Machine-based Collective Intelligence and the Human Experience

A few weeks ago, I was in Singapore to give this talk at a complexity conference at Nanyang Technological University. The focus is on how humanity relates to the fast-approaching era of artificial intelligence:

Humans excel at embedding individual intelligence in shareable constructs. Our early knowledge sharing relied on speech and other social behaviors, but over time we augmented this capacity for collective intelligence with writing, publishing and other technologies. This silent transformation – this long-term shift from the social to the technological – has led to a world where machines now play an increasingly dominant role as our containers of collective intelligence. Today’s explosive growth in machine learning marks a turning point as we now prioritize the teaching of machines over the teaching of humans. As this happens, knowledge becomes increasingly abstracted from individual human minds and machines transition from mere containers of our collective intelligence to agents capable of using that information on our behalf. This transformation changes humanity’s relationship to knowledge and raises profound implications for the future of the human experience.

The theme of this complexity conference was “silent transformations,” which refers to “silent” processes that take place over long time spans, like growing older, the extinctions of species, and climate change. Using this frame opened up some important new insights for me that I think help frame artificial intelligence in terms of humanity’s long history of building containers of collective intelligence.

Watch it on YouTube, or by just clicking below:


This talk is long (52 minutes for the talk itself, with another 38 minutes of Q & A), but for those interested in the topics I explore here on the Vital Edge, I think you will find it well worth the investment of time.

YouTubeSpeedTip: YouTube has a feature that allows you to play videos at various speeds, and if you don’t mind a slightly higher-pitched voice, you should be able to safely digest this talk at 1.25, 1.5, or possibly 2.0 speed. Simply click on the gear icon in the lower right corner of the video screen, select “Speed” and choose your tempo.

As you’ll see from the audience, this wasn’t a particularly large conference, but it did give me the privilege to present with and get to know some remarkable people: people like Brian Aurthur (his 2015 talk on algorithms and complexity , Geoffrey West (his talk on exponential growth and collapse), Eörs Szathmáry (his talk on evolutionary learning), Atsushi Iriki (his 2015 talk on the emergence of human intelligence), Tom Kirkwood (his talk on aging) and Gregory Chaitin (his talk on Liebniz).

It was a really wonderful experience and I think this is probably one of my best talks — so far.