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Mobile Devices, Nets and Intelligence



Written by Professor Peter Cochrane.

Human progress over the past 50 years has arguably eclipsed all that has gone before in terms of discovery, creativity, knowledge, understanding and physical capabilities to create and build almost anything. Even more remarkable is that all of this progress is essentially down to on one key material and technology: Silicon! 


Such a statement of our accelerated progress has no one line rejoinder, no easily stated QED; it requires a detailed analysis over many dimensions of technology, society and the human condition.  But, if we simply want to impress and impact the thinking of others, we can perhaps do no better than quote the availability of the computing power empowering everything from farming to industry to healthcare; commerce to communication to logistics; government to defence to.…

A recognisable and impressive benchmark is the Cray 2 Super Computer launched in 1985 only to be equalled by the iPhone 4 in 2010, and completely overtaken by the Apple Watch in 2015.  Even more remarkable is the latest iPhone which is nominally 250x more powerful than the Cray 2.

However, the Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad enjoy a big advantage over the Cray 2, and that is - they have legs!  They are mobile with sensors that continually gather information about the world around then. Moreover: they learn about our habits and preferences; record all our contacts and communications; store our pics and search histories, location, travel and more. They also enjoy a very personal relationship with us as their owners.



As of today, the single biggest advancement waiting in the wings of mobility is not folding screens, more apps, bigger, faster and cheaper; it is the inclusion of AI to be followed by autonomous connectivity, machine-machine conversations, and data/info sharing.  This will see the birth of the ‘Sociology of Things’ (most likely) on a far greater scale and significance than FB, Twitter, SnapChat et al.

At this point we could ignite facile debates on where all this leads; but a more profitable exercise is to consider what happens when a global population of >10G (Bn) mobile devices start connecting.  Our best estimate of the data processing ability of a human brain is around 1 ExaFlop, whilst today’s population of mobile devices is cumulatively >5 ZettaFlops. That is: well over 5000x a single human brain!

Spoiler AlertThe human brain is a quantum based biological entity that is both analogue and digital at the same time and an accurate comparison with our Silicon digital machines is currently impossible, and it will remain so until we realise quantum computers.  So, we must settle for an ‘engineering’ estimate to give us a ‘ball park’ overview.

Given that biological (all?) lifeforms and intelligences are merely emergent properties of complexity, it is hard to deny that we are not only realising such complexity, we have already eclipsed some bio environments. The formula then, is essentially simple: massive global networks and connectivity; accelerating processing power per device; evolving mobile sensor systems; embedded AI; the freedom to exchange data; the potential for mutation through data errors/corruption; the likelihood of autonomous self-organisation.



This is not only a formula for new and unique intelligences, it also embraces the essential components for new lifeforms.  By analogy; there is already a general acceptance that biological cells are the smallest recognisable unit of life, and they exhibit intelligence, mobility, a need to communicate, with a power to self organise or be organised by external and internal information embedded in the genome.  At this point the similarities with our manufacture Silicon environment are glaring!


“All life forms exhibit intelligence”

“Not all intelligences are alive”


Like me, you are probably experiencing a series of random ‘what the heck’ moments when your tech does something new and expected that either works well or fails.  And whilst the fails seem short lived, the successes are quickly accepted, either consciously or subliminally, to become an operational norm and expectation.  This might just be a new era of Silicon stochasticism aping carbon life over 3.5Bn years ago; only this time around any Silicon life/intelligence is not alone, and it has helpers eager to make sure it is not still born, i.e. us!

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