Monday, October 1, 2012

The Internet & Consciousness

For many years now I have often described the Internet as the modern embodiment of the Great Library of Alexandria – the repository of mankind's knowledge for our time.

As part of that view, I've also maintained the thought that perhaps the purpose of the Internet is far more important than we imagine. Is it possible that one of the roles of the internet is to assist the earth in achieving consciousness – and that mankind's role is to assist in this realisation.

While this seemed a stretch of the imagination 15 years ago, today I'm encouraged to see that others are also identifying this possibility.

In his recent article Could the Internet Ever "Wake Up?" in Slate,  writer Dan Falk discusses the potential of the internet realising a level of consciousness. He points out how Neuroscientist Christof Koch believes we may soon find out, and that the "complexity of the web may have already surpassed that of the human brain".

It is also being written into popular culture, as portrayed in Robert J. Sawyer's WWW trilogy (the novels are titled Wake, Watch and Wonder) detail. In the first of the series, Wake, the World Wide Web awakens. After some learning, it soon becomes the most intelligent entity on earth.

This question is not new. Back in 2008, Dick Pelletier was advocating the the internet could become conscious by 2030. While in 2009, New Scientist posed the question "Could the net become self-aware?".

One of challenges associated with this is how would we know? How will a self-aware Internet communicate this awareness? It could be suggested that if there was sufficient cause – such as the "pain" created from removing a large swathe of internet systems that might come from war or the locking down of social media by governments – it would reach out.

The challenge will be for man to be ready to welcome this potentially new being and allow it to evolve of it's own accord. Fortunately, given the complex nature of the internet, it is unlikely that any one entity will be able to fully influence it, but you can be guaranteed they will be trying to.