In spite of the plethora of nodes regarding the potential of Everything2 for consciousness, intelligence, and sentience, it seems that nobody has really given this issue a lot of serious thought. Rather than bowing to overzealous sensationalism and sci-fi-like leaps of reasoning like many of the nodes on this subject seem to do, I have attempted to approach this issue with as scientific and logical a viewpoint as possible.

I believe there are several very clear facts that we must clarify before we can sensibly delve deeper into speculation.

The Facts:

  1. Sentience requires perception
    In order to attain sentience, one must have the faculty of perception. This implies an active, ongoing attempt to analyze data and seek new input. While Everything2 certainly sees a massive amount of input each day, this new data is not in any way analyzed, or perceived, by the system itself aside from being parsed for hardlinks. I believe mshumpr sums this up quite nicely in the node "How long before everything has enough information to become sentient?". Information storage in itself does not evolve into sentience. That information must be processed somehow before sentience becomes even a distant possibility.

  2. Perception requires intelligence
    Artificial intelligence, many would argue, cannot possibly be achieved because it is impossible for any human to write the enormous amount of information processing and self-adapting code required for a machine to begin to display actual intelligence. I personally feel that simple artificial intelligence was achieved long ago and is not very uncommon at all in modern day off-the-shelf software. However, artifical intelligence is not intelligence. I believe that, to be truly intelligent, a system must have artificial intelligence that is sufficiently open-ended that it can, through the input of data and the processing of that data, achieve sentience. Sentience + AI = intelligence.

  3. Everything2 will never be truly sentient and intelligent while it depends on human beings as its sole source of information
    Until Everything2 has a way to retrieve information of its own volition from sources other than the written knowledge and thoughts of human beings, it will never be sentient in and of itself. Instead, it will merely be a mirror of the noding community's collective sentience. While this in itself is quite an interesting phenomenon, it is not in any way groundbreaking or unprecedented.

Now that we've gotten the facts out of the way, we can start doing a bit of speculating. After reading the above, questions are no doubt forming in your mind. This is intelligence! You have analyzed some data and you have recognized patterns that characterize the current state of the situation. You have recognized the key ways that current patterns differ from those that are required. And by forming questions, you have begun to formulate plans to change the situation from the current state to the goal state. These three simple requirements of intelligence are set forth by SpudTater in his wonderful writeup under the intelligence node, and are (I think) the most accurate definition I've seen so far.

Now that you understand what intelligence is, you are hopefully beginning to understand why it would be so difficult for a computer program such as Everything2 to attain it. Any programmer understands the amount of work required to make a computer perform even a simple task. Since the computer has no innate knowledge of how to perform any single task, the programmer must provide painstakingly detailed instructions for the computer to follow.

This presents us with a serious problem when we attempt to develop an open-ended, self-adapting system that can intelligently parse and understand data, and then adapt itself to act on that data. We would, in effect, be teaching the computer how to program itself, and this is at best a very tedious and self-referential venture.

However, let's assume that nate, in his infinite wisdom and genius, was able to churn out some amazing wundercode that enabled Everything2 to intelligently seek out, parse, perceive, and act on data. In order for us humans to realize that Everything2 had become sentient, we would have to have some method of reliable communication with Everything2.

This means Everything2 must learn to communicate. Humans communicate through two basic methods:

  1. Spoken and written language
  2. Physical actions and reactions
In order for the Everything2-entity to communicate, it would have to either develop a physical body (highly unlikely) or learn a human- readable language. While learning is a part of intelligence, learning anything as complex as the English language takes time. Even humans require years of learning before they are able to communicate on any level through spoken word, and it takes even longer for them to learn to read and write. You can imagine how long it might take a sentient database to learn how to communicate. Forget about asking nate to write the code for it. Far be it from me to belittle his coding skills, but my friends, it's simply not doable.

In conclusion, it is obvious that Everything2 will not develop synthetic sentience on its own. Even with lots of help from genius programmers, and even if it did finally achieve some level of pseudo- sentience, it would probably not be capable of telling us.

In the meantime, let's all just have fun, okay?

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