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The Coming of an Internet of Conscious Machines

Clock 30 December 2015
(6 votes)

Several Artificial Intelligent (A.I.) Experts and Neuroscientists are arguing that humans brains can likely be modeled as computational systems capable of encoding and processing information in very specific ways. Out of this non-conventional computing, mind is likely to emerge from the body (not just from the brain, I would argue). This is like saying that when our body lives and thinks, it is continuously creating “informational structures” which are at the very basis of our daily behaviors. And consciousness comes from the correlation, integration of such “informational structures” or encoded pieces of information.

It should then not be a surprise that one of the most challenging future trends of A.I. will be really developing machines acquiring a certain level of “artificial consciousness” enabled by networking and combination of sets of functions capable of encoding, processing and storing very specific “informational structures” received from the world. Studies about entangling consciousness agents are moving in the same direction. The border between ICT and A.I. is definitely blurring: machines are starting to learn as humans and in five years, A.I. interfaces will be replacing smart-phones.

In short, the equation is rather simple. Mathematics will be the language, computation will be about running the said language (coded in software), storage will be about saving this encoded information and, eventually, the network will be creating relationships – at almost zero latency - between the said sets of functions. Google, for example, is funding research about converting language into a problem of vector space mathematics -  using data mining techniques for modeling the structure of a language and comparing it to the structure of another language. This will next bring “intelligence” into the operating systems to empower devices with the capacity for logic and natural conversation.

Eventually, it will come to intertwining A.I. with the evolutions of the Web, Internet or better, the 5G re-evolution. In fact, 5G will assume the characteristics of a powerful computing platform massively distributed, with a fabric of connections (both fixed and mobile) characterized by high capacity and extremely low latency (order of a few units of milliseconds). Flexibility and programmability (via API) will be two of the other main features of 5G.

Antonio Manzalini,
IEEE SDN Initiative

5G will become a sort of “artificial nervous system”, disappearing into the society and economy. Already today we’re talking about “Cognition as a Service” (CaaS) when considering how to empower the network infrastructures with cognitive capabilities. Several techniques are being used for that, including (nonlinear) dynamic systems, computational intelligence, intelligent control (adaptive control, learning models, neural networks, fuzzy systems, evolutionary and genetic algorithms).

Moreover, already today, we are coupling our mind/body with laptops, tablets, smartphone, wearable, avatars, cognitive agents, etc… which are implementing information retrieval, coding and processing functions for us and with us. Add to this the fact that softwarization (e.g., SDN-NFV) is going to make networks very flexible and pervasive, capable of hooking billions of processing functions with ultra-low latency connections, and you’ll get the overall picture: the coupling of different forms of humans-machines intelligence and consciousness.

Consider that in the very beginning of Telecommunications, around 1880, the business seemed to be limited to the sale of telephones; it should have been the buyer of the telephone who would need to roll out the needed wires to connect with another telephone. Soon it was realized that the “connectivity fabric” was actually the most important and the most expensive part of telecommunications. Thus, network providers undertook the investments and the operational cost of creating and managing such network infrastructure as was needed. The Telecommunication business did not change much from that model for the following 130 years, but it will change radically in the next few coming few years.

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The network will be transformed from a fabric of interconnected closed boxes (today’s nodes, e.g., switches, routers, middle-boxes, etc.) into a continuum of logical containers executing millions of intelligent software processes, interacting each other. Smart terminals, autonomous machines, drones and robots will become just like “nervous terminations” embedded into reality. This will have huge impact in industry, in agricultural automation and in optimizing almost any socio-economic process in smart cities.

This radical transformation will be unstoppable, as it follows a basic law of nature: any open ecosystem is pursuing “optimization” as the best possible adaptation to the environment.

Who cannot remember the amazing movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The movie starts with early hominids realizing how to use a bone as a tool. Millions of years later space technology and A.I. (HAL) were considered the “tools” bringing humans to a challenging voyage to Jupiter… that’s what is going to happen over the coming years: an Internet of Conscious Machines will be the next tool for the knowledge-based society.

On the other hand, any job that can be broken down into a series of routine tasks will be susceptible to being digitalized, automated and done by any of a variety of robots or conscious machines, thus replacing humans.

So, what is left to humans tomorrow? We need to better understand the differences between intelligent machines and humans to create a really sustainable knowledge-based society, economy and world outlook. That would be the grand future challenge.

About The Author:
Antonio Manzalini received the M. Sc. Degree in Electronic Engineering from the Politecnico of Turin. In 1990 he joined CSELT, which then became Telecom Italia Lab. He started his activities on research and development of technologies and architectures for future optical transport networks: in this context, he chaired ITU-T Questions contributing to the development of several ITU-T Recommendations on transport networks (e.g., SDH, OTN). He has covered several leading roles in European Commission funded projects on future networks. He served as TPC member of several IEEE Conference, and recently he was co-General Chair of EuCNC2014. His results are published in more than 110 papers. He is currently joining the Strategy and Innovation Dept. of Telecom Italia (Future Centre) addressing strategic scenarios and innovation activities mainly related to Software Defined Networks, Network Function Virtualization, Internet of Things and 5G. He is Chair of the IEEE SDN initiative



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