Infomorph

T-1000 by Mark McCreery

An infomorph is a virtual body of information that can possess emergent features such as personality. The term was first described in Charles Platt’s 1991 novel ‘The Silicon Man,’ where it refers to a single biological consciousness transferred into a computer through a process of mind transfer. In the book, a character refers to an infomorph as ‘intelligence held in a computer memory,’ and an ‘information entity.’

Russian artificial intelligence theorist Alexander Chislenko uses the same word in his 1996 essay ‘Networking in the Mind Age,’ to refer to a software agent that possesses distributed intelligence. Whether the vision shared in Platt’s novel will ever be more than a theory is uncertain, but computing power is still increasing exponentially, and the ‘Future of Humanity Institute’ at Oxford University have considered the philosophical and technical feasibility of this theory at some point in the future.

The Institute considers it theoretically possible to understand the absolute workings of every aspect of the mind, and the ability to measure this in a specific individual, although Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle may apply if it is discovered that the brain’s workings on a quantum scale are relevant to the workings of the mind. However, the rate of appreciation of knowledge in neuroscience and psychology is far slower than the rate of increase in computing power. There are also philosophical questions to be answered, the most important being the nature of consciousness and whether it is possible to transfer a consciousness or if this transfer would effectively be a copy.

Chislenko re-appropriated the term ‘infomorph’ to refer to a distributed info-being that would exist independent of human intent: ‘The growing reliance of system connections on functional, rather than physical, proximity of their elements will dramatically transform the notions of personhood and identity and create a new community of distributed ‘infomorphs’ – advanced informational entities – that will bring the ongoing process of liberation of functional structures from material dependence to its logical conclusions.’ Chislenko re-defines the term outside of its original mind uploading construct and uses the category of ‘infomorph’ to refer to a virtual body of information similar to an autonomous software agent. He describes infomorphs as distributed beings with no permanent bodies and near-perfect information handing abilities.

In this context, infomorphs are described as a form of distributed artificial intelligence who possess autonomy, raising a series of important functional, legal and philosophical questions: Will the traditional human issues be of any relevance in an environment populated by distributed information entities? Will human-style democracy (decision-making by body count) work in the world of ever changing functional interconnections, where the very definition of what constitutes a person will be increasingly blurred? Could an infomorph court of law issue a memory search warrant? Could an individual’s memory be kept encrypted? Will infomorphs be entitled to ‘medical’ insurance against certain types of structural damage, or will they just have to back themselves up regularly? His work questions the ontology that may emerge between humans and info-entities and how human beings will communicate with bodies of information abstracted from the physical environment.

Amber Case, a pioneer of cyborg anthropology, considers users of social networks to be ‘partial infomorphs,’ along with people whose writing is left behind after their death. She talks of an ‘informorphic footprint,’ corresponding to the size of information created and distributed during a person’s lifetime.

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