Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Moore’s law, software design lock-in, and the constraints faced when evolving artificial intelligence 7

This is my 7th posting to a short series on the growth potential and constraints inherent in innovation, as realized as a practical matter (see Reexamining the Fundamentals 2, Section VIII for Parts 1-6.) And this is also my fourth posting to this series, to explicitly discuss emerging and still forming artificial intelligence technologies as they are and will be impacted upon by software lock-in and its imperatives, and by shared but more arbitrarily determined constraints such as Moore’s law (see Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.)

I focused in Part 6 of this narrative, on a briefly stated succession of possible development possibilities that all relate to how an overall next generation internet will take shape, that is largely and even primarily driven at least for a significant proportion of functional activity carried out in it, by artificial intelligence agents and devices: an increasingly largely internet of things and of smart artifactual agents that act among them. And I began that with a continuation of a line of discussion that I began in earlier installments to this series, centering on four possible development scenarios as initially offered by David Rose in his book:

• Rose, D. (2014) Enchanted Objects: design, human desire and the internet of things. Scribner.

I added something of a fifth such scenario, or rather a caveat-based acknowledgment of the unexpected in how this type of overall development will take shape, in Part 6. And I ended that posting with a somewhat cryptic anticipatory note as to what I would offer here in continuation of its line of discussion, which I repeat now for smoother continuity of narrative:

• I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will at least selectively examine some of the core issues that I have been addressing up to here in greater detail, and how their realized implementations might be shaped into our day-to-day reality. And in anticipation of that line of discussion to come, I will do so from a perspective of considering how essentially all of the functionally significant elements to any such system and at all levels of organizational resolution that would arise in it, are rapidly coevolving and taking form, and both in their own immediately connected-in contexts and in any realistic larger overall rapidly emerging connections-defined context too. And this will of necessity bring me back to reconsider some of the first issues that I raised in this series too.

The core issues that I would continue addressing here as follow-through from that installment, fall into two categories. I am going to start this posting by adding another scenario to the set that I began presenting here, as initially set forth by Rose with his first four. And I will use that new scenario to make note of and explicitly consider an unstated assumption that was built into all of the other artificial intelligence proliferation and interconnection scenarios that I have offered here so far. And then, and with that next step alternative in mind, I will reconsider some of the more general issues that I raised in Part 6, further developing them too.

I begin all of this with a systems development scenario that I would refer to as the piecewise distributed model.

• The piecewise distributed model for how artificial intelligence might arise as a significant factor in the overall connectiverse that I wrote of in Part 6 is based on current understanding of how human intelligence arises in the brain as an emergent property, or rather set of them, from the combined and coordinated activity of simpler components that individually do not display anything like intelligence per se, and certainly not artificial general intelligence.

It is all about how neural systems-based intelligence arises from lower level, unintelligent components in the brain and how that might be mimicked, or recapitulated if you will through structurally and functionally analogous systems and their interconnections, in artifactual systems. And I begin to more fully characterize this possibility by more explicitly considering scale, and to be more precise the scale of range of reach for the simpler components that might be brought into such higher level functioning totalities. And I begin that with a simple if perhaps somewhat odd sounding question:

• What is the effective functional radius of the human brain given the processing complexities and the numbers and distributions of nodes in the brain that are brought into play in carrying out a “higher level” brain activity, the speed of neural signal transmission in that brain as a parametric value in calculations here, and an at least order of magnitude assumption as to the timing latency to conscious awareness of a solution arrived at for a brain activity task at hand, from its initiation to its conclusion?

And with that as a baseline, I will consider the online and connected alternative that a piecewise distributed model artificial general intelligence, or even just a higher level but still somewhat specialized artificial intelligence would have to function within.

Let’s begin this side by side comparative analysis with consideration of what might be considered a normative adult human brain, and with a readily and replicably arrived at benchmark number: myelinated neurons as found in the brain send signals at a rate of approximately 120 meters per second, where one meter is equal to approximately three and a quarter feet in distance. And for simplicity’s sake I will simply benchmark the latency from the starting point of a cognitively complex task to its consciously perceived completion at one tenth of a second. This would yield an effective functional radius of that brain at 12 meters or 40 feet, or less – assuming as a functionally simplest extreme case for that outer range value that the only activity required to carry out this task was the simple uninterrupted transmission of a neural impulse signal along a myelinated neuron for some minimal period of time to achieve “task completion.”

An actual human brain is of course a lot more compact than that, and a lot more structurally complex too, with specialized functional nodes and complex arrays of parallel processor organized structurally and functionally duplicated elements in them. And that structural and functional complexity, and the timing needed to access stored information from and add new information back into memory again as part of that task activity, slows actual processing down. An average adult human brain is some 15 centimeters long, or six inches front to back so using that as an outside-value metric and a radius as based on it of some three inches, structural and functional complexities in the brain that would be called upon to carry out that tenth of a second task, would effectively reduce its effective functional radius some 120-fold from the speedy transmission-only outer value that I began this brief analysis with.

Think of that as a speed and efficiency tradeoff reduction imposed on the human brain by its basic structural and functional architecture and by the nature and functional parameters of its component parts, on the overall possible maximum rate of activity, at least for tasks performed that would fit the overall scale and complexity of my tenth of a second benchmark example. Now let’s consider the more artifactual overall example of computer and network technology as would enter into my above-cited piecewise distributed model scenario, or in fact into essentially any network distributed alternative to it. And I begin that by noting that the speed of light in a vacuum is approximately 300 million meters per second, and that electrons can travel along a pure copper wire at up to approximately 99% of that value.

I will assume for purposes of this discussion that photons in wireless networked and fiber optic connected aspects of such a system, and the electrons that convey information through their flow distributions in more strictly electronic components of these systems all travel on average at roughly that same round number maximum speed, as any discrepancy from it in what is actually achieved would be immaterial for purposes of this discussion, given my rounding off and other approximations as resorted to here. Then, using the task timing parameter of my above-offered brain functioning analysis, as sped up to one tenth of a millisecond for an electronic computer context, an outer limit transmission-only value for this system and its physical dimensions would suggest a maximum radius of some 30,000 kilometers, encompassing all of the Earth and all of near-Earth orbit space and more. There, in counterpart to my simplest case neural signal transmission processing as a means of carrying out the above brain task, I assume here that its artificial intelligence counterpart might be completed simply by the transmission of a single pulse of electrons or photons and without any processing step delays required.

Individual neurons can fire up to some 200 times per second, depending on the type of function carried out, and an average neuron in the brain connects to what is on the order of 1000 other neurons through complex dendritic branching and the synaptic connections they lead to, and with some neurons connecting to as many as 10,000 others and more. I assume that artificial networks can grow to that level of interconnected connectivity and more too, and with levels of involved nodal connectivity brought into any potentially emergent artificial intelligence activity that might arise in such a system, that matches and exceeds that of the brain for its complexity there too. That at least, is likely to prove true for any of what with time would become the all but myriad number of organizing and managing nodes, that would arise in at least functionally defined areas of this overall system and that would explicitly take on middle and higher level SCADA -like command and control roles there.

This would slow down the actual signal transmission rate achievable, and reduce the maximum physical size of the connected network space involved here too, though probably not as severely as observed in the brain. There, even today’s low cost readily available laptop computers can now carry out on the order of a billion operations per second and that number continues to grow as Moore’s law continues to hold forth. So if we assume “slow” and lower priority tasks as well as more normatively faster ones for the artificial intelligence network systems that I write of here, it is hard to imagine restrictions that might realistically arise that would effectively limit such systems to volumes of space smaller than the Earth as a whole, and certainly when of-necessity higher speed functions and activities could be carried out by much more local subsystems and closer to where their outputs would be needed.

And to increase the expected efficiencies of these systems, brain as well as artificial network in nature, effectively re-expanding their effective functional radii again, I repeat and invoke a term and a design approach that I used in passing above: parallel processing. That, and inclusion of subtask performing specialized nodes, are where effectively breaking up a complex task into smaller, faster-to-complete subtasks, whose individual outputs can be combined as a completed overall solution or resolution, can speed up overall task completion by orders of timing efficiency and for many types of tasks, allowing more of them to be carried out within any given nominally expected benchmark time for expected “single” task completions. This of course also allows for faster completion of larger tasks within that type of performance measuring timeframe window too.

• What I have done here at least in significant part, is to lay out an overall maximum connected systems reach that could be applied to the completion of tasks at hand, and in either a human brain or an artificial intelligence-including network. And the limitations of accessible volume of space there, correspondingly sets an outer limit to the maximum number of functionally connected nodes that might be available there, given that they all of necessity have space filling volumes that are greater than zero.
• When you factor in the average maximum processing speed of any information processing nodes or elements included there, this in turn sets an overall maximum, outer limit value to the number of processing steps that could be applied in such a system, to complete a task of any given time-requiring duration, within such a physical volume of activity.

What are the general principles beyond that set of observations that I would return to here, given this sixth scenario? I begin addressing that question by noting a basic assumption that is built into the first five scenarios as offered in this series, and certainly into the first four of them: that artificial intelligence per se reside as a significant whole in specific individual nodes. I fully expect that this will prove true in a wide range of realized contexts as that possibility is already becoming a part of our basic reality now, with the emergence and proliferation of artificial specialized intelligence agents. But as this posting’s sixth scenario points out, that assumption is not the only one that might be realized. And in fact it will probably only account for part of what will to come to be seen as artificial intelligence as it arises in these overall systems.

The second additional assumption that I would note here is that of scale and complexity, and how fundamentally different types of implementation solutions might arise, and might even be possible, strictly because of how they can be made to work with overall physical systems limitations such as the fixed and finite speed of light.

Looking beyond my simplified examples as outlined here: brain-based and artificial alike, what is the maximum effective radius of a wired AI network, that would as a distributed system come to display true artificial general intelligence? How big a space would have to be tapped into for its included nodes to match a presumed benchmark human brain performance for threshold to cognitive awareness and functionality? And how big a volume of functionally connected nodal elements could be brought to bear for this? Those are open questions as are their corresponding scale parameter questions as to “natural” general intelligence per se. I would end this posting by simply noting that disruptively novel new technologies and technology implementations that significantly advance the development of artificial intelligence per se, and the development of artificial general intelligence in particular, are likely to both improve the quality and functionality of individual nodes involved and regardless of which overall development scenarios are followed, and their capacity to synergistically network together.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will step back from considering specific implementation option scenarios, to consider overall artificial intelligence systems as a whole. I began addressing that higher level perspective and its issues here, when using the scenario offered in this posting to discuss overall available resource limitations that might be brought to bear on a networked task, within given time-to-completion restrictions. But that is only one way to parameterize this type of challenge, and in ways that might become technologically locked in and limited from that, or allowed to remain more open to novelty – at least in principle.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3 and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I also include this in my Reexamining the Fundamentals 2 directory as topics Section VIII. And also see its Page 1.

Addendum note: The above presumptive end note added at the formal conclusion of this posting aside, I actually conclude this installment with a brief update to one of the evolutionary development-oriented examples that I in effect began this series with. I wrote in Part 2 of this series, of a biological evolution example of what can be considered an early technology lock-in, or rather a naturally occurring analog of one: of an ancient biochemical pathway that is found in all cellular life on this planet: the pentose shunt.

I add a still more ancient biological systems lock-in example here that in fact had its origins in the very start of life itself as we know it, on this planet. And for purposes of this example, it does not even matter whether the earliest genetic material employed in the earliest life forms was DNA or RNA in nature for how it stored and transmitted genetic information from generation to generation and for how it used such information in its life functions within individual organisms. This is an example that would effectively predate that overall nucleic acid distinction as it involves the basic, original determination of precisely which basic building blocks would go into the construction and information carrying capabilities of either of them.

All living organisms on Earth, with a few viral exceptions employ DNA as their basic archival genetic material, and use RNA as an intermediary in accessing and making use of the information so stored there. Those viruses use RNA for their own archival genetic information storage, and the DNA replicating and RNA fabrication machinery of the host cells they live in to reproduce. And the genetic information included in these systems, and certainly at a DNA level is all encoded in patterns of molecules called nucleotides that are linearly laid out in the DNA design. Life on Earth uses combinations of four possible nucleotides for this coding and decoding: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). And it was presumed at least initially that the specific chemistry of these four possibilities made them somehow uniquely suited to this task.

More recently it has been found that there are other possibilities that can be synthesized and inserted into DNA-like molecules, with the same basic structure and chemistry, that can also carry and convey this type of genetic information and stably, reliably so (see for example:

Hachimoji DNA and RNA: a genetic system with eight building blocks.)

And it is already clear that this only indicates a small subset of the information coding possibilities that might have arisen as alternatives to the A/T/G/C genetic coding became locked-in, in practice in life on Earth.

If I could draw one relevant conclusion to this still unfolding story that I would share here, it is that if you want to find technology lock-ins, or their naturally occurring counterparts, look to your most closely and automatically held developmental assumptions, and certainly when you cannot rigorously justify them from first principles. Then question the scope of relevance and generality of your first principles there, for hidden assumptions that they carry within them.

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