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Open Source and Human Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) are two of the most popular contemporary trends. Both technologies have been under development for a long time. The ramp-up process has taken decades. The current bet, which I disagree with, is that both of these product categories will take off in the same way that the Internet and mobile phones did.

They are fads because they are completely detached from the bigger actual world in which we all live. I’m concerned about artificial stupidity becoming deeply embedded in bureaucratic and machine processes that take on a life of their own, and I’m concerned about spending so much money on virtual reality that we forget we’ve been pooping on ourselves for two centuries and the cesspool is now up to our nose. Nature bats last, and no amount of VR will change that.

I was among the earliest “digital innovators” at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They built the Artificial Intelligence Staff in the Office of Information Technology (OIT/AIS) around me, so believe me when I say I’m concerned about artificial stupidity being embedded in bureaucratic work processes. I’ve seen a trillion dollars’ worth of waste in the last quarter century [an average of $40 billion per year for each of the 25 years]. The US intelligence community’s investments in technology, which are mostly secret and overwhelmingly technical, are mostly useless in terms of producing a wealthy, peaceful world that works for everyone.

True Costs of the Sucking Chest Wound of the Singularity

Everything is related in the actual world, and everything has a “true cost” in terms of natural capital used as well as costs to individuals and their communities. True Cost is a mix of non-renewable natural capital (resources) used, environmental collateral damage, human cost in disease, societal cost in crime, and other elements resulting from, for example, abusive business practices akin to slavery.

Here are a few examples:

  • A normal cotton T-shirt requires 570 liters of water, 11 to 29 grams of fuel, and is produced using child labor. Their manufacture generates volatile chemicals and creates poisons.
  • The plastic bottle containing water needs six to seven times the quantity of water it contains to manufacture. Other beverages take more water than they supply – soda consumes 2.02 times its volume in water; beer consumes 4 times, wine nearly 5 times, and hard alcohol consumes 34-35 times.
  • Smart phones have a high human cost due to the Class A carcinogens required to manufacture certain of its components. Every smart phone helps the hundreds of thousands of Chinese people who are in leukemia wards or have died and been buried as a result of leukemia or lung illness. Not to mention the uncountable amounts of electrical garbage.

The Questionable Assumption of Singularity

Apart from its obliviousness to genuine costs that dramatically restrict future growth regardless of technological advancement, singularity firmly thinks that robots will overtake humans, whose minds have been developing for millions of years. It also carelessly believes that replacing human work with robots, regardless of the real costs, will not have societal implications such as public dissatisfaction and eventual bloodshed.

As an intelligence professional – both a former spy and a leader of analysts – I’ve seen the National Security Agency (NSA), one of the trillions in waste I mentioned before, squander hundreds of millions of dollars over the last quarter-century. The NSA has never been able to digest more than 1% of the data it collects [and is much more immobilized by data overload now that widespread monitoring has become the standard]. NSA has also been ineffective with the data it does analyze due to a dearth of human linguists competent in Arabic and Hebrew, two of the 183 languages we do not speak well in the United States. In the final phrase of his book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (Anchor, 2002), James Bamford says:

NSA may eventually accomplish the ultimate in speed, compatibility, and efficiency–a computer with petaflop and greater speeds compressed into a container around a liter in size and powered by just about 10 watts of power: the human brain.

I won’t go into detail on computers’ limits; my most recent work, Applied Collective Intelligence 2.0, which will be published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, addressed the facts that restrict machine intelligence. My goal in writing this article is to develop an idea for rescuing civilization by combining human intellect with a wide spectrum of open source technology and knowledge. The goal is to apply open source ideals to all man-machine sectors, not only information technology.

Human Intelligence on the Path to Hybrid Intelligence

Why is human intelligence important now and in the future? Leaving aside computers’ numerous limitations, which are only as clever as their stupidest line of code and tiniest pieces of data combined, let’s start with the fact that over 80% of what humans need to know is not in digital form. In reality, the genuine percentage is probably closer to 95% — I’m being conservative — and because we barely analyze 1% of Big Data generated, according to Mary Meeker, the machine world is working with a minuscule fraction-.002 to be exact-of the available relevant data. Add to that the fact that we are not practicing zero-based economic analysis or real cost economics, and that we now have only infant doses of data, and we have what Chris Hedges refers to in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

A naive confidence in AI and VR to suddenly reveal our reality, that is, one that ignores the underlying costs in resources and process change, is risky. Only true-cost accounting, applied predictively to present patterns, can show how difficult the issues our species – not just humans, but all living animals – confront now due to resource constraints.

There is clearly much to be claimed for increased human intellect via machine-assisted processing and analysis. Striking that equilibrium, which some refer to as hybrid intelligence, can provide actual prospects for huge good change. Some experts, such as Google’s in-house singularity guru Ray Kurzweil, believe machines will prevail and leave people behind; others, including me, believe robots will augment but never replace humans with their diversity, inventiveness, and death – mortality being the foundation of ethics.

This is a significant machine “glitch” that is tough to resolve: ethics are beyond the capabilities of a machine. We delude ourselves into believing that code can be developed to address ethical issues. A computer follows instructions that appear to be logically complete but are incapable of accounting for novel concerns. When AI is purported to make intelligence advances, it is frequently the result of engineers falling in love with the output of their creations rather than an indication of organic emergent intelligence.

In this regard – whether human or artificial intelligence – I propose three human-centric suggestions for consideration.

First, following up on my invited 1993 talk to Paul Allen’s INTERVAL think tank, I propose

Any strategies or instruments that isolate individuals or give them the false impression that they may exist remotely or in their own “virtual” worlds must be avoided at all costs. That is a narcotic and narcissistic vision, and it, like drugs and Narcissus’ pool, will eventually lead to death by overdose or drowning.

Second, if you do not embrace full employment (whether in labor or the arts), you risk spreading a catastrophic social illness, one that might lead to social degradation so severe that all technological and bureaucratic towers are toppled. People are looking for meaning. They will find significance in pulling down the institutions that reject their contributions if they do not have jobs.

Third and finally, given that Homo sapiens is supposed to be both human and thinking, and with a nod to Micah Sifry’s book The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet), as well as my own Foreword to Stephen E. Arnold’s CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access, we still lack properly integrated and universally-available tools for information-sharing and sense-making.

Machine intelligence and complicated system integration are both costly and ongoing projects. Now add to it the 95% or so of material that is not digital and in a language that is not supported by today’s machine translation technologies or our own illiterate populace. At best, we are performing at 2% of our potential, falling short as both man and machine.

The Invisible Information Universe – Almost All Human

The image below illustrates the concept of information being mainly beyond the grasp of present and anticipated future technology. Video recognition is abysmal. Outside of a few languages, language recognition is still insufficient for most applications. Handwritten and unusual script papers have poor recognition rates. And so forth.

Look at the legend in the image below. Only around 1% of written scientific articles get published, and of those that are, only about 5% are accessed by more than a handful of people. One percent of five percent is.0005 – not one tenth, one hundredth, or one thousandth of published information, but five ten-thousandths of published knowledge gain “traction,” and this in general in the English language. Unpublished knowledge might as well not exist.

Published and unpublished information in 183 additional languages, 33 of which are important international languages, one of which, Arabic, comprises eleven substantive current variants, is typically ineffectively accessed. Similarly, “gray literature,” or limited edition books specialized to locations, is even more difficult to get – one percent of one percent, to be precise.

Finally, there is no worldwide index of subject area experts (particularly those who do not write yet possess invaluable hard-earned local expertise).

Richard Klavans and colleagues at Map of Science drew a map showing a significantly fractured scientific paradigm on the right. PhD programs have become so fragmented that we now have people who are so specialized in their knowledge that they are unable to communicate it to others in practical terms. They know nothing about nothing and everything about nothing. Only humans can address this fragmentation with higher standards for clarity and completeness of information and a capacity to instinctively “connect the dots” when many of the dots are missing. Only humans, as they gain machine-assisted access to all knowledge in all languages and mediums, can invent flexible systems of exchanging information across cultural, historic, and linguistic borders.

Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE)

Let us now make the jump from the present fixation with taking information technology toward the singularity aim of making people superfluous. Let us ponder instead the fullness of society – not just information society, but society across all physical dimensions. Imagine a world in which everything is open.

Most are familiar with the notions of Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware. A few recognize that these two principles are insufficient to create anything like a singularity. Apart from the reality that a machine is utterly stupid without data, algorithms, and an audience, there is the small matter of civilization beyond the box — what else must be in being for society to advance?

Below is a starting point that I created with some help from Michel Bauwens, founder of the Peer to Peer (P2P) Foundation, and Marcin Jakubowski, creator of Open Source Ecology and the Global Village Construction Set.

Table:Principle Elements of Open Source

Toward Integrated Man-Machine Solutions

In my view, if we are to achieve exponential growth and infinite wealth for all humanity, we must integrate three intellectual concepts across all domains from agricultural to water: Holistic analytics (everything is connected), True cost economics (embrace the truth), and Open source everything engineering (affordable, inter-operable, and scalable).

There is much to be said about Eco-Villages and Transition Townes, and some small enclaves are eco-hacking the future with over one hundred different open-source applications toward a fossil-free zero-waste society. This is brilliant stuff, but it will not scale as quickly or, more pointedly, we can ask if it will even scale to any degree and in time so as to avoid the The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. However much singularity aficionados may cheer for nirvana, time is the one strategic variable we cannot buy nor replace.

It is Smart Cities and Smart Nations that represent the very grand challenge of achieving a prosperous world at peace, a world that works for all. Everything being done now, from the Climate Change agreements to Paris to the Smart Cities initiative in India, is poorly thought through, unaffordable, and unachievable at scale – at sustainable scale.

Embedded Intelligence

What is missing from the local to global conversation – apart from honest governance — is a shared grasp of how very important it is to integrate holistic analytics )for threats, policies, demographics) with true cost economics (cradle to grave for all artifacts all the time), and open source everything engineering.

Below is a depiction I created to improve on an existing program in the United Kingdom that purports to represent the state of the art in Embedded Intelligence – it was lacking the three essentials shown at the bottom of the graphic.

The technocracy has lost sight of the humanities – most of them have never read E. O. Wilson’s book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and have no idea why the sciences need the humanities, a question that is answered most ably in this book.

Smart Cities and Smart Nations

To create a truly Smart City or Smart nation it is not acceptable to limits one’s definition of the necessities to broadband access. We must design cities by keeping firmly in mind what Bionic City pioneer Melissa Sterry suggests, that when nature is designing anything, it comes without fraud, waste, or abuse. Every single artifact must achieve what Buckminster Fuller called “ephemeralism,” avoiding all forms of waste.

For many this will mean pressed brick shelters and the fullest possible use of the Global Village Construction Set being created by Marcin Jakubowski. It will also mean broad acceptance of Peer to Peer forms of culture, economy, governance, and society as defined so ably by Michel Bauwens.

I have published an essay on Saving Civilization, delivered a memorandum to the Vice President of the United States on the need for an Open Source (Technologies) Agency, and provided a white paper to the Secretary General of the United Nations, so I will not belabor the elements here. My life’s work and my ambition for the future of humanity, are summed up in the below depiction of how I believe we must achieve man-machine intelligence with integrity across the whole.

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