I can’t wait.
The future excites me. I used to read Stephen Baxter and Iain Banks novels as a kid for the visionary descriptions of the distant future they offered, and I really related to the parallels Baxter drew between information and consciousness. That’s what I want to talk about today.
You see, I have a lot of time, usually when I’m on my bike, to let my mind off the leash and see where it takes me, and when I can drag it away from sex for more than 20 seconds then it can take me to some pretty interesting places. For example, I was once on my bike thinking about what would happen if you took a completely rigid stick 200,000 miles long and swung it like a fisherman’s rod, so that in the space of a second it would have travelled 180 degrees, from horizontally behind you to horizontally in front of you. I figured that at your hands, the stick would have only travelled about 6 feet, resulting in a speed of six feet per second. But the tip of the stick would have been moving 200,000 miles per second, which is faster than the speed of light. Which can’t be possible. I eventually came to the conclusion that, since the energy that you apply to the stick can itself only travel at the speed of light, the stick, no matter how rigid, would just bend and the tip would not move faster than the speed of light. But by the time I’d arrived at that conclusion I’d cycled two full miles past my house without noticing and I was lost on a farm somewhere.
But consider this. There are certain thresholds in science, certain numbers that pop up again and again in unexpected natural places, like the golden mean ratio for example. The one that has my attention at the moment is the number 100 billion.
There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in our universe. It takes 100 billion atoms to create a cell. It takes 100 billion cells to create a brain, and consciousness by extension. So if 100 billion galaxies create a universe, what might 100 billion conscioussnesses create? Well, I think we’re going to find out very soon.
The population of earth currently stands at around 6,800,000,000 (6 billion 8 hundred million) and it increases every day. It probably won’t top 100 billion within my lifetime, but how will 100 billion minds manifest itself? I think the answer is clear, and I also think that it has started already. It’s the internet.
The internet amazes me, and the more I try to look at it from the outside, as a whole, the clearer it becomes to me that the internet is an analogue for the human mind, except on a massive scale in which every user becomes a stimulus, every data connection becomes a neuron and the collective memory is shared by, or at least accessible to, everyone using it all simultaneously.
But unlike any individual human mind, the internet has to contend with the pressure of dealing with countless millions of perspectives, viewpoints, experiences and opinions, all at once. Any given second of any given day, the internet teems with different cultures and political alignments, different morals and ethics, different circumstances and limitations. The internet absorbs and embraces the contradictions that individual minds try to reconcile and eliminate. It’s this difference that I find so interesting because it’s here where the internet can excel any individual mind.
When I look at the internet, I can see a rudimentary psychology emerging. The internet represents every desire and need, whether it’s dark and lurid or completely innocent. Perverts rub virtual shoulders with academics. Politicians and dissidents work hard to undermine each other. In the grand scheme, everything is meshed together. If the internet can find a way to organise all of these manifold different angles, then I think we’re staring down the barrel of an entirely new branch of human evolution.
The internet will prove to be the single most unifying thing in our history, or in any history that we know of. It will eventually provide humanity with a single voice. Just as an individual sometimes has conflicting emotions about a given topic, the internet will have to deal with billions of opinions. But it’s more than that. I’m not suggesting that the internet will become self-aware, rise up and destroy its human creators like some ropey sci-fi story, but as more and more information is put into ‘The Cloud’ rather than stored locally, then the more profound the transformation will be when it comes.
I can’t wait.