Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/84 item 01 - scanned

A lot of people in Britain, America and Japan are dedicating their lives to trying to make computers more intelligent than man. Nothing wrong with that I suppose but I can't help wondering if they're all barking up the wrong tree.

Did you see that series on biotechnology presented by Paul Kriwaczek (one of the leading lights behind the BBC micro series)? He dragged us round big, smelly, noisy factories to show us how things were done before biotechnology stuck its oar in. Glass, for example, requires a lot of heat to manufacture. Yet there are tiny bugs called diatoms which quietly make glass without heat and without too much fuss. In another programme we saw how iron ore was extracted from rock. Again much heat and noise, but then we saw how bugs were performing the same task quietly efficiently and without undue heat. Now we are finding ways of harnessing the efforts of these micro-organisms for some of our industrial processes.

Maybe we can use nature to help us achieve something similar with these artificial intelligence projects. We are working on all sorts of intelligent systems but, from what I can see at present, they will have all sorts of trouble getting hold of up to date and accurate information as it comes into existence. The intelligence will be there but the ability to exploit it to the full will be hobbled by this information capture problem. Domain specific artificial intelligences will perform very well and teams of these systems from different disciplines will outperform humans easily. But I'm not sure that this would qualify them as man's successor as is being suggested.

I would like to suggest another committee to complement Alvey. This one will not need as many people or as much folly, yet its achievements could outstrip those of the AI brigade by miles. Like biotechnology mentioned earlier, it will concentrate on natural methods of achieving the aims of the AI wallahs. What is needed is some way to get hold of reliable knowledge on any subject and to pass it to the computers for further processing.

This brings me on to the question of religion. Ever since the year dot, man has believed in mysterious forces. Religions have sprung up wherever there is human life and all claim that there are powerful forces at work. Most of them believe in some sort of all-powerful, all-knowing God. Some faiths talk about a 'universal consciousness' into which we can tune more or less at will provided we are prepared to undertake the appropriate disciplines. Strip away the facade from the religions, look at the numbers of people who believe in something, look at the persistence of some sort of religious belief across the centuries and, if you're like me anyway, you can't avoid thinking there's more than an evens chance there is something in it.

Now let's return to our knowledge-gathering problem. If there is a body of knowledge which already contains everything that can be known then why don't we try to interface it to our computers. We've already shown that computers are better than us at remembering things. They are definitely much faster when it comes to processing some types of data. Why shouldn't they therefore be better at getting in touch and staying in touch with this universal consciousness?

This is where the committee comes in. It will be responsible to build a 'tuner' to the universal consciousness and the means of decoding the signals received. I visualise something rather like a radio but whose range is extended to the point at which it can pick up the appropriate signals. There will be no problem of data accuracy once the system is debugged. There will be no danger of missing information. In fact, providing the price of the 'tuner' is low enough then we could all have access to all information rather than it being only available to those who can afford it.

With this approach we will be building a system to work in harmony with nature. We won't be getting into ever increasing technical problems as we currently look set to do. We will, if we tune in successfully, find the answers to our remaining technical problems anyway. Since so many millions of people clearly believe there is something out there it seems silly not to have a concerted attempt to get in touch with it.