Are you a twitterer? Do you tweet? If so, you have surely experienced the phenomenon of tweet overload. If you follow just a couple of dozen active tweeters, you could spend half of your waking life keeping up with them. Follow any more and you’ll have no chance of staying ahead. Only a machine intelligence could follow more than about 100 people on Twitter.
So I started thinking. What if a machine existed that could follow everyone on Twitter? That would be millions of people writing billions of tweets every day. The quantity of information known to that machine would be unparalleled. It would know world news; popular culture and high art; rumour, speculation and gossip. It would see into our very souls.
Such a machine already exists. It’s called Twitter.
So, what if Twitter could be regarded as a machine intelligence? A kind of collective intelligence that knows everything we know? I realise I’m pushing things here a little. I know that Twitter isn’t a sentient AI. Yet. But it’s best to think carefully about this kind of possibility before you wake up one day and find a Terminator-style robot knocking on your front door.
A lot of intelligence gets poured into Twitter. Human intelligence. People like Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton), Stephen Fry (@stephenfry), Pete Cashmore (@mashable). These people know stuff. What would happen if Twitter learned what they say and could somehow act on it? Maybe it could start tweeting itself. Sending out instructions to its followers. Taking over the world in fewer than 140 characters.
Scary, huh? Maybe we should shut it down now before things take a turn for the worse. Sieze the pickaxes! Storm the server rooms! Stop the tweets!
You know, I think it’s no coincidence that Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of the State of California. That’s the home of Twitter. Uncanny. Do you think Arnie saw it coming and decided to move to where the real action is? Was this politics thing merely a cover? Is he secretly locked in a titanic struggle against the machines? No more movies. This time it’s for real.
Then again, for every Alain de Botton there’s a Justin Bieber. Every time Stephen Fry offers us a pearl of wisdom, Paris Hilton tells us what she’s going to wear today. So maybe the average intelligence level of Twitter is pretty low after all. Even if the machines could somehow come to life, they’d be split between wanting to lay waste to humanity and being desperate to download the latest Lady GaGa video.
I think we’ll be safe for a little while longer.
About the author:
Steve Morris is a reluctant tweeter and a nervous sci-fi fan with an over-active imagination. He started out as a physicist, but took a wrong turn somehow and now writes about consumer technology at http://www.s21.com/.