Sunday, 2 August 2009

Ultimate Encephalization Quotient

Hi! I'm Tim Tyler - and this is a video about the Ultimate Encephalization Quotient.

The term "The Ultimate Encephalization Quotient" is intended to refer to the proportion of the bioverse that winds up being made of brain-like material after civilisation reaches maturity.

Currently brain matter makes up less than a tenth of one percent of the biosphere.

However, a number of futurists have suggested that intelligence will become a more prominent feature of the living world in the future.

There is talk of "Jupiter brains", Matrioshka Brains and turning the universe into computronium. Also, the importance and significance of intelligence is emphasized.

Ray Kurzweil has written:
Once we saturate the ability of matter and energy to support computation, continuing the ongoing expansion of human intelligence and knowledge (which I see as the overall mission of our human-machine civilization), will require converting more and more matter into this ultimate computing substrate, sometimes referred to as “computronium.”

Similarly, Hans Moravac has written:
The final frontier will be urbanized, ultimately into an arena where every bit of activity is a meaningful computation: the inhabited portion of the universe will transformed into a cyberspace.

There is some basis for such projections. Life's evolutionary history consists of a path towards increased computation. Living systems started off with very little or no brains. Sensors and actuators were connected together locally - without much in the way of a central processor.

Then brains were "invented" - and since then, they have been proliferating - on an exponential growth curve. Today we see that trend at the point where it is producing enormous data-centres all over the planet. Many believe that the expansion will continue beyond this for some time to come - creating larger and increasingly impressive cyberspaces.

Of course, such large data-centres require raw materials to produce, maintain and run. So, in addition to all the computing units, there are a range of supporting sensors and actuators - responsible for mining, construction, power generation - and so on.

This video is intended to draw attention to another relevant piece of information that bears on the issue.

There is a pattern among living organisms - where the largest organisms have the smallest brains - as a proportion of their total body size.

And there is another trend in living organisms - to produce creatures of large size - a trend which has been interrupted in the past at regular intervals by meteor strikes.

Today's companies are not yet fully-cooperative living organisms - but they probably will be in the future - and some of them will be very large indeed. Further out, there is the possibility of even larger cooperative organisms forming out of states and governments, and indeed possibly planets. So, we can already see some very large organisms taking shape.

However, we know that large organisms typically need small brains.

If you look at a table of brain sizes, you see that the largest brains belong to the smallest creatures:
Species% Brain
Tree shrew3%
Blue whale0.01%

There's a well-established power law that describes the relationship between brain size and body size - and the exponent is smaller than 1 - it's something more like 0.66 - so bigger animals have smaller brains.

The idea that organisms in the future will be bigger and that bigger organisms have smaller brains suggests that we will see proportionally less brain matter in the future - not more.

In the past, large organisms have not made up much of the biomass - since they have been dependent on food chains to support them. It seems likely that future organisms will internalise these food chains, effectively eliminating much of this biomass - and concentrating it in the dominant organisms.

Also, communication technologies have improved recently. Slow nerve impulses have been replaced by fibre-optic cables and radio waves. These vastly increase the region of space which a centralised brain can control in real time.

That makes the "ant" model vastly more practical. Today, we are seeing that model being enacted on our desktops. There are millions of dumb terminals all over the planet, connected to enormous networks of servers in data-centres. Networking technologies came in a bit after local computing power became widely available - and there is every indication that the world's servers are now sucking the brains out of its desktops.

If the trend for large organisms to have relatively small brains is taken seriously, it predicts that we will see a future consisting of massive organisms with enormous brains - that are nontheless tiny compared to the region they control.

This discussion is concerned with far future events - and so is necessarily speculative. However, overall, I am more impressed by trend for large organisms to have small brains than I am by the trend towards organisms in general having more brainpower. Large organisms have large brains - but they are small compared to their body size. We may see some very large brains in the future - but they will probably remain dwarfed by mass of the sensors and actuators in the robots they control.

What will all those sensors and actuators be used for, if not supporting computation? They will probably be used to fuel growth and expansion.