I believe that we are on the path to building the equivalent of global-scale nervous systems. I’m thinking Gaia’s brain: distributed but unified intelligences that gather data from sensors all over the world, and that synthesize those data streams to perceive the overall state of the planet as naturally as we perceive with our own sensory systems. This isn’t just big data–this is big inference.
[This is based on a character in Sea of Dreams and was inspired by the quote. It is a variation on a scene from the book.]
“You know, of course, one of the fundamental principles that every data scanner is taught? ‘Everything is connected.'” Markov shifted in his seat and looked at the face on the screen in front of him. The face was thin, sharp and lined with perpetual suspicion. It was the face of a security worker. A face to distrust as much as he distrusted.
“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?” The accent was Beijing elite, Markov noted with some surprise. The man on the screen was not a standard security officer. He must be a senior official.
Markov considered how much more he wanted to say. He had only agreed to have the conversation because it was best not to be an irritant to these people unless there was good reason. And Markov had no good reason today.
He took a breath and tried again. He explained how the basic rule of data leads to the concept of the data sea; a single expanse into which all datastreams flow and from which they all emerge. The artificial intelligences, data miners, that manage the infinite task of finding and combining the data see this and have taken responsibility for protecting the data.
Markov was lost in his vision of the data sea and the poetry of its description. The face on the screen was not. In fact, it was becoming more and more annoyed. If Markov was not pleased to be talking to him, Xu Liang was equally unhappy to be having this conversation also. Markov was one of the pioneers of the study of data miners. In fact, it was rumoured that he had even been involved in some of the development of the later miners during the Great Schism. He had worked for one of the Hong Kong corporations and was ethic Russian, so not to be trusted.
Xu lost his patience. “This all very theoretical,” he snapped, placing particular emphasis on the last word. “It doesn’t, however, answer my question.”
The light was fading as the winter sun sank behind the ridge at the outskirts of town. Markov noticed the shadows ruefully. He had wanted to go to the shop down the road near the workshops. He had been told they had a new supply of rice, a rare luxury in this part of the world. The shop would be closing now and he was still talking.
“Are the data miners independent and therefore a threat?” Markov mulled the question for a moment. “They do seem to be able of defining their own objectives and acting on them. Does that make them independent? In a sense, I guess so, but does it make them a threat? They are still doing the task that they were designed to do. They still honour their contracts. I cannot see that it makes any difference to you.”