Sentient Mobile Networks?

Sentient Mobile Networks?

The massive explosion in the number of users of mobile technology devices and networks has transformed society in nearly every corner of the world.  Of interest, it may someday mimic some of the neural networks of the brain.  While this may not reach the level of Kurzweil’s singularity, it will no doubt have unforeseen consequences.

Neuroscience researchers are unable to create a model that mimics the functions of the human brain given the very large number of processing units (referred to as neurons). In the adult human brain there are over 100 billion neurons. Each one of these may receive input from hundreds or thousands of other neurons.  A neuron can only respond by sending one signal.  Starting at a specific part of the neuron it travels down a long connection between brain cells referred to as the axon. Axons typically branch thousands of times as they travel to other neurons.  Where an axon connects with another neuron and the type of signal it transmits determines how much influence in conveys on the “receiving” neuron.  If it sums up its inputs it may elect to send a signal down its own axon.


Approximately 2 billion or more people own cell phones globally.  Each of them may be connected to hundreds, thousands or even millions of other individuals. As these networks grow they will begin to approximate the capacity of biological neural networks. While it is extremely unlikely that even 100 billion cell phones could mimic the deeper functions of the human brain, the possibility of using this massive network for computational processing in manners that mimic the human brain have not been addressed. It is conceivable that harnessing this network could lead to information processing capabilities would in some ways mimic certain types of neural processing.

Another critical function of the human nervous system is the ability to respond to stimuli by creating new connections between neurons.  Neurons also have the ability to increase or dampen their response to stimuli.  Both of these functions are currently mimicked in mobile networks. For example information that goes “viral” leads to people bookmarking, linking to and sharing sources of information that they deem of interest. In essence new connections are being formed in the mobile device/neural network.  Individuals can dampen how information is delivered to them by blocking information, avoiding certain media outlets, and determining when they receive incoming information.

In summary, it will be difficult to predict what will arise from the vast “neural” network that is being created by billions of mobile device users. It may help us better understand brain physiology as mobile networks are perhaps a cost-effective way of mimicking the functions of the brain.   Other positive and potentially nefarious uses will also need to be identified. The only thing certain is that the number of mobile device user “neurons” will increase continue to increase over time.

The information contained in this post represents the opinion’s of its author: Michael Stearns, MD


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