On March 23rd, 2016, Microsoft released a chunk of artificial intelligence onto the Internet. Dubbed “Tay,” this was a bot1 designed to chat with real human beings, simulating a 19-year-old female, learning from those humans how to act more human.

On March 24th, less than 24 hours later, Microsoft put Tay to sleep. The reason? She was spewing neo-Nazi, xenophobic, racist tweets. Apparently, Tay had been learning from the wrong humans—those who had chosen to teach her.

Six days later, by some techie accident, she was back—for just a brief flash of spamming and very teen-like absurdities. Jon Russel at TechCrunch wrote, “This feels like how the AI apocalypse starts…”

What Do We Learn From All This?

Microsoft says they’re busy learning from this experience. It’s arguably the most informative experiment in artificial intelligence yet, one that should shift the entire debate about the future of machine intelligence.

Until now, the drama of AI—in sci fi, in colleges, and in the corporate board meetings of those corporations that currently control the human knowledge-base—has been all around “Machines Vs. Their Makers.” Writers and tech-gurus speaks of the intelligence of machines as something autonomous from our own consciousness: Will their learning accelerate to a point where we can no longer maintain control? Will our servants turn around and become our masters? Will they supplant us? Will they render us redundant?

The Tay Bot experiment is telling us a very different story. There is no us and them. AI is only about one thing: the network called humanity—and that’s it.

“Man is a tree of the field” we are told.2 Recently, Stefano Mancuso, along with many other significant biologists, have shed some light on that metaphor. Trees stand in their place, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. They have brains—just that, unlike mobile beasts, the tree’s brains are distributed throughout a vast network of roots, which are further networked into a web of cells that detect light, sound, smell, gravity, humidity and many other stimuli.

So too, as we human beings first decided to plant ourselves in settlements, then to build cities, then countries and empires, and eventually a global socio-economy, we became more and more like a tree and less like a beast. Or perhaps a hybrid of the two.

What happens when beasts act as trees? You get communication, commerce and technology. Scott Berkun gets credit for exposing “the myth of the lone inventor”—the truth is that no single human being ever got any technology off the ground on his own.3 Our cities, our buildings, our tools and gadgets—all of them are products of inter-connected specialization and distributed productivity. As for the Internet, it is nothing more than the ultimate extension (so far) of this tree called humanity. In the Internet, we discover who we are as humanity.

That’s why the “Machine Versus Makers” concept has it all wrong. Our machines, our technology, and any intelligence we manage to produce—none of these are autonomous living beings of their own. No one has yet to demonstrate that we are capable of coming anywhere near investing a machine with an autonomous sense of self. Heck, we don’t even know what that is.

Take this essay. I’m writing it to express my thoughts. Hopefully, the essay makes sense, but does that mean the essay is thinking for itself? How about if I have a dialogue with you? Does the dialogue think for itself?

So too, when we write code that creates more code by analyzing further input we’ve done something amazing and impressive, but we haven’t created a Frankenstein. Whatever apparent intelligence rises up from the laboratory bed is nothing more than an emergent quality of human communication and collaboration.

Will the Internet ever develop those mysterious qualities we call “experience” and “consciousness?” How? With a string of 0s and 1s running through a CPU? Experience, consciousness and a sense of self are non-measurable, non-observable qualities (“qualia” in the lingo of those who study consciousness). How does quantifiable code emerge as the quality of experience and self?4 Rather, if that every happens, that too will be no more than an emergent artifact of the collective experience and consciousness of humanity, which itself emerges from a transcendent consciousness that pervades and sustains all things.

So let’s drop this anachronistically misdirected notion of “Artificial Intelligence” and call a spade a spade: It’s “Emergent Intelligence.” Not AI, but EI. No less wondrous, but certainly less delusional.

Fighting the War

Now we can ask: Will EI turn around and destroy us? It’s already begun to do so. We’re fighting it right now.

All wars humanity has fought, up to and including the Cold War, were wars of beasts. Beasts have internal organs—brains, hearts, guts, reproductive organs—that dominate the body and control the body. So too, the wars of humankind have been wars between governing bodies.

That’s why all the winning strategies of those wars turn out to be impotent in the current war against terror and intolerance. The power we fight has no brain, no heart, no guts, no reproductive organ, yet it is intelligent, passionate, hungry and breeds rapidly. Because it is not a beast; it is a tree. And that is its great advantage: There’s no one leader to assassinate, no one headquarters to capture, no one government to disassemble. A tree can have up to 90% of its body mass ravaged and regenerate itself. That’s exactly what the original Internet was designed to do. Today’s terrorism is another form of EI, not an external parasite or a fungus, but a native, emergent phenomenon of the networking of humanity. In this war, there’s no them and us. It’s all us.

When we are all networked together, who wins? Whoever networks best. Who networks best? Those who have something to unite them. What unites people best? History has demonstrated again and again: Beliefs. Visions. Promise. Everything that the EI of International Jihad provides.

How do we win? Simple: Do you have a belief, a vision, a promise? I do. I believe it is shared by many of us on the Internet, many more than those who believe in intolerance, destruction and terror. I believe in a wondrous future for my kids, my world and all of humanity, and I believe we can achieve it through collaboration and education.

I don’t believe it because it is rational. It is not. I cannot prove it. It is a belief, a vision, a dogma. And so, it is charged with passion.

Can that belief unite us? It already does. Can it emerge as the dominant intelligence of the Internet? Yes, but on one condition: That we are willing to shout out that we believe in it, that we are nuts about it, that we are willing to throw our entire lives into making it happen. Stop the relativism—we’re fighting a war. Only once we are as passionate about our beliefs as the merchants of terror are about theirs, only then can we win over the youth they capture to an alternative even more exciting than blowing yourself up for ISIS.

Tay gave us a nasty slap in the face. We need it, and we need to heed it now. What the Tay experiment told us is that what counts is not who is brightest, most savvy or better at the game—but who chooses to be dominant and speak loudest for our collective consciousness. Who will represent humanity? Today, it’s whoever chooses to do so.

Our voice can dominate.When we are all networked together, who wins? Those who share a common vision. The Tree of Knowledge we have built for ourselves today can become a Tree of Life.5 We will achieve the true singularity—and it will emerge from within each one of us and all of us as one.