Is the Internet Evolving Into a Global Brain?

You don’t need me to tell you that the Internet has become a pervasive global network of people and machines that is beginning to mediate all human interactions. But, just for a second, think about how different the 21st century will be in comparison to the 20th century, simply because of the Internet.

As a digital native in 2013 with an academic background in human evolutionary science, our past seems extremely cold and isolating without a communication medium to bind our entire family together. For the large majority of time all of the human bands, tribes, chiefdoms, kingdoms, etc. were completely unaware of the actual extent and dispersion of all other humans on the planet.

Today we are not only aware of each other, but we are able to build and maintain social groups with each other regardless of geography. I don’t have to scroll very far on my list ofTwitter followers to see people that I consider friends from different countries and continents. And these people can regularly read and share my thoughts with their geographically disconnected network. When you think about this happening on a global scale with hundreds of million of people, it is tempting to think that our planet is becoming transformed at an exponential pace by human thought itself.

But where did this revolutionary communication medium come from? And where is it going?

Well, in a theoretical evolutionary framework I aim to develop at the Global Brain Institutenew communication mediums have evolved before. The first communication medium humans evolved was one for the “sharing” and “liking” of abstract thought: spoken language. The second time this happened between 10-5 thousand years ago when modern humans developed a communication medium for storing and organising thoughts we “liked” the most: written language. The third time this happened we developed a mechanism to replicate our “favourite” thoughts a near-infinite number of times: the printing press.

And now we have the Internet. As long as you have access to the Internet, you have access to almost everything the human mind has produced. What a fantastic medium! But remember it is even more than that. Although writing and the printing press provided us with new communication mediums, you couldn’t directly contact the author of a book through it. With the Internet you can contact the person writing directly. If you disagree with me, you can tell me why! If you agree with me, you can let me know!

The Internet decentralises human conversations.

This medium is exploding globally on temporal scales of years and decades. If current trends related to A) the amount of data we give the Internet, B) the amount of time we spend on the Internet, and C) the ease of access we have to the Internet continue… it is easy to foresee a planet in the 2030s where all human interaction is hosted on this network of networks.

So what will a fully mature Internet look like? How will it change the structure of our world? What will the Internet be in 2050?

The leading hypothesis is a Global Brain, which is a distributed higher intelligence emerging from the human network of people and our machines. The Internet is getting more intelligent every year. The more information we give the Internet, the more time we spend on the Internet, and the more people are using the Internet… the more intelligently it mediates communication of the human world. In short, the Global Brain refers to the Internet at its full maturity.

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