Skip to content

Kevin Kelly: AI dreamin’

Such stuff as dreams are made on

I have a proto-theory: That our brains tend to produce dreams at all times, and that during waking hours, our brains tame the dream machine into perception and truthiness. At night, we let it run free to keep the brain areas occupied. The foundational mode of the intelligence is therefore dreaming.

Here’s how I got there: For a while I’ve been intensely exploring generative AI systems, creating both text and visual images almost daily, and I am increasingly struck by their similarity to dreams. The AIs seem to produce dream images and dream stories and dream answers. The technical term is “hallucinations” but I think they are close to dreams. I’ve come to suspect that this similarity between dreams and generative AI is not superficial, poetic, or coincidental. My unexpected hunch is that we’ll discover that the mechanism that generates dreams in our own heads will be the same (or very similar) to the ones that current neural net AI’s use to generate text and images.

My conjecture is that they feel like dreams because our heads are using the same methods, the same algorithms. so to speak. Our minds, of course, are using wet neurons, in much greater numbers and connections than a GPU cluster, but algorithmically, they will be doing similar things.

It is possible that this whole apparatus of generation is actually required for perception itself. The “prompt” in ordinary sight may be the stream of data bits from the optic nerve in the eye balls, which go on to generate the “vision” of what we see. The same algorithms which generate the hallucinations for AI art — and for human dreams — may also be the heavy-duty mechanisms that we use to perceive (vs just “see”.) If that were so, then we’d need additional mechanisms to tamp down and tame the innate tendency for our visual system to hallucinate.

During waking moments with the full river of data from all our senses, plus the oversight our conscious attention, the tendency of the generative engine to hallucinate is kept in check. But during the night, when the prompting from the senses diminish, the dreams take over with a different kind of prompt, which may simply be the points where our subconscious is paying attention. The generative algos produce these lavish images, sounds, and stories that in some way regenerate in response to our subconscious attention.

Kevin Kelly – Dreams are the Default for Intelligence

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...