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 The Technium: Brains of White Matter
Various thoughts here...

a) It seems to me that it is overly simplistic to focus merely on the size of the brain in question, either in terms of capability or 'white matter'. The article itself basically says this and, although we don't explicitly state it, OA may be presumed to 'run' its various sizes and types of brains on a similar principle. Rather it is a case of what that extra size is doing and how it is structured.

In other words, it is not a case in OA that Highbrows (for example) merely have bigger brains that are otherwise identical to human brains. And it is definitely not the case for transapients and archai. Instead, I would say that things are much more complex than that.

In the case of Highbrows and other large bio brains, we may presume (and can update articles to flat out say, if we wish) that the extra size comes from additional lobes doing additional or entirely new functions and/or the restructuring of the more 'traditional' brain structures to either do some functions better, or to make use of more efficient designs to do the 'traditional' functions better or in less space or the like. Part of this could include a redesign that allows more space for grey matter and less of a need for white matter. While it's true that our brains are the result of millions or billions of years of evolution, it is (AFAIK) also true that evolution is a 'random walk' and produces 'what works' (which may or may not be refined/improved over time), not 'the best that the laws of physics allows'.

Coming at this from another direction, we describe Superiors (and nebs to a lesser degree) as having a number of mental capabilities that we do not, yet not having noticeably larger brains/skulls. We may therefore presume that they have redesign brains that use some combo of different structure and different 'software' (or mental processes) to get new/better functionality out of the same space. The Highbrows may do some of that but also go in for adding more brain matter for various things. More on this in a bit.

b) Regarding whether or not you could get a human equivalent mind out of a bunch of properly set up RL computer chips. I think this comes down to the issue of whether or not 'sophonce' (to use the OA term) can be created purely as a function of software, without regard to what hardware is running the software, or if it requires specialized hardware to support it. Or some combo of the two. SF seems to be rather split on this, or maybe to have evolved over time. Early SF tended to treat human or greater AI as needing to reside in some sort of Central Computer or Big Computer or whatever. As RL computers and networking and programs have grown, SF seems to have generally evolved to the notion that sophonce can be run purely in software, with the underlying hardware being semi (or entirely) irrelevant. We see scenes of AIs running in large computer networks and uploading/downloading into everything from planetary internets to thumb drives without issue or, if there is an issue, it being described in terms of the smaller processor/storage being 'cramped' or limiting capability, while larger systems result in either increased AI capability or descriptions of it being 'big in here' or the like. Issues of whether or not the actual processing hardware is better or worse from one situation to the other are rarely, if ever, mentioned.

In terms of OA, my headcanon has generally been that early AIs required specialized hardware and software to operate and could not simply load themselves into any handy processor - same for uploads. However, as technology and know how advanced, this situation changed, either as a result of processing hardware getting better/changing or programming developing to the point where a sophont can be created purely in software without regard to the hardware - or both. So, by some point well before Y11k, the issue of whether or not you need specialized hardware to run a mind is basically moot (at least up to a point) because either the hardware is so common/easily produced that it is everywhere or because software and hardware based minds are both easily created and shifted between, or some combo of this.

Does this line up with y'alls conception or do you see it as something else?

c) Regarding artificial minds in general (regardless of hardware) - a key point that isn't often brought up is that, being artificial, such minds do NOT need to necessarily follow any kind of traditional/natural evolutionary process. In RL, any brain/mind must 'run what it brung' to evolve increased capability. You have to start where you are and get to where you end up. In artificial minds, this process can be short circuited in a variety of ways, both in terms of general development and immediate capability or tasks (at least in OA).

A first generation AI does not need to evolve into a second/third/fifth generation AI - rather researchers and engineers and programmers working in hundreds or thousands of different places can figure out new/better designs for software and hardware and simply implement them from nothing. This may result in a wholly new AI or (in some cases) improvements or changes in the first AI without any regard (or at least less regard) for 'getting from A to B'.

In addition (at least in OA), new capabilities may be added to an existing mind or new minds created that are designed to be very good at some particular thing without necessarily having to fit into the existing structure or stay there indefinitely. Whether via the exoself/exocortex, or psychoware or a combo, an OA sophont can rapidly modify their mind (near instantly in some cases) or add in capabilities that their 'natural' brain lacks, in a variety of ways. Artificial brains (or parts of brains) can also be designed to do some particular task stupendously well - and then be ignored (or even turned off) when not being used. They don't have to fit into a whole that is constantly 'turned on'. They can also be built on principles (such as laser signaling) that RL brains have never developed.

Much is sometimes made about birds being much more maneuverable flyers than jet planes. But no bird can cross the Atlantic in a matter of hours carrying hundreds of humans on its back. So it is a case of tradeoffs resulting in huge capabilities in the area the builders find useful.

d) Something else that doesn't generally get touched on in SF is that RL brains have all evolved on Earth and in Earth-like environments - most especially in a 1G gravity field and in a fairly small temp range and in a planetary atmosphere. An artificial brain might be designed from the ground up to operate at much higher or lower temps or in a free-fall environment or in vacuum (or some combo of these and other things of course) that would result in processors that far outstrip anything nature has produced in RL (whether in speed, efficiency, capability of some combo of these), but which would freeze/melt/collapse under their own weight or even the gentlest of breezes.

In the case of the aforementioned Matrioshka brain, different processors could be optimized for how far they are from the local star, could be made to only operate in free-fall and vacuum conditions, could draw energy straight from sunlight, and could 'outsource' a lot of the self-repair and support functions that a RL brain would normally need. Individual components and 'lobes' (assuming something analogous to a lobe) might be built and rebuilt on an ongoing basis as the M-mind changes its interests or focus or whatever tasks it is undertaking. Optical signaling in vacuum might allow a much more flexible brain that has 'white matter' of a sort that doesn't necessarily take up space in the way we normally think of such things. And as has been mentioned elsewhere in the thread, the mind of an M-brain might have little or no similarity to the mind of a human (indeed we generally take that as a given.

Just some thoughts,


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RE: The Technium: Brains of White Matter - by Drashner1 - 12-03-2018, 04:18 AM

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