Emergent Human Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Metaphysics Philosophy Singularity
Emergent Intelligence
© iStockphoto.com / Sergey Shlyaev

The Sum of the Parts

A popular topic lately is the concept of the hive mind. Bees, for example, exhibit this behavior and through their group interaction show a degree of conscious. A similar concept is that of the collective consciousness. I prefer to use the term emergent human intelligence.

Organization Levels

To illustrate this concept, a thought experiment is in order. Imagine for a moment that you were able to shrink yourself down to the size of a human cell inside another human being whose arm is moving. If if were possible to "ask" a cell next to you why it was moving, it would have no concept of the idea that the collection of all cells in the body, including the neurons in the brain, was responsible for coordinating the movement of the body on a large scale. The cell that you were talking to would simply say that it moved because the cell next to it moved. In other words, the behavior of the body as a whole and of the mind that controls it is an emergent behavior which is at a level above what the individual cells in the body can understand. If you were to continue interrogating every cell in the body, none would be able to explain why the arm moved.

Similarly, other organization levels exhibit this behavior. Collections of quarks form subatomic particles such as neutrons and protons. Neutrons, protons and electrons bind tightly together to form atoms. Groups of atoms interact to form molecules, molecules interact to form cells, and collections of cells create animal life such as humans, and humans form societies.


What is important to note is that there are two levels of interaction going on here. For example, a cell is to a limited degree "aware" of its neighbors. It communicates with them through the exchange of various chemicals. However, the cell is not aware of the higher level of activity of the body that is formed by the collection of cells. In the example above, a cell can no more understand the reason that the arm moved any more than it could understand the concept of automobiles.

So what is the emergent behavior that forms from human minds that are interacting? At one level, we communicate with each other, share ideas, form political parties, etc. This behavior is similar to the thought experiment above where the cells communicate through the exchange of chemicals.

However, at a different level, what is the emergent behavior that is analogous to the arm moving in the example above? For the same reasons that the cells in a human body can't understand general relativity, we would most likely not be able to fully understand the collective behavior that "moves an arm". We wouldn't even have an understanding of what an arm is. Is it possible seemingly random events in our lives ("the cell next to me just moved") are the result of an emergent behavior at a level above us?

Accelerating Progress

As we continue to evolve and make technological progress at an accelerating rate, this emergent human intelligence will only continue to sharpen its intelligence and evolve as well. Tools such as cell phones, email, chat, and other means of communicating rapidly will be complemented or even supplanted by other means as a result of human augmentation. Years ago, the concept of anyone being able to communicate with anyone else on the planet within seconds was pure science fiction. Today, this is common place and we don't give it a second thought.

Imagine what will be possible when, through the implantation of computer chips directly into the human brain, or other means, human thought can be directly transmitted in an instant. What form of collective human intelligence will emerge from it?


The Boltzmann Brain Paradox
Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
Speculations on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, the Halting Problem, and The Simulation Argument
What is the Singularity?

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get updates here.