Note — May 22, 2022

Graph Minds

First post in an intriguing new series by Venkatesh Rao. He’s wondering why there are numerous accounts of the “human sociality focus on aspects like shared care of offspring, collectivized security from predators, game-theoretic cooperation around shared resources, ‘social contracts’ to foster peaceable coexistence, and so on.” And yet, there is very little of the same for the benefits of collective intelligence. According to Rao’s research so far, he’s seen very little to show that it “is adaptive for humans to band together into collectives because it allows more powerful collective intelligences to emerge.”

He might be somewhat facetious with his extreme Borg example, they aren’t a collective of equals, they are subsumed by the collective (and the queen). Seems to me like there is an important difference between shared intelligence, even with hypothetical direct connections, and merged intelligence. But maybe I’m already showing my own limits in the framing he wants to explore; why are ‘we’ so reluctant, even afraid, to explore ideas of collective intelligence? He’s already got a great list of themes, a “starter set of index cards” he plans to explore. A very promising series, at the very least for how he’s envisioning this process of inquiry.

It almost feels like there is a sort of conspiracy to construct intelligence as a primarily individual trait, and hide the extent and depth of its social character from ourselves. […]

Idealized conditions of maximally collectivized security, material abundance, aesthetic experience, sentimental experience, and emotional experience are imagined as utopias. But idealized conditions of maximally collectivized intelligence, true hive-minds, are generally imagined as dystopias, as in the Borg in Star Trek, or the Cyber-Men in Doctor Who. […]

Doing “deep learning” in vast, pooled, individuality-dissolving intelligence collectives is apparently for machines and insects, not us. Even though we’re just coming off a couple of centuries doing exactly that in vast and hyper-specialized industrial economies. What might it mean to lean into that, instead of resisting and retreating?