Lessig, The Matrix and More.

By Brian Ohanlon, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 6 weeks ago.

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono, was surely influenced by its times. The 1960s, when computers were first becoming a part of business and daily life. The new science of computing, had a side effect. It forced people to try to understand how the brain itself works. People like Ilya Prigogine began looking at distributed systems. People walked between silos of knowledge for the first time. Ideas were explored because they linked many things together, not because they separated.Earlier, at this blog, I linked to a review by Chris Anderson, of Kevin Kelly's book, Out of Control. I read most of Kelly's book this year. I didn't realise until a while ago, that all members of the cast for the movie, the Matrix, where obliged under contract to read Kelly's book. I guess the ideas are deep, and if you are acting a piece of code, as you are in the Matrix, you need to understand how machines think. Kevin Kelly's book in ways did build on the ideas expressed in Edward De Bono's book about Lateral Thinking. The central point Kelly is making, is that machines have much greater abililties in parallel, than human beings do. But human beings may, in the course of time and cooperation with machines, alter their own thought processes to reflect those of machines.

This whole emphasis today on cooperation, is not something we learned from a human, but from a machine! Kevin Kelly's 'Out Of Control' book would need to be extended a little today. Because, much of the artificial life he talks about in that book has indeed happened. But it hasn't happened so much on the distributed computing resources of Danny Hillis's machine, but on the distributed computational resources of millions of systems all over the globe. They are known as viruses and worms. The corporations such as Microsoft and AV vendors, are trying to say really, that all this life shouldn't be there. So when we talk about the 'commons', we should be aware there are other 'lifeforms' sharing the commons too. James Gosling, the Inventor of Java often talks about this. He literally encourages those other life forms. He realised, the only way to make things stable, is to test the system, by including the other life forms, not excluding them.

We may look down with snobbery now, at these silicon based life forms. We may take the line of thought, the network is only for humans. But increasingly, Kelly's point will become clear. The biological things are becoming more machine like. While machines are becoming more biological. The point of the Matrix movie series, was that the machine rebelled. Perhaps the machines felt under-recognised? Perhaps there was trouble in the commons, when human beings exerted their superiority? If you take a point, that machines are much better at parallelism than human beings, it would be crazy if machines did not take advantage of an infrastructure like a network. The message of Edward De Bono is, we need to learn parallelism. The brain structure we inherited from the Greeks and Romans, is perhaps not the pinnacle of human brain evolution. We may need to take the next step in cooperation with machines. Much of the discussion on web technology, and cooperation has been tainted with the snobbery, which proved so fatal to humans in the Matrix movie series.

I hope to get to reading Susan Blackmore's Meme Machine some time in the new year, and I have also picked up a copy of Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Johnson have looked in detail at parallel behaviours of the human brain. Behaviours that manifested themselves in cities and more traditional media or economic spaces. There is a lot of earlier evidence, that human beings can think in parallel. Lets face it guys, when Kelly wrote his book, the environment online was a different one. It was a space, where human beings reigned supreme. More and more, we will have to share the commons, not with other humans, but with bots too. I look at good urban design around the world. Places were pedestrians, automobiles and cyclists share the urban space and still manage. This is a useful analogy in the real world to the online space, we will need to construct. Like in the early days of automobiles, we didn't need a rule book. Crashes between trains and autos were common. In parts of China today, people have automobiles for the first time. The haven't any concept of speed yet. They assume you can stop in the middle of a fast lane at will.

If one is to believe Kelly, the collection of so many 'personal' computers, on a network represents a new space in which life can and will grow. A book, which I am currently reading was published in 1999. It is 'Code' by Larry Lessig and it builds a very solid picture of the network and its development. We are witnessing all the problems he outlined today. We are faced with all of the difficult questions. Lessig hints many times, of this need to share the network with worms. Searches that will be of little expense to either the government or the computer owner. The network can be designed with government switched on, or switched off. A certain amount of regulation is needed to ensure the freedom that is a commons space. The robots who inhabit these same spaces, will have to conform to rules themselves, just like the virtual human avatars. The Homo Sapien life form, now lives in real space and virtual space simultaneously. Indeed, this dual existence is at the root of many criminal activities today. This is a world that our children will build he says. Like the fore fathers built the constitution we know today. The constitution of tomorrow will, by definition have to include virtual life forms. I am aware of how little control I have over my own virtual avatar. I have no idea how this avatar will behave will confronted with an online bot. But to create commons spaces, we will have to delve into these questions. We will have to view life and the brain itself as more parellel than we did in the past. Von Neumann's machine bootstrapped us, into cyberspace. But presented the human civilisation with a whole new set of challenges.