The Emerging Global Brain and the Internet’s Future
By Jeff Sayre
A few interesting posts and seemingly-unrelated themes have been circulating around Google Plus for the past few weeks or so. These thoughts have, I believe, been spurred on by the impending threat of the insanity of the SOPA and PIPA legislation.
I see the issues of Internet censorship, access rights, and content reuse as part of a much larger phenomenon that many people are unaware. Whereas the Internet has been a revolutionary force in humanity’s communication capabilities, facilitating numerous societal, cultural, political, and economic changes, I believe that it is the emerging evolutionary changes fueled by the accelerating growth in technology that will bring about the most radical and fundamental transformation.
Let me lead you through my thinking.
The Internet as a Right
Today I’ve seen this article by Vint Cerf posted twice to my Google Plus Stream, Internet Access Is Not a Human Right (independently posted by Tim O’Reilly and John Blossom). John Blossom’s post and ensuing comments present a well-reasoned argument on why access to the Internet should be considered a human right. Discussing the seminal insights in America’s First Amendment (freedom of speech, freedom of the press), John successfully argues that the right to unfettered Internet access is a natural extension of these two rights.
This issue was thrown into the spotlight in the middle of last year when the United Nations’ Human Rights Council declared that access to the InterWeb was a basic, global human right. Vint Cerf, on the other hand, makes his case in his article why he believes that is an improper viewpoint.
I agree with the UN’s declaration and respectfully disagree with Vint Cerf’s reasoning. To me, however, this debate misses a larger issue — the Internet is transforming in profound ways that push this discussion beyond the simple notion of access rights.
The Internet as a Cultural and Spiritual Resource
Also floating by in my Google Plus Stream this morning was this article (shared by Kingsley Idehen), about the Missionary Church of Kopimism being approved as an official religion in Sweden.
In my rehashing of Kingsley’s post, I mused about the possible ramifications the religion of Kopimism could have in the United States on the SOPA / PIPA legislative process. I asked if, “policy makers [could] be infringing on [freedom of religion] and the separation of church and state by trying to regulate the Internet and its activities.”
In the article about Kopimism, I found this statement very intriguing:
It makes perfect sense to observe that all life comes from copying and remixing of previous life, and to therefore hold copying and remixing as higher, sacred acts worthy of reverence…People who have observed that copying and remixing is the basis for all our being deserve every bit of respect for considering those acts connected with life itself.
(Note: Here is another article on this issue, A Few Thoughts on Kopimism as a Religion)
This is an interesting perspective. Of course biological life maintains and perpetuates itself via mitosis and meiosis. Our past cells and current self can only survive via the copying and passing on of genetic information. Evolution proceeds via the copying and mixing of various genes and through creation of novel genes thanks to mutations. Copying is also fundamental to disseminating and perpetuating software, content, knowledge, ideas, and cultural memes.
Thus copying can be viewed as something that transcends the myopic view of intellectual property protection and its strict enforcement of infringement laws. Censorship and a reduction of access rights to the Internet eschews the higher-level cultural and spiritual import of our social interactions on the InterWeb.
I suppose it could be argued that copying, remixing, sharing, and disseminating are at the core of the fabric of the universe. So how is the Internet moving past the basic issue of access rights and evolving into a more holistic manifestation of our biological and universal predilections to copy, share, disseminate and connect?
The Emerging Global Brain
As the growth of computing technology accelerates at an accelerating rate, the tools and means with which our species communicates will radically change. Already at least one billion people are emotionally connected and attached to their social media networks and obsessively enamored with their smart devices. At least a billion people more covet the notion of being connected in the same way.
For those of us intimately tied into the Social Web, our connection and devices might as well be a permanent piece of our neural anatomy. In my article, Who Should Own the Internet, I make this observation:
The Internet has become our global data ecosystem. It is an evolutionary force in the speciation of humanities’ communication and computation infrastructure. As a result of the ease with which data of all types flows around the global, and with the increasing connections made to this data on a daily basis, our species is on the verge of seismic and profound changes.
In just a few decades, the Internet has grown like a developing nervous system, transcending national boundaries, shrinking geographic distances, dissolving geopolitical barriers, and binding many of us together into a single, global network. If allowed to continue its course unshackled by shortsighted power players, then it may become humankind’s most powerful, liberating, unifying, and transformational force.
As our computing and communication technologies become smaller, more powerful, cheaper, and ubiquitous, humanity will begin to merge with these tools. Currently, we have superficially merged with our communication tools, but in a few decades, we will have augmented reality interfaces in our glasses and contact lenses, various Internet-enabled sensors in our bodies, and a copious amount of micro sensors providing reams of data from the Web of Sensors—a global mesh network of sensors.
At some point, the Global Brain will come to life. It will be part organic, part inorganic. It will be part us and part our creations. It will be a universal communications binding whose existence is greater than the sum of its parts.
(Note: I go into more detail about the Global Brain in my thought piece, Cybernetics, the Social Web, and the (Coming?) Singularity)
Because of this belief, in my Who Should Own the Internet article, I put forth my view of the needs of the Internet as follows:
…the Internet [should be] granted its own rights and freedoms—freedoms to grow, to prosper, to evolve unencumbered by corporate or governmental red tape as if it were its own emerging metaphysical entity.
In the coming decades, humanity’s sojourns and journeys across the Social Web will transform as the technological and cultural seismic shift in global communication patterns and infrastructure brings use closer together and intimately connects us. The Internet is evolving in ways that may be currently hard to comprehend. If the global netizenry does not stand up for its rights and those of an unencumbered Internet, then corporate greed, myopic political leaders, and misplaced fear will prevent humanity from achieving an amazing future.
My Related Articles
- The HyperWeb: it’s All About Connections
- Cybernetics, the Social Web, and the (Coming?) Singularity
- Who Should Own the Internet?