Tuesday, 17 November 2015

#DigiWriMo Curation and Consciousness #Future AI, neurons and humans (part 1)

One afternoon while letting my mind flow freely, it came to me that it is easy to see a parallel between the way humans seem to group together, and the way synapses strengthen each other while creating specialized regions in the brain. A fun analogy. In this blogpost I explore how to move from stem-cells to curated humans, to artificial neurons becoming conscious. Using references to Information Integration Theory, a selection of Through the Wormhole (mathematics of consciousness), and free creative thinking. And always stepping from micro, meta to macro-levels. Warning: this post is longer than usual. And although this week is Working Out Loud week, I am WOL fairly throughout the year, so I thought it would be fun to share Think Out Loud for this DigiWriMo-post.

Stem-cells and learning individualsIt is still amazing to think that we – as humans – come from stem-cells. Cells that can become anything (within the human body). At the start these cells seem similar, at the end they are differentiated, embedded in a web of equals, with bridges and communications to other groups of neurons. This reminds me of how humans evolve within their lifetime evolve from being fairly similar at birth, to being highly specialized depending on their surroundings, context, capacities… and at the end to fade away ready to be replaced with the next best thing (slightly adapted).

From each of our conception we are stem-cells, from their our bodies are formed. Once we are becoming more conscious, we start to filter information and people: we learn from our environment, our parents and peers, and from the guidelines embedded in our culture and the food which we have access to strengthens our physical being. All the while our mind expands, it becomes part of a group of people which we tend to ‘like’ and move towards, or ‘dislike’ and move away from. There is an active movement of us, as individuals to become part of a group which (seems) to fit the idea of where we belong to.

Curation in micro, meta and macro towards consciousnessThis situating of the self within a society (whichever society) can be seen as a curation. I wrote about curation in a previous post on how all of society and learning seems to be the result of some curation. But after having written that post, I got some comments (Laura Gibbs, Geoff Stead) and those comments triggered further reflection. Curation happens on several levels, but it can be simplified to be happening on three levels: micro, meta, and macro-level.
Micro-level: individual selection of each person screening information they come across. E.g. Stephen Downes, with his self-developed (written software) and self-sustained OlDaily/OlWeekly. This newsletter provides insightful information on a variety of open learning related topics (including magazines, individual bloggers, institutional interviews…. Another wonderful individual curation initiative is the selection of books covered and described by Maria Popova in her brain pickings, again solely possible thanks to people supporting her in her writing/blogging endeavors.
Meta-level: social curation (a topic covered to great extent by Julian Stodd) where networks of people in their connected world select information from the group and for the group. A bit like conferences and journals (from formal options), and knowledge clouds created inside of organisations or fields of experts. There are people who manage to deliver a course build upon content that is chosen and organised by learners/participants. I feel that is also part of meta-level curation. Dave Cormier manages to do this with his Rhizo-MOOC, which I guess is one of the most influential MOOCs out there (possibly together with DS106 and one of the MOOC that started the concept: CKK). What Dave manages to achieve is to start from a blank canvas, the MOOC is nothing. The topic will be chosen by the participants, then get populated with information from theses participants, and suddenly the dialogues move towards creating more knowledge within each of the participants, including Dave himself. Why do I feel this is one of the most influencial MOOCs? Because, looking at the vast outputs of that MOOC, the high level of expertise of participants gathered in those yearly MOOCs (with multiple influencial bloggers), it is hard to underestimate the impact of that MOOC on online educators across the world.
Macro-level: this level is being impacted the most by the society in which it is created and institutional symbolic capital, together with its gatekeepers, and accepted cultural norms. Where the micro- and meta-level still have some autonomous freedom, on the macro-level that freedom is becoming increasingly pressured by those in power. In a way each one of us individually adds to this power bastion, due to money being part of the sustainability of the macro-level (eg. Leading research institutes, leading magazines…). Whereas on the micro- and meta-level some autonomy can be kept no matter which societal philosophy is guiding or allowing the Way Forward.

A bit like Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital. Eg. Where people mention an experts/artists name as a way to heighten their own importance (yes, mentioning Bourdieu would be part of that :D But on a macro-level this means that the symbolic capital is also pushed by the gatekeepers (those who are keeping in eye out for maintaining and reproducing power). This means at that level the government and recognized (or established) institutes make the selection of information that will be disseminated.

How does this translate from humans into neurons?As individual neurons, it does not seem to matter at first with whom we connect, but once a communication is set up, those neurons with multiple communications throughout time are being reinforced. A preference of communication is happening, and that repetition is creating stronger bridges between the neurons. On a meta-level, the groups of neurons are specializing, becoming more important for specific tasks (eye sight, feelings, deductions…). Impulses from contexts are influencing the strengths of these connections. (eg. Western society pushing linear thinking, Eastern society emphasizing horizontal thinking).
On a macro-level the full human is becoming apparent. It is no longer the connections of the neurons, but the result of these connections as drivers of the bigger neuron temple: the body and externalized mind of that particular human. The body and mind of us humans is the macro-level of neuron activity, just like our institutions seem to be the drivers of our society.

In search for the spark into consciousness
So I wonder, when does consciousness happen? In a way, I feel, that Rhizo-MOOC has created a higher consciousness in terms of what online education is like. All of its participants have become more than the sum of their parts (in terms of previous knowledge).
Could it be that by putting people together, you have the same effect as putting neurons together. Given a communication is actually happening. I think heightened communication does indeed result in higher consciousness. But if neurons linked together manifest life (or in the above-mentioned paragraph, result in manifesting the human), then what happens if humans are put together for a long period of time, and at such a momentum that they become more and more connected across the globe? Will this evolve into a superhuman or into an artificial intelligence which relies on humans, yet is more than all the humans put together? Maybe even to the extent that we as humans will become just another step into evolution. Redundant once a more accurate, speedy evolutionary step is reached.

In my next post I explore moving from Consciousness into Artificial Intelligence, while comparing communities of people to regions in the brain, "#DigiWriMo #Future from humans as micro-brains to Artificial Intelligence (part 2)"

(Image credit Bruno Golosio)