Self-Awareness and Control in Decentralized Systems

Melanie Mitchell

How can self-awareness emerge in a distributed system with no central control? How can such awareness feed back in a decentralized way to control the system’s behavior? Many people have written about how self-awareness might come about in the brain. In this paper, I examine mechanisms for self-awareness and control in two other decentralized biological systems: the immune system and ant colonies. I then attempt to isolate some principles common to both systems. Finally, I discuss ways in which these mechanisms can serve as inspiration for the design of artificial intelligence systems with sophisticated abilities for distributed self-awareness and self-control.


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