really want. It isn’t a bigger screen or a bigger cock or breasts or brain or another incarnation to set right whatever mistakes you imagine you’ve made or baggage of guilt you’ve burdened yourself with. You know what life really is. It’s in your heart. Feel it. Everything can be healed and transformed. Everything can grow back, within and without, if we give it the chance.





Dare to hope. Dare to dream of paradise for all. Live the life that teaches your children and parents and brothers and sisters what life really is. There is no tomorrow – by then your realisations will have faded beneath a humdrum shroud of habits and supposed certainties – the only time you can act is now. Abandon compromise today, now, here. Turn on. Tune in. Opt out of the relentless equation and breathe a sigh of heartfelt relief.

Home is where the art, the heart and the hearth is. Nothing is hidden. All is obvious for those with eyes to see. The world is a magical place. This is the mantra for all who would keep Earth their wondrous home:

EARTH
HEARTHEARTHEARTHEARTHEARTH
HEARtheARThearthHEARTearth
HEARtheARTheartHEARTHearth
EARTH
It’s right under your feet, so live where you can bear to bare them to it.


The time for nation states to end the fanciful feuds of bygone eras is upon us. All wars will end and peace will reign when your personal, private family feud with your self and selves is settled with peace and love. The magnetic moment is almost upon us. – prepare for the moment of nothingness and transformation by waking up now!

When you reach the end of this page get up and walk away from the screen and let the screens drop from your eyes. Like a new parent emerging from the birthing tent, truly SEE the first non-human-made thing or being you witness outside the cocoon that protects the dreaming womb; it will be your Papyrus and eidolon, a signal and message from your deeper self.

You are the infinite indwelling child and the wise loving parent of tomorrow. You are the redeemer, redeemed.

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine – how about you? Ready to step into the new one, naked in the Sun – without a screen?

Now.

- Ramses Heru Ayana

photo

Images – author’s

PS – Many thanks to J.B., the Magus Magistrum who always allowed would be acolytes a ready escape clause from mesmerised devotion; a winged messenger with masking boots of clay – always light years ahead of the pack mentality.


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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Apocalypse Today: Visiting Chernobyl, 25 Years Later


Apocalypse Today: Visiting Chernobyl, 25 Years Later


A May 1986 aerial photo of the damaged reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Vladimir Repik / AP

The 18.5-mile (30 km) radius around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is known officially as the "zone of alienation." Abandoned cars, tractors, buildings and homes litter the landscape and are slowly being devoured by trees and shrubs. A classroom bulletin board not far from the central Lenin Street in the town where the plant workers used to live reads, "No return. Farewell, Prypyat, April 28, 1986."

This eerie landscape about 50 miles (80 km) from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, provides a snapshot in time — of the frenzied evacuation following the meltdown 25 years ago today of reactor core No. 4, a meltdown that produced a radioactive plume across the northern hemisphere in the worst nuclear accident in history. It also presents a stark vision of the possible future thousands of miles away in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, where emergency workers are in the seventh week of a battle to cool several partially melted reactor cores. (See pictures of the Chernobyl zone, 25 years after the nuclear disaster.)

Even now, the effort to contain the Chernobyl accident is far from over: workers in white suits and respirator masks show up for work every day, constructing a new concrete shield to replace a massive sarcophagus built in 1986. The sarcophagus, which contains the molten core, is starting to crumble and could collapse, which could release another radioactive cloud into the air.

Chernobyl offers many lessons about what Princeton University physics professor Robert Socolow calls the "afterheat" of a nuclear disaster — but it's the generational lesson that's the most important one. Because the isotopes released during a nuclear accident remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, cleanup is the work not just of first responders, but also of their descendants — and their descendants' descendants. It's messy, it's expensive, and it's the kind of job that forever denies the workers themselves the satisfaction of standing back and admiring the results of their efforts. Asked when the reactor site would again become inhabitable, Ihor Gramotkin, director of the Chernobyl power plant, replies "at least 20,000 years." (See pictures of the worst nuclear disasters.)

That timescale makes things more than simply frustrating. Over the course of millennia, after all, how can safety measures be maintained? Already, the financing of cleanup and maintenance operations is proving difficult. On April 19, the Ukrainian government hosted an international donor conference in Kiev to raise money for the $1.1 billion concrete shelter. The government fell some $300 million short of that goal and is holding out for further pledges.

But even the gigantic concrete shield — which is 360 ft. (110 meters) high and weighs 29,000 tons — has a woefully brief life when measured in radiological time: it will need to be replaced in a century unless the extremely radioactive and molten core inside can be safely removed and stored somewhere else, itself an expensive and difficult operation.

"Neither Ukraine nor the world community has the right to turn its back [on Chernobyl]," Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said at the end of the conference. "The accident left a deep wound that we will have to cope with for many years."

Everything to do with radiation moves at an insidiously slow pace. Exposure to radioactive particles increases the risk of cancer, but the level of the danger depends on the dose and the age and health of the affected population. When radiation does kill, it can still take years. Around Chernobyl, no accurate dose estimates on the most heavily affected population were made until after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and, as a result, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine all use different techniques for measuring exposure. (Watch "Vacation in Chernobyl.")

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has estimated 16,000 cancer deaths for Europe through 2065 that never would have happened but for Chernobyl. Because radiation spread beyond Europe to other areas within the northern hemisphere — including Asia, Africa and the Americas — the nonprofit watchdog Union of Concerned Scientists puts the global death toll closer to 27,000. [Other estimates place the figure at a million – see Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer @ http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/2010/11/chernobyl-death-toll-985000-mostly-from.html - New Illuminati ed.]

So far, health experts have been paradoxically more concerned about the millions of people who will not die from the dose of radiation they received but must forever live with the torment of not knowing for sure. For them, the toll is psychological. Some 300,000 residents near the power plant were evacuated and forced to leave on short notice. The dual stress of dislocation and uncertainty has, according to several international studies, led to anxiety levels twice as high in exposed populations as in controls. Such populations are also more likely to report multiple unexplained physical symptoms and subjective poor health, even though most medical experts attribute these symptoms not to radiation but to poverty, alcoholism and stress.

Millions of people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who live in areas most affected by fallout receive some form of compensation for the Chernobyl accident, whether they show any symptoms or not.

But that may only be making matters worse. A 2005 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says such compensation schemes have created a culture of dependency and victimhood. In Ukraine, for instance, recipients of benefits are designated "poterpily" — literally, sufferers. The report says, "The designation of the affected population as victims rather than 'survivors' has led them to perceive themselves as helpless, weak and lacking control over their future." (Watch "The Health Dangers of Radiation Exposure.")

Two years ago, the WHO launched a $2.5 million education program to spread the message that affected populations have little to fear from radiation. "We need to demystify the situation by passing on the message that [affected citizens] can live a normal life," says Dr. Maria Neira, the director of the WHO's Department of Public Health and Environment. "If you support this population but you don't put the mechanisms in place for their recovery, you create a population that feels assisted and you block their initiative and ability to move on."

That's an important lesson for Fukushima too, where the plant operator and government have already begun discussing compensation schemes. Preventing a culture of dependency from taking hold there, however, will be easier than reversing the one that's been in place for a quarter of a century in Ukraine. On April 17, several hundred of the some 500,000 "liquidators" who were exposed to high radiation doses during efforts to clean up the site in the weeks following the accident gathered in central Kiev to protest proposed cuts to benefits.

These half-million workers were part of some agonizing moral math for Soviet officials: their extremely high doses of radiation would be tolerated so as to lower the statistical risk of a shortened life for millions of people outside the plant.

"With our own hands, we protected Ukraine and half of Europe, and now we are suffering," says Yuriy Danilov, 66, an army officer who took part in the cleanup of Chernobyl. In the face of similar protests, past efforts to reform the benefits program have stalled. (Read "Fear Goes Nuclear.")

Whatever the final tally of dead, health officials say that the effects of Chernobyl pale in comparison to those caused by the economic and social turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But around Chernobyl, the two cataclysms remain linked, with the environmental devastation never allowing the region to benefit from the relative economic rebound in other parts of the country. Dzvinka Kachur of the U.N.'s Chernobyl Recovery and Development Program says zoning of radioactive areas around Chernobyl restricts investment from businesses, which simply increases the locals' dependency on benefits.

When U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Chernobyl on April 20, he told reporters, "Science has shown that normal life is fully possible for people living in the area affected by the Chernobyl disaster. What these areas need most is new jobs, fresh investment and the restoration of the sense of community."

In the years following Chernobyl, the nuclear industry claimed such an accident could never happen again. As of today, around 80,000 residents near Fukushima have been evacuated from their homes and may never be allowed to return. The afterlife of the Chernobyl accident offers a sobering reminder that the effects of radiation linger for generations. Radiation is, in the words of Princeton physics professor Socolow, "a fire that cannot be put out."
See pictures of an aging nuclear plant.

From Time @ http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2067562,00.html



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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Scientists create animals that are part-human

Scientists create animals that are part-human

Stem cell experiments leading to genetic mixing of species

 

SHEEP

Sheep that have partially human livers, hearts, brains and other organs are shown here at the University of Nevada, in Sparks, Nev., on April 27.

On a farm about six miles outside this gambling town, Jason Chamberlain looks over a flock of about 50 smelly sheep, many of them possessing partially human livers, hearts, brains and other organs.

The University of Nevada-Reno researcher talks matter-of-factly about his plans to euthanize one of the pregnant sheep in a nearby lab. He can’t wait to examine the effects of the human cells he had injected into the fetus’ brain about two months ago.

“It’s mice on a large scale,” Chamberlain says with a shrug.

As strange as his work may sound, it falls firmly within the new ethics guidelines the influential National Academies issued this past week for stem cell research.

In fact, the Academies’ report endorses research that co-mingles human and animal tissue as vital to ensuring that experimental drugs and new tissue replacement therapies are safe for people.

Doctors have transplanted pig valves into human hearts for years, and scientists have injected human cells into lab animals for even longer.

Biological mixing of species

But the biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species, evoking the Greek myth of the monstrous chimera, which was part lion, part goat and part serpent.

In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk.

Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?

The “idea that human neuronal cells might participate in 'higher order' brain functions in a nonhuman animal, however unlikely that may be, raises concerns that need to be considered,” the academies report warned.

http://www.belligerati.net/archives/MouseEar.jpg
  Mouse with human ear grown on its back

Mice with human brains

In January, an informal ethics committee
at Stanford University endorsed a proposal to create mice with brains nearly completely made of human brain cells. Stem cell scientist Irving Weissman said his experiment could provide unparalleled insight into how the human brain develops and how degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s progress.

Stanford law professor Hank Greely, who chaired the ethics committee, said the board was satisfied that the size and shape of the mouse brain would prevent the human cells from creating any traits of humanity. Just in case, Greely said, the committee recommended closely monitoring the mice’s behavior and immediately killing any that display human-like behavior.

The Academies’ report recommends that each institution involved in stem cell research create a formal, standing committee to specifically oversee the work, including experiments that mix human and animal cells.

Weissman, who has already created mice with 1 percent human brain cells, said he has no immediate plans to make mostly human mouse brains, but wanted to get ethical clearance in any case. A formal Stanford committee that oversees research at the university would also need to authorize the experiment.

Harvesting human organs from sheep

Few human-animal hybrids are as advanced as the sheep created by another stem cell scientist, Esmail Zanjani, and his team at the University of Nevada-Reno. They want to one day turn sheep into living factories for human organs and tissues and along the way create cutting-edge lab animals to more effectively test experimental drugs.

Zanjani is most optimistic about the sheep that grow partially human livers after human stem cells are injected into them while they are still in the womb. Most of the adult sheep in his experiment contain about 10 percent human liver cells, though a few have as much as 40 percent, Zanjani said.

Because the human liver regenerates, the research raises the possibility of transplanting partial organs into people whose livers are failing.

Zanjani must first ensure no animal diseases would be passed on to patients. He also must find an efficient way to completely separate the human and sheep cells, a tough task because the human cells aren’t clumped together but are rather spread throughout the sheep’s liver.

Zanjani and other stem cell scientists defend their research and insist they aren’t creating monsters — or anything remotely human.

“We haven’t seen them act as anything but sheep,” Zanjani said.

Zanjani’s goals are many years from being realized.

He’s also had trouble raising funds, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the university over allegations made by another researcher that the school mishandled its research sheep. Zanjani declined to comment on that matter, and university officials have stood by their practices.

Allegations about the proper treatment of lab animals may take on strange new meanings as scientists work their way up the evolutionary chart. First, human stem cells were injected into bacteria, then mice and now sheep. Such research blurs biological divisions between species that couldn’t until now be breached.

Combining monkeys and people

Drawing ethical boundaries that no research appears
to have crossed yet, the Academies recommend a prohibition on mixing human stem cells with embryos from monkeys and other primates. But even that policy recommendation isn’t tough enough for some researchers.

“The boundary is going to push further into larger animals,” New York Medical College professor Stuart Newman said. “That’s just asking for trouble.”

Newman and anti-biotechnology activist Jeremy Rifkin have been tracking this issue for the last decade and were behind a rather creative assault on both interspecies mixing and the government’s policy of patenting individual human genes and other living matter.

Years ago, the two applied for a patent for what they called a “humanzee,” a hypothetical — but very possible — creation that was half human and chimp.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally denied their application this year, ruling that the proposed invention was too human: Constitutional prohibitions against slavery prevents the patenting of people.

Newman and Rifkin were delighted, since they never intended to create the creature and instead wanted to use their application to protest what they see as science and commerce turning people into commodities.

And that’s a point, Newman warns, that stem scientists are edging closer to every day: “Once you are on the slope, you tend to move down it.”

From http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7681252/ns/health-cloning_and_stem_cells
© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Emerging Global Brain


The Emerging Global Brain
Interview with Francis Heylighen

 OMG I missed the Singularity?

By

Francis Heylighen started his career as yet another physicist with a craving to understand the foundations of the universe – the physical and philosophical laws that make everything tick.  But his quest for understanding has led him far beyond the traditional limits of the discipline of physics. 

Currently he leads the Evolution, Complexity and COgnition group (ECCO) at the Free University of Brussels, a position involving fundamental cybernetics research cutting across almost every discipline.  Among the many deep ideas he has pursued in the last few decades, one of the most tantalizing is that of the Global Brain – the notion that the social, computational and communicative matrix increasingly enveloping us as technology develops, may possess a kind of coherent intelligence in itself.

I first became aware of Francis and his work in the mid-1990s via the Principia Cybernetica project – an initiative to pursue the application of cybernetic theory to modern computer systems.   Principia Cybernetica began in 1989, as a collaboration between Heylighen, Cliff Joslyn, and the late great Russian physicist,  dissident and systems theorist Valentin Turchin.  And then 1993, very shortly after Tim Berners-Lee released the HTML/HTTP software framework and thus created the Web, the Principia Cybernetica website went online.  For a while after its 1993 launch, Principia Cybernetica was among the largest and most popular sites on the Web. 

Today the Web is a different kind of place, but Principia Cybernetica remains a unique and popular resource for those seeking deep, radical thinking about the future of technology, mind and society.  The basic philosophy presented is founded on the thought of Turchin and other mid-century systems theorists, who view the world as a complex self-organizing system in which complex control structures spontaneously evolve and emerge.




The concept of the Global Brain has a long history, going back to ancient ideas about society as a superorganism, and the term was introduced in Peter Russell’s 1982 book “The Global Brain”. 

 However, the Principia Cybernetica page on the Global Brain was the first significant online resource pertaining to the concept, and remains the most thorough available resource for matters Global-Brain-ish.   Francis published one of the earliest papers on the Global Brain concept, and in 1996 he founded the “Global Brain Group”, an email list whose membership includes many of the scientists who have worked on the concept of emergent Internet intelligence.

In the summer of 2001, based partly on a suggestion from yours truly, Francis organized a workshop at the Free University of Brussels – The First Global Brain Workshop (GBrain 0).  This turned out to be a fascinating and diverse collection of speakers and attendees, and for me it played a critical role, in terms of helping me understand what other researchers conceived the Global Brain to be.  My own presentation at the workshop was based on my book Creating Internet Intelligence, which I had submitted to the publisher the previous year, which outlined my own vision of the future of the Global Brain, centered on using powerful AI systems to purposefully guide the overall intelligence of global computer networks.

In our discussions before, during and after the GB0 workshop, Francis and I discovered that our respective views of the Global Brain were largely overlapping yet significantly different, leading to many interesting conversations.  So when I decided to interview Francis on the Global Brain for H+ Magazine, I knew the conversation would touch many points of agreement and also some clear issues of dissension – and most importantly, would dig deep into the innards of the Global Brain concept, one of the most important ideas for understanding our present and future world.

Ben:
The global brain means many things to many people.  Perhaps a good way to start is for you to clarify how you conceive it – bearing in mind that your vision has been one of those shaping the overall cultural evolution of the concept in the last decades…


Francis:
The global brain (GB) is a collective intelligence formed by all people on the planet together with their technological artifacts (computers, sensors, robots, etc.) insofar as they help in processing information. The function of the global brain is to integrate the information gathered by all its constituents, and to use it in order to solve problems, as well for its individual constituents as for the global collective. By “solving problems” I mean that each time an individual or collective (including humanity as a whole) needs to do something and does not immediately know how to go about it, the global brain will suggest a range of more or less adequate approaches.


As the intelligence of the GB increases, through the inclusion of additional sources of data and/or smarter algorithms to extract useful information from those data, the solutions it offers will become better, until they become so good that any individual human intelligence pales in comparison.

Like all complex systems, the global brain is self-organizing: it is far too complex to be fully specified by any designer, however intelligent. On the other hand, far-sighted individuals and groups can contribute to its emergence by designing some of its constituent mechanisms and technologies. Some examples of those are, of course, the Internet, the Web, and Wikipedia.

Ben:
What about the worry that the incorporation of the individual mind into the global brain could take away our freedom?  Many people, when they hear about these sorts of ideas, become very concerned that the advent of such a “cognitive superorganism” above the human level would reduce their personal freedom, turning them into basically slaves of the overmind, or parts of the borg mind, or whatever.


One standard counterargument is that in the presence of a global superorganism we would feel just as free as we do now, even though our actions and thoughts would be influenced on a subtle unconscious level by the superorganism — and after all, the feeling of freedom is more a subjective construct than an objective reality.

Or if there is a decrease in some sorts of freedom coming along with the emergence of the global brain, one could view this as a gradual continuation of things that have already been happening for a while.  It’s not clear that we do – in every relevant sense — feel just as free now as our ancestors did in a hunter-gatherer society.  In some senses we may feel more free, in others less.

Or, you could argue that the ability to tap into a global brain on command gives a massive increase in freedom and possibility beyond the individually-constrained mental worlds we live in now.
What’s your take on all this?


Francis:
For me the issue of freedom in the GB is very simple: you will get as much (or as little) as you want. We do not always want freedom: often we prefer that others make decisions for us, so that we just can follow the lead. In those situations, the global brain will make a clear recommendation that we can just follow without too much further worry. In other cases, we prefer to think for ourselves and explore a variety of options before we decide what we really want to do. In such a case too, the GB will oblige, offering us an unlimited range of options, arranged approximately in the order of what we are most likely to prefer, so that we can go as far as we want in exploring the options.


A simple illustration of this approach is how a search engine such as Google answers a query: it does not provide a single answer that you have to take or leave, it provides an ordered list of possibilities, and you scroll down as deep as you want if you don’t like the first suggestions. In practice, the search technology used by Google is already so good that in many cases you will stick with the first option without even looking at the next ones.

In practice, this means an increase in individual freedom. The global brain will not only offer more options for choice than any individual or organization before it, it will even offer the option of not having to choose, or of choosing in a very limited, relatively unreflective way, where you look at the first three options and intuitively take the third one, thinking “that’s the one!”.

Of course, in such decisions you would have been influenced to some degree at an unconscious level, but only because you didn’t want to make the effort to become conscious of it.

In principle, the GB should be able to explain or motivate its ordering and selection of options, so that you can rationally and critically evaluate it, and if necessary ignore it. But most of the time, our bounded rationality means that we won’t investigate so deeply. This is nothing new: most of our decisions have always been made in this way, simply by doing what the others do, or following the implicit hints and trails left by others in our environment. The difference characterizing the GB is that those implicit traces from the activity of others can in principle be made explicit, as the GB should maintain a trace of all the information it has used to make a decision.

http://trendwatching.com/img/briefing/2006-05/globalbrain.jpg

Ben:
Well, we don’t actually have time or space resources to become conscious of everything going on in our unconscious (even if we become mentally adept and enlightened enough to in principle extend our reflective consciousness throughout the normally unconscious portions of our minds).  A person’s unconscious is influenced by all sorts of things now; and as the GB gets more and more powerful and becomes a more major part of our lives, our unconscious will be more and more influenced by the GB, and we don’t have the possibility of being conscious of all this influence, due to resource limitations.


So it does seem we will be substantially “controlled” by the GB — but the question is whether this is merely in the same sense that we are now unconsciously “controlled” by our environments.

Or alternately, as the GB gets more mature and coherent and organized, will the GB’s influence on our unconscious somehow be more coherent and intentional than our current environment’s influence on our unconscious?  This is my suspicion.

In short, my suspicion is that we may well FEEL just as free no matter how mature, reflective and well-organized and goal-oriented is the GB that nudges our unconscious. But if so, this will be because our minds are so good at manufacturing the story of human freedom.  In reality, it seems to me there is a difference between a fairly chaotic environment influencing our unconscious, and a highly conscious, reflective, well-organized entity influencing our unconscious.   It seems to me in the latter case we are, in some sense, less free.  This may not be experienced as a problem, but still it seems a possibility worth considering.

Francis:
Interesting thought. My comment: our present environment, especially in the way that it is determined socially, i.e. by the reigning culture, government, market and morals, is much less chaotic than it may seem. In a given culture, we all drive on the right (or left in other countries) side of the road, speak the same language, use the same rules for spelling or grammar, follow the law, greet people by shaking their hands, interpret a smile as a sign of good will or cheerfulness, walk on the sidewalk, follow the signs, use a fork to bring food to our mouths, etc. etc.


Most of these things we do without ever thinking about it. On the cognitive level, 99,9… % of our beliefs, concepts and attitudes we have gotten from other people, and it is only exceptionally that we dare to question such seemingly obvious assumptions as “dogs bark”, “murder is bad”, “eating shit is disgusting”, “the sun comes up in the morning”, “I shouldn’t get too fat”, “1 + 1 = 2, “a house has a roof”, etc.

All these things are implicit decisions for one interpretation or reaction rather than an infinite number of possible other ones. After all, if you think about it, it is possible to eat shit, to build houses without roofs, or to find dogs that don’t bark. “Implicit” means unconscious, and unconscious means that we cannot change them at will, since will requires conscious reflection. Therefore, culture very strongly limits our freedom, without hardly anybody being aware of it.

I myself became aware of the existence of these subconscious biases (or “prejudices” as I called them) when I was 14 years old. This led me to develop a philosophy in which anything can be (and from time to time should be) questioned, including “1 + 1 =2 and “the sun comes up in the morning”.

Culture in that sense is already a collective intelligence or GB, except that it reacts and evolves much more slowly than we one we envisage as emerging from the Internet. As you hint at, the risk of having a more interactive GB is that people will have less time to question its suggestions. On the other hand, the GB as I envisage it is by design more explicit than the subconscious conditioning of our culture, and therefore it is easier (a) to remember that its opinions are not our own; (b) to effectively examine and analyse the rationale for these opinions, and if necessary reject them.

Again, I come to the conclusion I mentioned in my first series of answers: the degree to which the GB will limit your freedom will depend on how much you are willing to let it make decisions for you. Given my nearly lifelong habit of questioning every assumption I hear (or develop myself), I have little fear that I will turn into an unwitting slave of the GB!

Ben:
Hmmm… even if that’s true, it brings up other issues, right?  Your personality, like mine, was shaped when the GB was much less prominent than it is now.  Maybe a society more fully dominated by the GB will be less likely to lead to the emergence of highly willful, obsessive assumption-questioners like you and me.  But I hasten to add that’s not clear to me – so far the Net hasn’t made people more conformist, particularly.  It’s encouraged some forms of conformism and trendiness, but it’s also fostered eccentricity to a great extent, by giving “outlier people” a way to find each other.


For instance there’s an online community of people who communicate with each other in Lojban, a speakable form of predicate logic.  Before the Net, there was no practical way for such a community to thrive (even though Lojban was invented in the late 1950s).  On the other hand, if you look at the trending topics on Twitter on a random day, it’s easy to conclude that the GB is becoming a kind of collective imbecilic mind.

It might be that the GB will give more freedom to those few who want it, but will also urge the emergence of psychological patterns causing nearly all people not to want it.

Actually this reminds me of one comment you made: “In principle, the GB should be able to explain or motivate its ordering and selection of options, so that you can rationally  and critically evaluate it, and if necessary ignore it.”

But the principle isn’t necessarily the practice, in this case.  Google, for instance, doesn’t want to provide this kind of explanation, because this would reveal its proprietary formulas for search ranking.  So, as long as the GB is heavily reliant on commercial technologies, this sort of transparency is not likely to be there.  And of course, most people don’t care that the transparency’s not there – the number of people who would make good use of an explanation of the reasoning underlying Google’s search results would be fairly small (and would consist mainly of marketers looking to do better Search Engine Optimization of their web pages).  Do you see this lack of transparency  as a problem?  Do you think the GB would develop in a more broadly beneficial way if it could somehow be developed based on open technologies?

Francis:
Commercial secrecy is indeed a major obstacle I see to the emergence of a true GB. Just as Google doesn’t reveal its justification for search results, similarly the algorithms Amazon et al. use to make recommendations are closely guarded. This implies:


1.    that it is difficult to detect self-serving manipulation (e.g. Google or Amazon might rank certain items higher because their owners have paid for the privilege),
2.    that it is difficult for the GB to improve itself (I have the strong suspicion that the collaborative filtering algorithms used by YouTube etc. could be made much more efficient, but I cannot show that without knowing what they are).

Again, Wikipedia, together with all the other open source communities, stands as a shining example of the kind of openness and transparency that we need.

Ben:
Well, when you dig into the details of its operation, Wikipedia has a lot of problems, that I’m sure you’re aware of.  It’s not particularly an ideal to be aspired to.  But, I agree, in terms of its open, collaborative nature, it’s a fantastic indication of what’s possible.


Mention of transparency naturally reminds me of David Brin’s book The Transparent Society, by the way – where he develops the notion of surveillance versus sousveillance (the latter meaning that everyone has the capability to watch everyone, if they wish to; and in particular that the average person has the capability to watch the government and corporate watchers).  Currently Google, for instance, can surveil us — but we cannot sousveil them or each other, except in a much more limited sense.  Do you think the GB would develop in a more broadly beneficial way if it were nudged more toward sousveillance and away from surveillance?

Francis:
Seems a step in the good direction, but I must admit I haven’t thought through the whole “sous-veillance” idea…


Ben:
Ah – you should read Brin’s book, it’s really quite provocative.  I gave a talk at AGI-09 exploring some of the possibilities for the intersection between sousveillance and AI in the future.


Moving on, then – we’ve dealt with the GB and free will, so I guess the next topic is consciousness.  What about consciousness and the GB?  Setting aside the problem of qualia, there’s a clear sense in which human beings have a “theater of reflective, deliberative consciousness” that rocks lack and that, for instance, worms and fish seem to have a lot less of.  Do you think the Internet or any sort of currently existing “global brain” has this sort of theater of reflective consciousness?  If so, to what extent? To what extent do you think a global brain might develop this kind of reflective consciousness in the future?

Francis:
As the term “consciousness” is very confusing, I would immediately want to distinguish the three components or aspects that are usually subsumed under this heading: 1) subjective experience (qualia); 2) conscious awareness and reflection, as best modelled by the theory of the “global workspace” in which the brain makes decisions; 3) self-consciousness, as being critically aware of, and reflecting about, one’s own cognitive processes.


(1) is in my view much less mysterious than generally assumed, and relatively easy to implement in the Global Brain. For me, subjective experience is the implicit anticipation and evaluation that our brain makes based on (a) the presently incoming information (sensation, perception); (b) the associations we have learned through previous experience in which similar perceptions tended to co-occur with particular other phenomena (other perceptions, thoughts, emotions, evaluations…). This creates an affectively colored, fuzzy pattern of expectation in which phenomena that are associated in this way are to some degree “primed” for possible use in further reflection or action.

http://www.healingtalks.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/greatest-illness-of-our-times.jpg

Ben:
So you’re basically equating qualia with a certain informational process….  But doesn’t this ignore what Chalmers has called the “hard problem” — i.e. the gap between subjective experience and physical reality?  Or are you saying the qualia are associated with an abstract process, which is then instantiated in physical reality in a certain way?  A little more clarification on your view toward the so-called “hard problem of consciousness” might be helpful for understanding your remarks…


Francis:
I’d rather not get into that, or we will be gone for hours of discussion. I consider the “hard problem” as merely a badly formulated problem. Of course, things feel different from the inside and from the outside: I cannot feel what you can feel, but as long as you behave more or less similarly to how I might behave in similar circumstances, I will assume that you have feelings (qualia) similar to mine. It really does not matter whether you are “in reality” a human being, a zombie,  a robot, or a GB: what counts is how you behave…


If you really want to go deeper into this, here are some of my recent writings in which I discuss the “hard problem”: Cognitive Systems: a cybernetic perspective on the new science of the mind, and Self-organization of complex, intelligent systems:  an action ontology for transdisciplinary integration .

Ben:
Yes, I see…  Like our dear departed friend Valentin Turchin, you basically make the hard problem go away by assuming a monist ontology.  The “action ontology” you describe is quite similar to things Val and I used to talk about (and I’m sure you guys evolved these ideas together, to some extent).  You assume action as a primary entity, similarly to Whitehead with his process metaphysics (or Goethe, whose Faust said “In the Beginning was the Act!”), and then you think about states and objects and people and so forth ultimately as collections of actions.


This quote from your second link seems a critical one:

The ontology of action has no difficulty with subjective experience, and therefore it denies that there is an intrinsically “hard” problem of consciousness. First, it is not founded on the existence of independent, material objects obeying objective laws. Therefore, it has no need to reduce notions like purpose, meaning or experience to arrangements of such mechanical entities. Instead, it takes actions as it point of departure. An action, as we defined it, immediately entails the notions of awareness or sensation (since the agent producing the action needs to sense the situation to which it reacts), of meaning (because this sensation has a significance for the agent, namely as the condition that incites a specific action), and of purpose (because the action is implicitly directed towards a “goal”, which is the attractor of the action dynamics).

I can buy that, though I may interpret it a little differently than you do – to me it feels like a form of panpsychism, really.  Mind is everywhere, matter is everywhere, and qualia are an aspect of everything.

Francis: Indeed, as I point out in that paper, panpsychism is a possible interpretation of my position. So is animism, the belief associated with “primitive” cultures, according to which all entities, including rocks, clouds and trees, are intentional agents. But I find such interpretations, while logically not incorrect, misleading, because they come with a baggage of irrational, mysterious, and semi-religious associations. The action ontology is really very simple, concrete and practical, and is intended for application in everyday life as well as in advanced agent-based technologies. In principle, it can even be formulated in mathematical form, as Valentin Turchin had started to do in his papers.

Ben:
But what does this tell us about the qualia of the GB?


Francis:
The process by which qualia emerge in the brain is not essentially different from the way collaborative filtering algorithms, after watching the choices we make (e.g. examining a number of books and music CDs on Amazon), produce an anticipation of which other items we might be interested in, and offer those as a recommendation. This is a purely subjective, fuzzy and constantly shifting list of potentially valuable options, which changes with every new choice we make. It may at this moment not “feel” anything like the qualia of  our own concrete experiences, but that is mainly because these qualia reside inside our own brain, while the ones of the GB by definition are distributed over an amalgam of databases, hardware and people, so that no individual agent can claim to have direct access to them.


Ben:
OK — so then if we deal with qualia in this sort of way, we’re still left with the problem of the theater of reflective consciousness – with the “global workspace” and with self-reflection.


Francis:
The global workspace is based on the idea that difficult problems require full attention (i.e. maximal processing power) in which all specialized modules of the brain may need to be mobilized to attend to this particular problem. Reaching or interconnecting all modules at once requires a “global” (at the level of the individual brain, not at the planetary level) workspace through which such an important problem is “broadcasted”, so that all modules can work on it. This implies a bottleneck, as only one problem can be broadcasted at a time in the human brain. This explains the sequential nature of conscious reflection, in contrast with the fact that subconscious processing in the brain is essentially parallel in nature.


At this time, I don’t see any particular reason why the GB would develop such a bottleneck: its processing resources (billions of people and their computers) are so huge that they can deal with many difficult problems in parallel.

Ben:
Hmmm….  The current GB is not organized in such a way as to explicitly attack problems massively harder than those individual humans could attack. (Though it may implicitly attack them.)   But I wonder if a future GB could explicitly try to solve problems significantly bigger and harder than those that any human can solve.  These would then give rise to bottlenecks such as those you describe…


Francis:
This is indeed an area worth of further investigation…


On the other hand, whether or not serious bottlenecks ever arise in GB information processing, the GB does seem to have use for some form of broadcasting: some problems may be so universal or urgent that ALL parts of the GB may need to be warned of it simultaneously. An example would be a terrorist attack of the scale of 9/11, an emerging pandemic, or contact made with an alien civilisation.

In practice, the level of broadcasting will scale with the relative importance of the problem. A revolution in a Middle Eastern country, e.g., will catch the attention of most people in the Middle East, and of political and economic decision makers in most other parts of the world, but probably not of Latin American farmers. This selective broadcasting is what news media have been doing for decades, but their selection is rather biased by short-term political and economic motives. Hopefully, the emerging GB will do a better job of attending us to events and problems outside our immediate realm of interest… One example of how this may happen is how Google or other search engines select the “most important” websites or news items (as pointed out to me by Rome Viharo).

Ben:
Right – but this kind of broadcasting seems fairly heterogeneous, rather than having a common hub like the global workspace, like the brain’s executive networks., at the moment.  But as the GB evolves and deals with more complex problems on the global level, it seems possible some sort of global workspace might arise.  Related to this, an idea I had some time ago – and presented at the GB0 workshop – was to use an advanced AI system as basically an engineered global workspace for the GB.


But it’s probably best not to diverge onto my AGI schemes and visions!  So let’s proceed with the aspects of consciousness and their manifestation in the GB.  You’ve talked about qualia, broadcasting and the global workspace — what about self-reflection in the GB?

Francis:
Certainly, self-reflection appears like a useful feature for the GB to have. Again, this does not seem to be so tricky to implement, as we, in our role of components of the GB, are at this very moment reflecting about how the GB functions and how this functioning could be improved… Moreover, decades ago already AI researchers have developed programs that exhibited a limited form of self-improvement by monitoring and manipulating their own processing mechanisms.


Ben:
Any specific thoughts about how self-reflection might be implemented in the GB?

Francis:
Not really, except that in an older paper I sketched a simple methodology for “second-order learning”, i.e. learning not only the best values for  associations between items, but the best values for the different parameters that underly the learning algorithm, by comparing the predictions/recommendations made for different values of the parameters and seeing which fit best with reality/user satisfaction:


Another possible approach may be Valentin Turchin’s approach of “metacompilation,” a direct application of metasystem transitions to programming languages (which may be extendable to sufficiently powerful AI inference engines).

Ben:
Metacompilation takes a computer program and represents its run-time behavior in a certain abstracted form, that lets it be very powerfully optimized.  As you know I worked with Val and his colleagues a bit on the Java supercompiler, which was based on these principles.  But to apply that sort of idea to the GB would seem to require some kind of very powerful “global brain metacompiler” oriented toward expressing the dynamics of aspects of the GB in an explicit form.  Maybe something like what I was talking about before, of making a powerful AI to explicitly serve as the GB’s global workspace…


But one thing that jumps out at me as we dig into these details, is how different the GB is from the human brain.  It’s composed largely of humans, yet it’s a very very different kind of system.  That brings up the question how you might compare the degree of intelligence of a global brain to that of a human?  How smart is the Internet right now?  How can one devise a measure of intelligence that would span different levels in this way — or do you think that’s a hopeless intellectual quest?

Francis:
I rather consider it a hopeless quest. Intelligence, like complexity, is at best represented mathematically as a partial order: for two random organisms A and B (say, a hedgehog and a magpie), A may be more intelligent than B, less intelligent, or equally intelligent, but most likely they are simply incomparable. A may be able to solve problems B cannot handle, but B can find solutions that A would not have any clue about.


For such a partial order, it is impossible to develop a quantitative measure such as an IQ, because numbers are by definition fully ordered: either IQ (A) < IQ (B), IQ (A)>IQ (B), or IQ (A)=IQ (B). IQ only works in people because people are pretty similar in the type of problems they can in principle solve, so by testing large groups of people with questions that do not demand specialized knowledge you can get a relatively reliable statistical estimate of where someone is situated with respect to the average (avg(IQ)=100), in terms of standard deviations (sigma(IQ)=15).

There is no average or standard deviation once you leave the boundaries of the human species, so there is no basis for us to evaluate the intelligence of something as alien as a Global Brain. At most, you might say that once it is fully realized, the GB will be (much, much) more intelligent than any single human…

http://www.miqel.com/images_1/random_image/r1/internet-one-mind-forming.jpg

Ben:
In Shane Legg and Marcus Hutter’s definition of Universal Intelligence, they define intelligence by basically taking a weighted average over all possible problems.  So the intelligence of a creature is the average over all problems of its capability at solving that problem (roughly speaking; they give a rigorous mathematical definition).  But of course, this means that intelligence is relative to the mathematical “measure” used to define the weights in the weighted average. So relative to one measure, a hedgehog might be more intelligent; but relative to another, a magpie might be more intelligent.  In some cases system A might be better than system B at solving every possible problem, and in that case A would be smarter than B no matter what measure you choose.


Francis:
This definition will not only be relative to the measure you choose, but also to the set of “all possible problems” to which you apply that measure. I do not see any objective way of establishing what exactly is in that set, since the more you know, the more questions (and therefore problems) you can conceive. Therefore, the content of that set will grow as your awareness of “possible problems” expands…


Ben:
Well, from a mathematical point of view, one can just take the set of problems involved in the definition of intelligence to be the space of all computable problems – but indeed this sort of perspective comes to seem a bit remote from real-world intelligence.


But the practical key point is, you think the human brain and the GB right now are good at solving different kinds of problems, right?  So in that case the assessment of which is more intelligent would depend on which problems you weight higher – and their intelligences aren’t comparable in any objective sense…

OK, so if that’s a hopeless quest, let’s move on to something else – let’s get a little more practical, perhaps.  I’m curious, what technologies that exist right now do you think are pushing most effectively toward the creation/emergence of an advanced global brain?

Francis:
I would mention three technologies that have been deployed extremely quickly and effectively in the last ten years:


1.    wikis (and related editable community websites) provide a very simple and intuitive medium for people to develop collective knowledge via the mechanism of stigmergy (activity performed by individuals leaving a trace on a shared site that incites others to add to that activity). Wikipedia is the most successful example: in ten years time it developed from nothing into the largest public knowledge repository ever conceived, which may soon contain the sum of all human knowledge.

2.    collaborative filtering or recommendation systems. This is the technology (based on closely guarded algorithms) used by sites such as YouTube and Amazon to recommend additional books, videos or other items on the basis of what you liked, and what others like you have liked previously. Unlike wikis, this is a collective intelligence technology that relies on implicit data, on information that was rarely consciously entered by any individual, but that can be derived relatively reliable from what that user did (such as ordering certain books, or watching certain videos rather than others). If wiki editing is similar to the rational, conscious reflection in the brain, collaborative filtering is similar to the subconscious, neural processes of selective strengthening of links and spreading activation.

3.    smartphones such as the iPhone, that make it possible to tap into the global brain at any time and any place. From simple person-to-person communication devices, these have morphed into universal, but still simple and intuitive interfaces that connect you to all the information that is globally available. This adds a very practical real-time dimension to  GB problem-solving: when you need to get from A to B at time T, you want to know which means of transport you should take here and now; you are not interested in a full bus schedule. Thanks to in-built sensing technologies, such as a GPS, a compass, a camera and a microphone, a smart phone can first determine your local context (e.g. you are standing in front of the Opera building at sunset facing West while hearing some music playing in the background), then send that information to the GB together with any queries you may have (e.g. what is that melody? who designed that building? where can I get a pizza around here?), and finally relay the answer back to you.
4.     
Such ubiquitous access to the GB will not only help you to solve problems more quickly, but help the GB to gather more detailed and realistic data about what people do and what they need most (e.g. if many people wonder who designed that building, it may be worth installing a sign with the name of the architect, and if many people come to watch that building around sunset, it may be worth setting up bus lines that reach that destination just before sunset, and go back shortly afterwards).

Note that I more or less forecast the spread of technologies (2) and (3) in my first (1996) paper on the Global Brain, but somehow neglected the (in hindsight pretty obvious) contribution of (1). On the other hand, I forecast the spread of something more akin to Semantic Web supported, AI-type inference, but that has as yet still to make much of a splash…

http://www.alwaysthetwain.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/the-global-brain-twain-26nov20082.jpg


Ben:
Hmmm … so why do you think the Semantic Web hasn’t flourished as you thought it would?


My own suspicion is that not many Web page authors were willing to mark up their web pages with  meta-data, lacking any immediate practical reason to do so.  Basically the semantic web is only useful if a large percentage of websites use it.  The more websites use it, the more useful it is, and the more incentive there is for a new website to use it — but no incentive existed to get enough of a critical mass to use it, so as to start off an exponential growth process of increasing semantic web usage.

On the other hand, if we had sufficiently powerful AI to mark up Web pages automatically, thus making the Web “semantic” without requiring extra human effort, that would be a different story, and we’d have a different sort of semantic Web.

What’s your take on the reasons?

Francis:
I think you are partly right. Another reason is that semantic web people have generally underestimated the difficulty of building a consensual, formally structured ontology. The world tends to be much more contextual and fuzzy than the crisp categories used in logic or ontology.


Ontologies only work well in relatively restricted formal domains, such as names, addresses and telephone numbers. It already becomes much more difficult to create an ontology of professions, since new types of occupations are constantly emerging while old ones shift, merge or disappear. But if you stick to the formal domains, the semantic web approach does do not much more than a traditional database does, and therefore the added intelligence is limited.

I see the solution in some kind of a hybrid formal/contextual labelling of phenomena, where categories are to some degree fuzzy and able to adapt to changing contexts. An example of such a hybrid approach are user-added “tags”, where the same item may get many different tags that are partly similar, partly overlapping, partly independent, and where tags get a weight simply by counting the number of people who have used a particular tag. But reasoning on tag clouds will demand a more flexible form of inference than the one used in semantic networks, and more discipline from the users to come up with truly informative tags…

Ben:
And what sort of research are you working on these days?  Anything global brain related, and if so in what sense?


Francis:
I am presently working on three related topics:


1.    the paleolithic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle as a model of what humans have evolved to live like, and thus a good starting point if you want to  understand how we can optimize our physical and mental health, strength and well-being;
2.    the concept of challenge as the fundamental driver of action and development in all agents, human as well as non-human;
3.    the problem of coordination in self-organization: how can a collective of initially autonomous agents learn to collaborate in the most productive way without any central supervisor telling them how to do it?

The three topics are related in that they are all applications of what I call the “ontology of challenge and action”, which sees the world as being constituted out of actions and their agents, and challenges as situations that elicit those actions. The life of a hunter-gatherer is essentially a sequence of (mostly unpredictable) challenges–mostly minor, sometimes major. In contrast, our modern civilized life has tried to maximally suppress or exclude uncontrolled challenges (such as accidents, germs, hot and cold temperatures, wild animals…). Without these challenges, the various human subsystems that evolution has produced to deal with these challenges (e.g. the immune system, muscles, fast reflexes…) remain weak and underdeveloped, leading to a host of diseases and mental problems.

The link with self-organization is that the action of one agent will in general change the environment in such a way as to produce a challenge to one or more other agents. If these agents react “appropriately”, their interaction may become cooperative or synergetic; otherwise it is characterized by friction. In the best case, patterns of synergetic interaction propagate via the challenges they produce to the whole collective, which thus starts to act in a coordinated fashion.

http://static.neatorama.com/images/2010-04/kasey-mcmahon-1-connected.jpg

This topic is obviously related to the Global Brain, which is such a self-organizing collective, but whose degree of coordination is obviously still far from optimal. I don’t yet know precisely how, but I am sure that the notion of challenge will help me to better envision the technologies and requirements for such a collective coordination. One relevant concept I have called “mobilization system”: a medium that stimulates people to act in a coordinated way by providing the right level of challenge. Again, Wikipedia is a prime example. The challenge here is: can you improve in some way the page you have in front of you?

Ben:
Hmmm.   The notion of coordinating the GB reminds me of a broader issue regarding the degree of human coordination and planning and engineering required to bring about a maximally intelligent GB.


At the GB0 workshop in 2001, there seemed to be two major differences of opinion among participants on this (as well as very many smaller differences!).  The first was whether the global brain was already present then (in 2001) in roughly the same sense it was going to be in the future; versus whether there was some major phase transition ahead, during which a global brain would emerge in a dramatically qualitatively stronger sense.  The second was whether the emergence of the global brain was essentially something that was going to occur “spontaneously” via general technological development and social activity; versus the global brain being something that some group of people would specifically engineer (on top of a lot of pre-existing technological and social phenomena).   Of course I’ve just drawn these dichotomies somewhat crudely, but I guess you understand the ideas I’m getting at.  What’s your view on these dichotomies and the issues underlying them?

Francis:
My position is nicely in the middle: either position on each of the dichotomies seems too strong, too reductionistic to me. I believe that the GB to some degree is already there in essence, to some degree it still reserves a couple of spectacular surprises for us over the coming decades. Similarly, it will to some degree emerge spontaneously from the activities of many, relatively clueless people, to some degree be precipitated by clever engineering, inspired by the ideas of visionary thinkers such as you or I!


Ben:
Another, related question is the connection between the GB and the Singularity.  I take it you’re familiar with Ray Kurzweil’s and Vernor Vinge’s notion of the Singularity.  What’s your current take on this notion?  Is the Singularity near? As I vaguely recall, when we discussed this once before you were a little skeptical (but please correct me if I’m wrong). 


Max More likes to talk about a Surge rather than a Singularity — a steady ongoing growth of advanced technology, but without necessarily there being any point of extremely sudden and shocking advance.  His Surge would ultimately get us to the same (radically transhuman) point as Kurzweil’s Singularity, but according to a different slope of progress.  Are you perhaps more friendly to  Max’s Surge notion than Ray and Vernor’s Singularity?  Or do you find them both unjustifiably techno-optimistic?

Francis:
I have just been invited to write a paper for a special volume that takes a critical look at the Singularity. I do not know what exactly Max More means by his Surge, but it does sound more realistic than a true Singularity. In the paper, I plan to argue that the transition to the Global Brain regime is more likely to resemble a logistic or S-curve, which starts to grow nearly exponentially, then slows down to a near linear expansion (constant growth), in order to finally come to a provisional halt (no more growth).


In my own (decidedly subjective experience), we may already be in the phase of constant growth, as I have the feeling that since about the year 2000 individuals and society are to such a degree overwhelmed with the on-going changes that their creativity and capacity for adaptation suffers, thus effectively slowing down further innovation. This doesn’t mean that we should no longer expect spectacular innovations, only that they will no longer come at an ever increasing speed.

That may seem defeatist to Singularitarians and other transhumanist enthusiasts, but I believe the basic infrastructure, technical as well as conceptual, for the Global Brain is already in place, and just needs to be further deployed, streamlined and optimized. We have only glimpsed a mere fraction of what the GB is capable of, but realizing its further potential may require fewer revolutionary innovations than one might think…

Ben:
Yes, I see….  You recently wrote on a mailing list that


In summary, my position is:

1.    I believe in the Singularity as a  near-term transition to a radically higher level of intelligence and technological power, best conceived of as a “Global Brain”
2.    I don’t believe in the Singularity as a near-term emergence of  super-intelligent, autonomous, computers
3.    I don’t believe in the Singularity as a near-term acceleration towards a practically infinite speed of technological and economic progress

I think that puts it pretty clearly.

And as you know, I don’t fully agree.  I agree that a Global Brain is emerging, but I see this as part of the dawning Vingean Singularity, not as an alternative.   I think superintelligent computers will emerge and that eventually they will be able to operate quite autonomously of humans and human society – though initially our first superintelligent computers will probably be richly enmeshed with the Global Brain.  And I do think we’ll have acceleration toward an incredibly rapid speed of technological and economic progress – though I also think that, from the perspective of human society, there’s a limit to how fast things can progress, because there’s a limit to how fast human beings can absorb and propagate change.  

There’s also probably a limit to how MUCH things can change for humans, given the constraint of humans remaining humans.   The way I see it, at some point future history is likely to bifurcate – on the one hand you’ll have advanced AIs integrated with humans and the Global Brain, advancing at an impressive but relatively modest pace due to their linkage with humans; and on the other hand you’ll have advanced AIs detached from the human context, advancing at a pace and in a direction incomprehensible to legacy humans.  Some people fear that if AIs advance in directions divergent from humanity, and beyond human ken, this will lead to the destruction of humankind; but I don’t see any clear reason why this would have to be the case.

In practical terms, I think that in the next few decades (possibly sooner!), someone (maybe my colleagues and me) is going to create human-level (and then transhuman) artificial general intelligence residing in a relatively modest-sized network of computers (connected into and leveraging the overall Internet as a background resource).  Then, I think the integration of this sort of AGI into the GB is going to fundamentally change its character, and drastically increase its intelligence.  And then after that, I think some AGIs will leave the Global Brain and the whole human domain behind, having used humanity and the GB as a platform to get their process of self-improvement and learning started…

I’m particularly curious for your reaction to this possibility…

Francis:
My personal bias is to consider the “background resource” of knowledge available on the Internet more important than the localized AGI. Such an AGI would definitely be very useful and illuminating to have, but without the trillions of (mostly) human generated data available via the net, it wouldn’t be able to solve many real-life problems. This perspective comes from the situated and embodied cognition critique on AI (and by extension AGI): real intelligence only emerges in constant interaction with a truly complex and dynamic environment. The higher the bandwidth of that interaction, the more problems can be solved, and the more pragmatically meaningful the conclusions reached by your intelligent system become.


The only practical way I see at the moment to maximize that bandwidth is to use all the globally available sensors and effectors, i.e. all human individuals supported by their smartphone interfaces, plus a variety of autonomous sensors/effectors built into the environment, as envisaged by the “ambient intelligence/ubiquitous Internet” paradigm. That means in effect that your intelligent system should be firmly rooted into the GB, extending its “feelers” into all its branches and components.

Whether your AGI system runs locally on a modest size network of computers, or in distributed form on the Internet as a whole seems rather irrelevant to me: this is merely a question of hardware implementation. After all, nobody really cares where Google runs its computers: what counts are the way they sieve through the data…

By the way, when discussing these issues with my colleague Mark Martin, he  mentioned Watson, an IBM system perhaps not unlike what you envisage. While the IBM website is extremely vague about how Watson is supposed to answer the questions posed to it, I suspect that it too is firmly rooted into an Internet-scale database of facts, texts and observations gathered by millions of people.

Of course, IBM has reason to downplay the role of those (publically available) data, and to emphasize the great strides they made on the level of hardware (and to a lesser degree) software, just like you would rather focus on the advanced AGI architecture underlying your system. But my impression is that neither system would be of much practical use without that humongous database of human-collected information behind it…

Ben:
Well, as you know Watson is not an artificial general intelligence – Watson is just a fairly simple question-answering system, that responds to questions based on looking up information that’s already present on the Web in textual form.  So, for sure, in the case of a system like Watson, the AI algorithms play a secondary role to the background knowledge.  But that’s because Watson is not based on a serious cognitive architecture that tries to learn, to self-reflect, to create, to model the world and its place in the world and its relationship to others.


Systems like Watson are relatively easy to build and fun to play with, precisely because they’re just tools for leveraging the knowledge on the Web.  But they’re a completely different animal from the kind of AGI system we’re trying to build in the OpenCog project, for example (or from the human brain, which also is capable of wide-ranging learning and creativity, not just matching questions against a database of previously-articulated answers).

The knowledge available on the Web will also be of tremendous use to real AGI systems – but unlike Watson these systems will do something besides just extract knowledge from the Web and respond with it appropriately.  They will do more like humans do – feed the knowledge from the Web into their own internal thought processes, potentially creating ideas radically different from anything they read.  Like you or me, they will question everything they read and even whether 1+1=2.  What happens when systems like this become very powerful and intelligent and interact intensively with the GB is an interesting question.  

My view is that, at a certain point, AGI minds will come to dominate the GB’s dynamics (due to the AGIs eventually becoming more generally intelligent than humans); and that the GB will in essence serve as an incubator for AGI minds that will ultimately outgrow the human portion of the GB.

But, I know you don’t share that particular portion of my vision of the future of the GB – and I’d be the first to admit that none of us knows for sure what’s going to happen…

From hPlus Magazine @ http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/03/16/francis-heylighen-on-the-emerging-global-brain/








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