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The Machines March Closer to Self Awareness With the Help of Government

Updated on September 4, 2012


According to the lore of the Terminator films, J-Day occurs when artificial intelligence known as Skynet becomes self aware and then triggers a massive nuclear attack that destroys humanity. From seemingly innocuous beginnings, the unintended consequence of the destruction of the human race occurs. Skynet is a loose metaphor for the Internet, therefore it is interesting to observe how self awareness of this sapient network is being hard and soft-wired.

Cass Sunstein's Information Cocoon
Cass Sunstein's Information Cocoon | Source

Steps on the Road to Self Awareness

A little known branch of the executive, that resides within the Office of Management and Budget, is the acorn from which this tree of knowledge is growing. This acorn even has a name "oh-eye-ruh"; which is the acronym for its real name. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs(OIRA), is a Federal Office that was created out of the innocuously named Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980. The mission of OIRA is to improve information quality and statistical standards. This principles based mission gives OIRA a broad mandate; since information is the vital component of all decision making. OIRA can therefore be seen as an invisible hand that touches all branches of the executive.

The second major step was taken after the "Change" that President Obama brought to political campaigning. His campaign was broadly acknowledged as the first that successfully executed a social media strategy. It was therefore of no surprise that the importance of the internet was elevated as the Obama Administration became hard-wired in office. As part of this hard-wiring process OIRA was given a greater remit to radically change the systems and processes of government. A new Cyber Czar named Cass Sunstein was given the mandate to execute this strategy.

It should come as no surprise to learn that around this time of "Change", Rupert Murdoch was taking the step of declaring war on Google and President Obama. Murdoch understood that the age of influence was moving from print to the digital forum. Under a veil of combating piracy, he therefore tried to cripple free search; so that paid content retained the monopoly position it enjoyed in print. As his Twitter account opined; President Obama had "thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery." Murdoch's attack was framed by government as an attack on free speech; so his moral high gorund was lost. His spectacular demise in print; at the hands of two Anglo-Saxon legal systems, who both enshrine a free press in their parliamentary and constitutional democracies, comes against the backdrop of the rise of the machines.

The fourth step, on the road to self awareness, came through the consequences of high frequency trading in the Flash Crash of 2010. At the same time, the general public started to become aware of the power of algorithms that drive computer trading of financial assets.

Algorithm Awareness

During the Flash Crash, algorithms detected trading patterns that led to a collapse in financial markets. In 2012, it was the turn of journalism to take the next step to self awareness by applying algorithms to create specific kinds of news. Instead of HAL, the computer in 2001 Space Odyssey, we now have "Al" the algorithm journalist in 2012. Arthur C. Clarke's prescience was only out by a decade.

Later in 2012, it was learned that even the Fed is applying predictive algorithms to search for economic intelligence online.

The conditions precedent for self-awareness have arrived. Algorithms that detect information patterns now operate in the same medium as algorithms that create these patterns; this implies awareness of one another. It is therefore only a small programming code step, deliberate or otherwise, to make the source of the algorithm resident at the same domain as the detection algorithm. Once this step has been taken, the road to self-awareness has been completed.


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