Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Global Web-Based Approach to Artificial Intelligence

The World Wide Brain :

A Global Web-Based Approach to Artificial Intelligence


This paper will discuss an approach to Artificial Intelligence that is based on the Internet and the World Wide Web – the World Wide Brain. In short the World Wide Brain is a merger between the fields of AI and Networking to evolve the WWW into a global web-mind. I will begin by discussing some fundamental topics; I will discuss why the World Wide Brain is the natural and likely progression of the WWW and Artificial Intelligence. I will talk about why this road towards Artificial Intelligence is not science-fiction, how it is marketable, and discuss its practical applications. I will follow this up with how the World Wide Brain could be implemented in the foreseeable future and the possible methods used to do so. I will conclude this discussion with some problems and philosophical issues that would come from the evolution of the World Wide Brain.

Much of this paper discusses the visions of Ben Goertzel and his opinions of the World Wide Brain. Some of my own opinions differ from his however, so this paper is both research and introspection of my own outlook. Other resources of information will be presented in the references section.

Why the World Wide Brain

Artificial Intelligence has thus far eluded modern science. The baby steps we have taken in the field are very small compared to the exponential leaps that computer hardware has taken place in the past few decades. There are many reasons for this but the fundamental problem to Artificial Intelligence is that it is a very difficult topic to handle since it has a great deal of complexity. AI is primarily linked with Computer Science, but it has many important links with other fields such as Math, Psychology, Cognition, Biology and Philosophy. Computers have a great deal of trouble understanding specific situations and adapting to new situations. They have little in the way of abstract thought, high-level deliberative reasoning and pattern recognition. These attributes are key for Artificial Intelligence and as such AI development looks to be a project of epic proportions.

While the above may be true, it is not to say that it is impossible. Spaceflight has shown us that anything can be done given time, labor and a limitless supply of disposable income. Unfortunately Artificial Intelligence has been given little of any of these things – so what is one to expect? Artificial Intelligence will likely go no-where until public enthusiasm is generated for the subject. Until then, it will be the field of Japanese engineers and American software developers with an incidental interest and similar correlation of problems to solve. Indeed, it is a poor method if you wish to develop something with results.

Public support is being generated for Internet in ever-rising numbers however. Businesses are forced to adapt to E-Commerce or die. This monster of the ether is indeed thought of as an entity of its own, and for good reason. It has defined the last decade and it will likely continue to evolve for quite some time. We have already seen the major changes from primitive BBS boards, to HTML page and then from scripted CGI to an Active Web of XML and Java. A good deal of money is invested in the internet to prod along the evolution of the Web and this can likely be used to fuel a merger between Artificial Intelligence and the Internet. An active, more efficient, and a more useful Internet is very desirable and AI can definitely be applied to this type of functionality.

The Internet has several things going for it in terms of its usefulness as the launching pad of an Artificial Intelligence. First and foremost, the first company to integrate an AI will have a sizable advantage (and public interest) over his competitors. This means money going into the field wither they know it or not. Secondly the Internet is an acceptable platform for AI in the current generation. People may not accept a free-willed robot roaming around their apartment but they will likely dump their life savings into the WWW if AI enhanced super-porn becomes a reality. Not to mention what AI can do for stock trading, information filtering and organization, games and a host of other useful functions. Acceptability by the masses is extremely important in an age where many technological advances have titanic promise, but the elder-folk (those in power) scorn their use – cloning, embryonic research, the human genome utilization are just a few to mention.

The third advantage of the WWW is that it already closely resembles the human brain, in many instances, much more so that any other piece of technology created. Packets of information fire like neurons from one synapse to another. Sprawling networks and clusters use a collective effort to problem solve. Huge stores of information are ready to be recalled at a moments notice. While it is true today’s computing machines are hardly comparable to the human brain on their own, they are comparable when used in large groups.

The internet as a whole handles more information several orders of magnitude higher than anything before it, including our brain. SETI@Home ( is an excellent example of a collaboration effort of many thousands of personal computers clustering their processing power towards a single task. This project has been going on for nearly a decade and it is has had some amazing results analyzing huge amounts of data. Even with several clusters of computers at their disposal, the SETI program could not hope to match the nearly unlimited processing power of the general public. Considering the program is operated nearly entirely by good-will it has done an amazing job and will set a good precedent for similar mass-user projects including an AI global web-mind project.

It is all but inevitable that new kinds of computers will not limited by physical distance and will only increase in speed and efficiency exponentially. As a group, the Internet will likely have (or already has) the processing power needed to operate an Artificial Intelligence. The currently limitations are on bandwidth and more importantly, organization and software. These limitations are fairly minor compared to the insurmountable problems one would have by creating an AI on a single machine. Where does one get the resources necessary to even begin to develop such a system? Why would it be useful? Surely it is cute to make such a thing, as IBM has made a score of chess playing machines as corporate promotions. However, in reality a cluster of machines donating a little bit of processing power can do the same thing as a far better price.

That said, the Internet as the platform looks to be a promising and perhaps natural progression to develop AI. The steps to developing AI would be useful unto themselves in our age of interactive web experiences. Organization and a cohesive development effort would be all that would be needed to begin a profitable and useful evolution from the WWW to the World Wide Brain.

Evolution and Implementation of the World Wide Brain

Before I discuss how we would evolve the WWW into the World Wide Brain, we should talk about what exactly we are evolving into. Ben Goertzel describes the World Wide Brain as follows:

“The global Web mind is what happens when the diverse population of programs and agents making up the Active Web locks into an overall, self-organizing pattern -- into a structured strange attractor, displaying emergent memory and thought-oriented structures and dynamics not directly programmed into any of its parts.”

Personally my favorite Artificial Intelligence definition is as follows, Artificial Intelligence is a branch of Science which deals with helping machines find solutions to complex problems in a more human-like fashion” (courtesy of AI depot This is remarkably similar to the above definition of the World Wide Brain/Global Web-Mind. Everything seems to boil down to making computers think more like us, or at least having a portion of them do so in a way that it is indistinguishable for us people.

Now that we have a definition of what AI is, I’ll simplify the process of going from the current WWW to the World Wide Brain into three main segments. The first achieving the necessary hardware backbone to make AI feasible and practical. Secondly I will talk about the first evolutionary step, the Learning Web. Then I will discuss the next evolutionary steps, the Thinking Web and Consciousness.

Hardware is generally the least of the problems with considering a World Wide Brain. As I have mentioned before, it is all but inevitable that new kinds of computers will not limited by physical distance and will only increase in speed and efficiency exponentially as time goes on. Hardware can certainly go nowhere but up in terms of speed and memory capability. Numerous development projects have great promise for breakthroughs in hardware attributes. The reason for this is simple, money. Computer hardware is a cash cow and we likely have yet to see the golden age of hardware come to fruitation. Because of this, one would surmise that the necessary hardware for AI would be a matter of time, if it is not already applicable considering the resources of the WWW. The World Wide Brain involves a global structure for its operation and is less limited by individual machine(s). I would think the bottle neck would be in terms of bandwidth and user willingness to devote a portion of their CPU time to an AI rather than the limitations of processing power or memory.

The most difficult aspect of the Hardware side of the World Wide Brain is the organization. One example I used before is SETI@Home, a single non-profit organization which allows the good-will of folks to assist in their efforts. A World Wide Brain may have none of these attributes unless it is properly organized. Should development start on a World Wide Brain project, first as separate Learning Web project and then into a more cohesive Thinking Web project - who is to say it is the only one. Competing AI projects who wish to use the same resources (bandwidth notably) could cause some interesting problems. I hate to think of possible AI wars competing against one another, but I suppose that several AI entities that war against each other would be the most human of all.

The route likely taken would be individual software projects that further emphasize the developing active web into a Learning Web. Down the road when AI development reaches a marketable position, a more cohesive collaboration would be devised called the Thinking Web, which I will talk about below.

Another useful hardware adaptation would be better incorporation of mutual integration between the PC and People. Natural language is one barrier, but I would say a computer that can understand what we are thinking would be more useful. Already been experiments in which people managed to steer images on a computer screen simply by thinking, moving an image across the screen. A device (neural interface or some such) that could literally read our thoughts would perhaps be better than any natural language translator; which are remarkably difficult to produce. After some of these cornerstones are in place larger and more involved AI projects could be worked on. The software evolution would look something as follows:

Pre-Web (-1990 Bulletin Boards, Email, User/News Groups)

Primitive Web (1991-1997) (WWW, Multimedia, Secure Web/Email, CGI)

Active Web (1998-20xx) (Java, XML, DB Integration, Knowledge Management)

Learning Web (Learning algorithms, Judgment, Associative learning, Self-Organization)

Thinking Web (Software Agents, Solving Complex Problems, Knowledge Discovery, Mutual Interaction, Understanding Speech/Thought)

Consciousness (Self-aware, Free-will, Self-changing code)

We are currently in the age of the Active Web, which is a web that uses real-time programs and exchanges a variety of information (pictures, text, sound) for a particular function. Java and XML are good examples of the active web. We are still in the young stages of the active web and tools will likely become more organized and interact better with each other and the user in the near future.

The Learning Web is the next evolution of the WWW. It will have some definite fundamental changes that lean towards AI. The web itself will organize the millions of pages of data to better suit the needs of the users. It will develop an associative learning capability to allow frequently data to be used together and become more strongly connected. In this way the Learning Web will develop methods to make judgments and predict outcomes to certain activities. This will also require some interaction on the users behalf so the Learning Web can keep track of the patterns and activities of each users. Perhaps something like super-cookies, piggy-back packets, or some other form of self-communication and interaction. The final stage of the Learning Web would be learning algorithms. This is mainly to immediately record patterns of usage and assimilates the collective wisdom of all people consulting the Web. This would be far more efficient than the crude indexing that we have now on Google or Yahoo.

The Thinking Web builds on these concepts and folds them into a cohesive framework to solve complex problems. A self-organized web could be much more easily searched and software agents could be run to do specific tasks or collect a criterion of information. A software agent would use your past patterns and its knowledge of your personality to perform the task/search.

For example, I could ask a software agent “what’s new today?” and it would immediately collect topics of news, weather, sports, stocks that are in my direct area of interest. Another example would be to ask an agent “patch my software”, and again it would update the drivers and general code for your PC. Nothing partially spectacular, but it still requires a great deal of technology to pull off, notably a thinking process to understand language, meaning, querying its amassed data and developing a process based n these results. Also it would be the precursor to ‘computer, write a program that does this’.

Another step of the Thinking Web is the ability to solve complex problems and to have its own knowledge discovery. Complex problems are slightly different than the above software agents because they would involve indirect information. If I ask the computer “I’m stressed out, what should I do?”, it would require something beyond merely searching for all possible information. The AI would have to make its own judgment calls and assimilate knowledge from its environment. Could the stress be allergies, weather, bad day at the job, and so forth. This brings forth another important phase of the Thinking Web, mutual interaction. In the example above the AI would ask you some questions so it could develop a better answer. Indeed the Thinking Web would be constantly collecting data all around the globe to better fulfill the tasks that are required of it. The AI would gain the capacity to automatically create new concepts, rules and models, and thus change its own way of thinking. With this, we are coming into the beginnings of a true AI and less into ignoble code that merely solves problems.

With the Thinking Web in place we are still missing a few important items of what some consider true AI however - Consciousness and Free Will notably. These would be the next step and it is questionable how would one go about handling this type of project. Thought-oriented structures and learning algorithms are a step in the right direction, but when would we classify something as ‘thinking’, having ‘consciousness’ or ‘free will’? These are very subjective terms to us and these topics are more ambiguous and are harder to achieve because of this. Many seem to think that if a Thinking Web were active, it could theoretically develop its own consciousness given time.


With consciousness many problems arises. Do we really want our tool to have consciousness and free-will? These are more philosophical questions and they are distant enough to be alien in our current frame of mind. We simply can’t not perceive most of repercussions of a free-willed global-web mind, and we can not make a very good argument in either direction.

From my research I have found the WWW and Internet in general to be a good foundation for an emerging intelligence. The web is already a rather large super-structure of information and it is indeed slowly evolving every day. It seems natural to me that the WWW will eventually develop at least some of the attributes I have talked about, and perhaps a true intelligence of its own. The steps to seem logical and productive on their own, which is rather contrary to many contemporary AI projects that try to tackle the problem as a whole with nothing marketable in the process.


· Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium (2001)_”From Intelligent Networks to the Global Brain Evolutionary” Social Organization through Knowledge Technology - The First Global Brain Workshop (GBrain 0)


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