Collective Knowledge: Generative AI in chatbot format as a helper

This text is part of the text “Rebooting Humanity”

(The German Version can be found HERE)

Author No. 1 (Gerd Doeben-Henisch)


(Start: July 10, 2024, Last change: July 10, 2024)

Starting Point

As the texts of the book will gradually show, the term ‘collective knowledge’ represents a crucial keyword for a characteristic that deeply defines humans—the life form of ‘homo sapiens.’ For an individual, ‘collective knowledge’ is directly hardly perceivable, but without this collective knowledge, no single human would have any knowledge at all. Yes, this not only sounds like a paradox, it is a paradox. While a ‘contradiction’ between two different statements represents a factual incompatibility, a ‘paradox’ also conveys the impression of a ‘contradiction,’ but in fact, in terms of the matter, it is not an ‘incompatibility.’ The ‘knowledge of us individuals’ is real knowledge, but due to the finiteness of our bodies, our perception system, our memory, we can factually only gather a very small amount of knowledge ‘in us.’ However, the more people there are, the more ‘knowledge’ each person ‘produces’ daily—just analogously, or then also digitally—the greater grows the amount of knowledge that we humans ‘deposit’ in our world. Newspapers, books, libraries, databases can collect and sort this knowledge to a limited extent. But an individual can only find and ‘process’ small fractions of this ‘collected knowledge.’ The gap between the ‘available collected knowledge’ and the ‘individually processable knowledge’ is constantly growing. In such a situation, the availability of generative artificial intelligence in the format of chatbots (GAI-ChaBo) is almost an ‘evolutionary event’! This new technology does not solve all questions, but it can help the individual to ‘principally’ get a novel direct access to what we should call ‘collective knowledge of humanity.’

Before the digitalization of the world …

“Before the digitalization of the world, it was indeed laborious to convey thoughts and knowledge in a way that others could become aware of it: initially only through oral traditions, inscriptions in rocks, then parchment and papyrus, stones and clay with inscriptions. With the availability of paper, writing became easier (though there was the problem of durability); this led to the collection of texts, to books, and the first libraries with books (libraries existed even for cuneiform and clay tablets). Great libraries like the ‘Library of Alexandria’ became precious ‘collection points of knowledge,’ but they were also subjected to various destructive events during their existence, which could lead to great losses of recorded knowledge.

A ‘mechanized production of books’ has been around since the 8th century, and modern book printing began in the 15th century. The development of libraries, however, progressed slowly for a long time, often only on a private basis. It was not until the 19th century that there was a stronger development of the library system, now including public libraries.

Despite this development, it remained difficult for an individual to access knowledge through a library, and even if this (usually privileged) access existed, the availability of specific texts, their inspection, the making of notes—or later copies—was cumbersome and time-consuming. The access of the individual reader resembled small ‘sampling’ that even within the framework of scientific work remained very limited over the years. The language problem should not be overlooked: the proportion of ‘foreign-language books’ in the library of a country A was predominantly restricted to texts in the language of country A.

‘Acquisition of knowledge’ was therefore laborious, time-consuming, and very fragmented for an individual.

An increasingly important alternative to this hard-to-access field of library knowledge were modern magazines, journals, in many languages, with ever shorter ‘knowledge cycles.’ However, the more such journals there are, the more the natural individual limitations come into force, painfully felt in the face of the swelling journal knowledge. Currently (2024), it is hardly possible to estimate the exact number of scientific journals. In the field of computer science alone, approximately 2,000 journals are estimated with an average of about 25,000 (or more) articles per year. And scientific journals only in Chinese are stated to be over 10,000.[1]

[1] For more detailed information on the collection of Chinese journals, you can visit the East View page on China Academic Journals (CAJ) here.

With digitalization

Since the availability of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s, a unified information space has emerged that has continued to spread globally. Although we are currently witnessing an increasing ‘isolation’ of the WWW among countries, the development of a common information space is unstoppable.

Alongside this information space, technologies for ‘collecting,’ ‘storing,’ ‘retrieving,’ and ‘analyzing’ data have also evolved, making it increasingly possible to find ‘answers’ to ‘questions’ from ever more sources.

With the advent of so-called ‘Generative Artificial Intelligence in the format of Chatbots’ (GAI-ChaBo) since 2022, this ‘data utilization technology’ has reached a level that not only finds ‘raw data’ but also allows an individual user with their limited knowledge direct access to ‘collective human knowledge,’ provided it has been digitized.

For the ‘evolution of life on this planet,’ this availability of collective knowledge to the individual may be the most significant event since the appearance of Homo sapiens itself about 300,000 years ago. Why?

The next level?

The sustainability debate over the last approximately 50 years has contributed to the realization that, alongside the rather individual perspective of life, and strong regional or national interests and perspectives of success, there have gradually come into consciousness — not universally — perspectives that suggest — and are now substantiated by diverse data and models — that there are problems which exceed the event horizon of individual particular groups — and these can be entire nations. Many first think of ‘resources’ that are becoming scarce (e.g., fish stocks), or being polluted (world’s oceans), or dangerously reduced (forest systems, raw materials, life forms, etc.) or more. What has hardly been discussed so far, although it should be the most important topic, is the factor that produces all these problems: Homo sapiens himself, who by his behavior, yes, even just by his sheer numbers, causes all the known ‘problems.’ And this does not happen ‘automatically,’ but because the behavior of Homo sapiens on this planet is ‘controlled’ by his ‘inner states’ in such a way that he seems ‘incapable’ of changing his behavior because he does not have his ‘inner states’ under control.

These inner states, roughly considered, consists of needs, different emotions, and collected experiences linked with knowledge. Knowledge provides the ‘images’ of oneself, others, and the world as a Homo sapiens sees it. Needs and emotions can block, ‘bind,’ or change knowledge. The knowledge that is currently available, however, has great power: ultimately, a Homo sapiens can only do what his current knowledge tells him — if he listens to his knowledge and not to ‘others’ who mean something to him due to the life situation.

If one is now interested in a ‘possible future,’ or — even more specifically — in a ‘possible future that is as good as possible for as many people as possible,’ and sustainable, then the challenge arises as to how people in the situation of everyday life, a certain form of the present, can ‘mentally’ surpass this present in such a way that, despite the current present, they can ‘somehow’ think of a piece of ‘possible future.’

‘Generative Artificial Intelligence in the format of chatbots’ (GAI-ChaBo) can help make the (approximate) entirety of past knowledge — albeit only punctually based on questions — accessible, but the ‘knowledge of the past’ provides ‘nothing new’ out of itself and — above all —, the past does not necessarily have those ‘goals’ and ‘values’ that are necessary in the current present to precisely ‘want that possible future’ that will matter.

With this challenge, Homo sapiens collides ‘with himself’ full force, and he will not be able to ‘hide behind GAI-ChaBo.’ A GAI-ChaBo always only delivers what people have previously said and done, albeit in a breadth that an individual could not achieve, but ultimately a GAI-ChaBo only functions like a kind of ‘mirror of the human collective.’ A GAI-ChaBo cannot replace humanity itself. A GAI-ChaBo is the product of collective human intelligence and can make the entirety of this collective intelligence visible in outline (an incredibly great achievement), but no more.

For the next level, Homo sapiens must somehow manage to ‘get a grip on himself’ in a completely different way than before. There are hardly any usable role models in history. What will Homo sapiens do? GAI-ChaBo is an extraordinary success, but it is not the last level. We can be curious…