Motivation: autonomous value creating applications
I’ve been working on a very pretentious platform which I hope can prove useful for innovative applications. The platform is based on 2 main principles, Memetics & Emergence. Both are originally taken from the world of human culture & sociology. In the architecture of this platform they are applied to a complex composite Multi Agent System. The motivation behind it is to try mimic the way human individuals, organizations & societies succeed in very large complex tasks, whereas it be a single human, small team, business corporation or a whole society. The fact is that a single human, or any organization of humans is usually good in doing something, called Creating Value. The fact that I earn money is because I create value for my employer; the fact that some company makes money is because it creates value for its customers. So the general motivation for an architecture that tries to mimic human or human organization is to enable software to create value. It isn’t that existing software today doesn’t create value, the only reason software exists is because it creates value. But, unlike software, humans aren’t (explicitly) programmed – they are given some initial knowledge (education/training), they are assigned some jobs, & they create value while collecting the knowledge & expertise in doing it. And this is the motivation. A task such as enabling applications to create value without being programmed seems complete Science Fiction today. So we require something very novel & innovative & something very new to basically be able to claim that we can build such applications, that create value without being programmed, except for some basic education: when assigned with a job, performing it, improving in it & creating value without being specifically programmed as to how to solve each case. The motivation is to create software that just like Humans, even when provided only with basic knowledge of what to do in each case, still can:
Solve unexpected situations,
Create value in unexpected ways,
employ both common sense &
the ability to learn from situations &
improve its performance, i.e., the value created,
by merely performing the job for sufficient amount of time.
Memetics & Emergence
So, what are the architecture components that we claim may produce this?
Let’s start with Memetics. Well, memetics basically is the theory that there is an evolution of ideas, where ideas are taken in the broadest sense of things that you copy/learn from others. This evolution is for what is called human culture, science, art, & basically our whole social life is based on memetics. For an ultimate introduction to Memetics, I highly recommend hearing or reading the proponent of this field, Dr. Susan Blackmore. This is the basic idea. This idea can apply not only to the humans world, but also to general intelligent agents. When applied to software, Memetics basically means Evolutionary Knowledge Engineering. The idea is that whereas in knowledge engineering we produce knowledge representations of a domain, including also knowledge required to perform tasks, i.e., Behavioral Knowledge, in Evolutionary Knowledge Engineering, we apply the evolutionary algorithm to this process of knowledge engineering. Meaning that, if we have variations of knowledge representations & if we have different versions of how to perform tasks, only the fittest of these pieces of knowledge will survive & be the base of the knowledge base population. The effect of this is improvement in our knowledge, which becomes more adapted & effective in it’s domain environment. So, to recap, memetics is all about people spreading ideas, & the ideas that are the fittest – most fruitful & valuable – are the ones that survive & base the population of ideas. Similarly, Evolutionary Knowledge Engineering is just Memetics applied not to the culture of humans, but to any society of agents performing knowledge engineering.
The 2nd concept called Emergence, is basically a claim that high-level intelligent behavior can be obtained from low-level simple agents, whether it be animals, software or any object with some behavior, when you combine them into a group, that works together. So any time you take a bunch of agents & combine them into a group, even though each of them has a very simple low level behavior, that may not present any intelligence whatsoever, i.e., any complexity, any reasoning behind it, nevertheless, when you combine them into a group, that works together & collaborate, suddenly the group has an higher-level intelligent behavior, in other words, the intelligence emerges from nowhere, by just combining the agents into a bigger unit. For a great introduction to this concept, with numerous eye-opening examples, I highly recommend reading the book on this concept, by Steven Berlin Johnson. Normally, we think of emergence in situations when the intelligent behavior emerges unexpectedly, but I prefer to include any high-level behavior formed by the collaboration of lower-level parts. E.g., a Power Ranger has this amount of power, but when a team of Power Rangers connect together & morph into a giant all-mighty robot, I also see it as emergence. Now this of course may recurse, for example, if you take a group of A-type agents, & combine them into a group, called B-type, & then combine several B-type agents, into a group called C-type. Now the C-type agent can then manifest even higher level of intelligence than B-types agents, & this is like multiplication of the power of emergence, because we start from simple very low-level unintelligent A-type agents, & multiple the emergence effect & get C-type intelligent agents.
Illustration of emergence: combination of many simple pixels into a group, creates complex intelligent picture (Original image by Matt Champlin)
And another illustration: it’s hard to model a 3D shape, e.g.:
But if you zoom to a much lower level, you can model the shape, e.g., using many simple triangles:
Emergence examples are all around us, everywhere you look, & it’s enough to mention the extreme intelligence (learn & behold) of Ant colonies as a very obvious example. Each ant doesn’t manifest high-level intelligent behavior, but when you combine them into a group, you get a very powerful & successful intelligent behavior. Ants are a very good example, but if you think about it, take any group of humans, whether it be a family, team, community, organization, city, nation, any group of people, is strong because it has more intelligence & more power, that is ability to solve large problems (i.e., Intelligence), only by combining individuals into a higher-level group. In corporations, or hierarchical organizations, we see the emergence multiplication effect, where we take several people into a team, & then take several teams into a department, & then take several department into a division & so forth, we see that more power & more intelligence, more high-level behavior, come out of the group as we multiply the emergence effect. We must understand that it is not the sum of power of the individual components. Take for example a branch of a fast-food chain. The power & intelligence of it, isn’t the sum of the power of the staff running it. The added power & intelligence of these workers isn’t enough to feed thousands of people each day. These young people don’t necessarily understand the process & knowledge, & the sum of their intelligence isn’t enough. Put them all in a room, & you get no special intelligence & power to feed many people. The intelligence is in the fact that working together they create some higher-level machine. They create something that is very powerful, feed thousands of people, but it is not the sum of their intelligence & power. The intelligence is in the combination of them into a collaborating team. Everyone are doing their low-level job, & you get a very powerful higher-level machine. Once they combine you get the emergence effect. Suddenly a bunch of teen-agers feed thousands of people. (This is just an illustration, please don’t take it personal if you happen to be a teen working in a fast-food branch…)
You could say that both Emergence & Memetics, are nothing but metaphores, ways to see things, which humans have always known. But as any science theory is just a way to see stuff, judged by its fruitfulness in predicting measurements, I believe with these concepts you understand how come human ideas & knowledge improves all the time, & how come the teaming of humans into special types of groups yields so much power, & once you understand it, you can harness this in human life, to create new types of mechanisms, for example as the social services harness the concept of emergence, file-sharing networks, Web2.0 social services, all exemplify it in numerous examples. You can also harness these principles into architecture of software agents, which is what the platform I’ve been working on is all about.
Illustration of a simple composite architecture based on Memetics & Emergence