Integrated Information Theory and Hive Minds

Brief introduction to Integrated Information Theory and its origins

Ajith Senthil

3/13/20233 min read

Integrated Information Theory (IIT) created by Giulio Tononi in 2004, is an explanation of how experience and consciousness emerge from physical systems. The theory was created based on a set of axioms and postulates of phenomenal conscious experience heavily relying on Descartes and assumptions in neuroscience. The mathematical basis for this theory offers insight into the experience and the level of consciousness in people, animals, and artificially conscious systems. I will discuss how the theory works in a simplified manner and how this can be used to offer insight into swarm or hive intelligences and why we may be in one ourselves.

IIT in summary theorizes that conscious experience arises from the integration of intrinsic information, in other words how interconnected and informative sub-elements are within a larger system. Specifically in IIT, it requires subsystems with a cause-effect structure similar to neurons in a brain. The level of integration is the Phi value which can be thought of as the intensity or salience of an experience, higher levels of integrated information lead to a higher intensity or Phi value. An example of how to use this to distinguish the conscious level of a camera and a person goes as follows, the camera takes an image with photoreceptors that do not communicate with each other so the level of integration of intrinsic information is therefore zero. In contrast, a human may see something with their own photoreceptors but the level of integration is higher because the information about the visual imagery is integrated with our experience which has many other subsystems of information such as audio, somatosensory, and many other systems of information. The level of integration of the Phi value is, therefore, higher and a camera is not conscious.

Another important part of the theory is MICS or the maximally irreducible conceptual structure. The MICS can be thought of as how many redundant connections can be lost before we get the structure that is necessary to contain all the information needed. An example of a MICS would be a song that requires a certain set of instruments, although it can potentially use more instruments, it does not need to so its MICS would be the smallest set of instruments needed to play the song. The MICS of the mind is the only entity in IIT that is thought of as conscious because substructures and superstructures have their own Phi value and to avoid everything in the entire world being conscious the MICS was used as a postulate.

The MICS may seem to diminish the hope of explaining swarm intelligences, for example, a group of ants may seem to be operating as a hive mind but remove one ant and the rest can still do the tasks required. It may seem that the MICS is the smallest amount of ants that can operate functionally as a group and only that amount of ants are conscious. This is a little counterintuitive to what we observe as all ants are conscious to an extent yet they seem to still have a swarm intelligence. If we define a swarm or hive intelligence as a group that can make decisions together that are only able to be made as a group then the MICS would be different. The MICS would therefore have levels to it and there would be many conscious entities that exist as levels of hive intelligences depending on the decisions the group can make together.

Humanity and the advent of the internet is a prime examples of how hive intelligence is now something we can observe. If humanity was a hive intelligence it may not have a high Phi value for its MICS at a group level because many of the connections are redundant in a highly chaotic system like a group of humans. However, when the internet was created the Phi value of humans did increase mathematically which means there is a higher intensity of group experience as a result. The more integrated we are able to communicate our experiences with other people the more conscious humanity as a collective will become.