I’m reading another book right now that has a self-aware AI emerging from The Internet or other complex computer system. It seems like I’ve read quite a few novels and stories using this trope over the last few years. Probably the most recently prominent would be Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, of which the first, Wake, was nominated for a Hugo in 2010. I have to say, I’m pretty skeptical about how feasible this kind of emergence might be.
My knee-jerk reaction is to say that having consciousness spontaneously emerge from “The Internet” is about as likely as having it emerge from “The Ocean.” That is, the ocean is a very complex system, but its components interact with each other in very constrained ways that would make this kind of emergent intelligence unlikely. When you look at the difficulties AI researchers have had in designing or growing an AI on purpose over the last 30 years, I think it’s even less likely that a sapient creature will bootstrap itself in networks not designed for that purpose.
I wonder if, given that contact with extraterrestrial aliens seems to be receding farther and farther into the future, we’re hoping that an alien intelligence will pop up here on Earth so we can talk to it. It’s certainly easier to imagine that than to imagine traveling to Procyon A and meeting aliens there. Is this another symptom of science fiction’s shift away from interstellar futures to information-dense terrestrial futures? Am I wrong in my assumption, and teh Intertubes will start talking back to us any day now? What do you think?
Update: When I posted this, I didn’t realize that today, April 19th 2011, was supposed to be the day that SkyNet (from the
original Terminator movieSarah Connor Chronicles timeline) became self aware. Dude, talk about timing! However, I’ll suggest that the fact that nothing like this has happened (that we know about) reinforces the point…