Press-Republican

FYI...

September 23, 2012

Slate: Will the Internet become self-aware?

TORONTO — In the world of sci-fi movie geekdom, Aug. 29, 1997, was a turning point for humanity: On that day, according to the "Terminator" films, the network of U.S. defense computers known as Skynet became self-aware — and soon launched an all-out genocidal war against Homo sapiens.

Fortunately, that date came and went with no such robo-apocalypse. But the 1990s did bring us the World Wide Web, which is now far larger and more "connected" than any nation's defense network. Could the Internet "wake up"? And if so, what sorts of thoughts would it think? And would it be friend or foe?

Neuroscientist Christof Koch believes we may soon find out — indeed, the complexity of the Web may have already surpassed that of the human brain. In his book "Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist," published earlier this year, he makes a rough calculation: Take the number of computers on the planet — several billion — and multiply by the number of transistors in each machine — hundreds of millions — and you get about a billion billion, written more elegantly as 10 to the 18th. That's a thousand times larger than the number of synapses in the human brain (about 10 to the 15th).

Koch, who taught for more than 25 years at Caltech and is now chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, is known for his work on the "neural correlates" of consciousness — studying the brain to see what's going on when we have specific conscious experiences. Of course, our brains happen to be soft, wet, and made of living tissue, while the Internet is made up of metal chips and wires — but that's no obstacle to consciousness, he says, so long as the level of complexity is great enough. (Most researchers working on artificial intelligence would agree that the "substrate" doesn't matter. That is, it makes no difference what the system is made of. Most philosophers, though not all, would agree.)

Text Only | Photo Reprints
FYI...
  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    August 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    August 9, 2014 3 Photos

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    August 8, 2014

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    August 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    August 6, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    August 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    August 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    August 3, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country.

    August 2, 2014

  • Has the ipad lost its swag?

    The numbers are clear: Apple is selling fewer iPads.

    August 1, 2014