Fun to Imagine: A Thousand Brains Thinking as One11 min read
The initial paragraphs of the following text were published first as a newsletter targeted at our friends and partners. In case you were one of the recipients of this newsletter (and assuming you did read it to the end; you did, right?), you may want to jump to where you left off.
This is Archai, an open science platform that employs the idea of collective intelligence on finding a comprehensive solution to the problem of our changing climate.
Since you are a friend or someone we were in touch with while creating the organization, we felt that you might appreciate this effort of reaching out and unveiling our presence to a select few at first.
Here We Are
We took our time to craft a vibrant identity, and we took even more time to carve out the details of a spirited ambition. Coupled with a solid organizational framework, this is the foundation for what will become a massively collective attempt to counter one of the most severe hazards humanity has ever faced: climate change. Now, we are excited to launch that venture.
A large variety of brains contributed to devising our Mission and to forging our Ground Initiatives. Other brains supported us in rifling through the thickets of legislation to protect our brand globally and to come up with the most robust legal outfit for both our purpose and our non-profit entitlement. And finally, we connected with some very original brains that conceived of the wonderful brand design that we now call our own.
Throughout the campaign, we were amazed again and again by the magnitude of ingenuity and vigor that arises from a group of people willing to work as a collective. It has been humbling to see an organization like ours emerge from the works of professionals as diverse as lawyers and designers bonded together by a shared vision. A vision that has been scrutinized—questioned even!
Yet here we are. The lawyers and the designers, the scientists and the artists, the entrepreneurs and the managers, the thinkers and the pragmatists, the mavericks and the conformists. We are the Association for an Enjoyable Planet Earth, and Archai is our brand.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of our proposition, we fuel our effort by the simple truth that it is fun to imagine how a thousand brains can be made to work as one—and what this collective might pull off.
Gathering 1,000 Brains
We are confident that the notion of collective intelligence has already made its way to your perceptive mind, too. You may have experienced it at your office or even in your private life. (No? Then give it a playful try at fold.it or innocentive.com!) Or perhaps you have had a more anecdotal encounter with the concept when you learned about the inconceivable forms of interaction that guide millions of termites toward building their nest in a highly concerted act of “spatial development.”
Now, whatever your level of familiarity with the concept, think about what we could attain if, instead of working in groups of five to ten people at an office or in a lab, we were able to connect with thousands of colleagues effectively and across a wide range of human capabilities!
That ideal of massive collaboration is what our Leitmotif reflects: The force of an unwavering crowd compares to nothing. We confidently claim that every problem can be solved by gathering the 1,000 most suitable brains (suitable for the problem at hand) to work together effortlessly. Essentially, it is all about a Community of Gifted Minds with the variety of individuals being the Force.
At Archai, we employ the idea of collective intelligence on finding a comprehensive solution to the problem of our changing climate. And we do not intend to restrict our ambitions to the connection of human brains; to reach our goal, we search for and engage the best brains on our planet—biological and artificial—and we facilitate their integration.
You may believe that this is totally out of bounds (and you may also suspect that we are totally out of our minds). Well, for the sake of giving our ambition (and us) a fair chance, let your childlike imagination rule your thoughts for a moment. To do so, you may try to think as Richard Feynman did—a highly remarkable and gifted theoretical physicist and an icon of joyful imagining. (Yes, we know that pretending to have even the subtlest of idea of Feynman’s thinking is very close to blasphemy.)
Exploring a Virtual Landscape
Now, with that mindset of playful ideation, we can envision a future in which a researcher—or any other inquisitive mind—will explore the space of potential solutions to any given problem wearing a virtual reality headset. (Or will it be a device for projecting an augmented reality? Read more about this perspective in a short piece of mine on LinkedIn. Probably none of the two. But it is unquestionably fun to imagine how the “world of potential solutions” might be plotted on a digital canvas.) With it, she visually wanders a landscape that is composed of information and explicit knowledge, as well as mere ideas, feelings, and experiences. Some of the concepts she will encounter on her journey might be more structurally analogous to the “true” solution for which she is on the lookout. (these could be depicted topologically as local elevations), while others bear no resemblance to what might be of use to her (shown as canyons, for example).
Imagination of the view onto a virtual landscape molded by forces that represent the suitability of potential solutions to a given problem. As a problem solver, you might want to travel across disciplinary boundaries to various local elevations in the hope of arriving at a promising approach to whatever puzzles you.
“Abstract digital landscape” by Tenglong Guo is licensed under iStock Standard / Cropped left and right
Most importantly, the landscape is devoid of borders. In her quest, our researcher is free to cross any disciplinary boundary. In fact, there is no such thing as a boundary, and disciplines, as we know them, are entirely irrelevant. Being, say, a biologist, she may well find a highly promising approach to her problem in music composition! By serving as an artificial coworker rather than as a pure working tool, the supporting technology will then guide her through the virtual landscape from the land of biology to the land of music and single out the best places to look for a gem in that unknown territory.
Also, it interacts with the researcher by refining the search based on heuristically guided feedback the human partner provides. Collectively, the machine and the human would converge towards the most fitting approach for solving the problem—no matter how distant that source may be. For that propagation to work, we require our artificial coworker to having access to an immense amount of information on any subject conceivable, and to rendering different forms of knowledge representation compatible with one another. Only then would information transfer and interoperability among such varied spheres as scientific facts and individual cognitions be possible. But once the coworker would have acquired the ability to bridge the structural holes between a given problem and adequate solution concepts living in foreign domains, it could undoubtedly be called a “Creative Machine.” (Read more on this idea in our article Creative Machines: We Need Synthetic Friends.)
Compared to the ordinary way of gaining insight, interacting with a Creative Machine would be highly rewarding for the researcher.
For one, she would touch upon immensely potent solution approaches from the very far end of the knowledge spectrum—those that would have never attracted her attention otherwise. She would connect with brains she did not know before. And as she would learn from these newly acquainted intelligences and they would learn from her, all those brains—biological and artificial—would start thinking as one.
For another, the entire experience of traversing unknown worlds while continually adapting and refining her efforts would feel like traveling the galaxy in search for a princess held captive by an evil force. In effect, the journey would not only be rewarding because it yielded a high-caliber result, but it would also be exciting as it triggered the researcher’s limbic system.
Apart from creative thinking and problem-solving, there are more mundane challenges warranting the adoption of a machine that allows gaining access to the cognitive processes of others.
“Dilbert – Friday August 9, 1996” by Scott Adams is used by permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved
Alright, let us not take such childlike imagining any further than fantasizing about princesses hold captive by evil forces! But we hope that you can sense the fun aspects of imagining how the endeavor of gaining new insights and solving problems would be massively augmented if we were accompanied by synthetic friends and if such companionship would allow for the prolific interaction among brains that is necessary to create solutions to problems as intricate as climate change!
In his series of broadcasts called “Fun to Imagine,” Richard Feynman eloquently outlined the scientific exploration of the mysterious forces that make things happen. (His study of why rubber bands stretch, and the investigation of similarly common phenomena, is not only presented in a very understandable way; it is highly entertaining as well.) For “The Great Explainer,” it might have been an easy call to spell out our concept of Creative Machines.
And Brains Like Yours!
Well, not so much for us—but we are trying. And while having a tough time outlining said concept (have a look at one of our tries here) and many others in a concise manner, we still have fun to imagine how you, the reader, might contribute to fulfilling the Mission of Archai.
We need a thousand brains—just like yours—thinking as one if we want to vanquish the imminent threats posed by climate change!
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