Global Brain - The Internet could become conscious by mid-2030s

March 15 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: The Web   Year: Beyond   Rating: 12

By Dick Pelletier

The World Wide Web is a network of inter-connectivity that goes everywhere and follows its own intelligence. The advent of this newly emerging communication field around our planet has enabled citizens from all lifestyles to communicate globally via words, sounds and pictures – inexpensively, person-to-person; and from the safety of their own homes and offices – for the first time ever.

The Internet represents a major step in our evolution, and is a forerunner of things to come. Artificial intelligence researcher Francis Heylighen sees huge growth as this new world-wide communication system continues to gain power from billions of humans adding to its intelligence every day. “It will get smarter,” Heylighen says, “as it morphs into a global super-organism that could one day provide solutions to most of humanity’s problems.”

Experts compare the Internet to a planet growing a global brain. As users, we represent the neurons. Texting, emails, and IM act as nerve endings, and electromagnetic waves through the sky become neural pathways. Like germinating seeds, this global brain continues to evolve and as some forward-thinkers believe, will not stop until it develops feelings and achieves consciousness.

Feelings represent a lower level of awareness of what goes on in a system’s environment. In that sense, the global brain will be conscious of important events affecting its goals. A higher level of consciousness – self-awareness – would require that the global brain could reflect on its own functioning. The Internet, in the wider sense of the world community is slowly becoming aware of itself. Although today’s algorithms make the web more intelligent, it cannot monitor itself. However, in principle, there are no obstacles towards implementing such a capacity in the future.

Search engines can adapt web pages to user needs. These hyperlinks bear a remarkable resemblance to the human brain. Synapses that connect neurons become stronger with repeated use, and disappear when usage declines. Similarly, global brain’s algorithms will reinforce popular links, while rarely used links will diminish and die.

Could tomorrow’s global brain allow uploading the human mind? At present, information exchanged between humans and computers only occur with mouse, keyboard or voice. However, many futurists believe that one day technology will enable us to separate our minds from the physical brain and store its information in a computer.

This is not as crazy as one might think. IBM hopes to reverse engineer the human brain by 2030, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute is rounding up 300 of the world’s top neuroscientists to capture human thought at moment of creation, which conceivably could enable thoughts, memories, and feelings to be transferred into a machine.

In the future, many believe we will treat the human mind like any other bit of information by copying and storing it in various media. Scientists are aware that our mind roams over trillions of neuron connections and today, we do not possess abilities to understand this incredibly complex system.

But by mid-2030s, when artificial intelligence is expected to surpass human intelligence levels, and quantum computing systems become reality, positive futurists believe that our global brain will become fully conscious and self-aware as it guides humanity into what promises to become a most “magical future.”

Do you think the Internet will ever become fully conscious?

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Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. I’ve heard this theory before and don’t doubt it’s validity. However, I still can’t quite visualize what life will be like once we’re uploading our brains to computers, and everyone seems to have a different opinion… Is it going to be like just backing up your hardware full of memories, lifelogs, etc.? Will it create another “you” or remove the data from your brain to make more space? If the former, then at that point could we create a billion new humans by pressing the copy button? Lots of different ways this could go – what do you think?

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   March 17, 2008
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  2. Today, when we access a website, or read a newsletter or an article, our thoughts focus on what we are looking at. In a sense, our mind is “on the web.”

    As the web gains stronger interactive abilities, such as cameras that track your eyes as you are reading, it could interrupt you at key places in the article and let you know of other similar information that may interest you, and it could automatically display that information for you.

    This type of advanced web behavior will attract more of your attention and consume more of your interest until eventually; you may feel that you are becoming part of the web. Your mind becomes an integral part of the web.

    Your body may be sitting in front of a monitor or holding a cell phone, but your mind is on the web.

    Another form of mind transfer, expected to be in play by mid-2030s or so, includes the ability to continually record your consciousness 24/7 at some secure digital location making your mind available for download to another “housing unit” should disaster strike your body.

    This technology guarantees that you cannot suffer an unwanted death. Would we ever find the need to create an extra copy of ourselves? Today, I cannot answer this question.

    I can see the huge advantages of enhancing our minds with non-biological neurons when the technology becomes available. With a stronger mind, we would be able to understand and fully take advantage of tomorrow’s “mind” technologies. Today, these wild technologies may seem a bit murky.

    Comments welcome.

    Posted by: futuretalk   March 17, 2008
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  3. Here’s a great article about Google’s kinship with the mind. May it blow yours. :)

    Posted by: FutureFly   March 18, 2008
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  4. It is always a question of definitions.

    Without agreeing on definitions of “consciousness”, “intelligence” etc. the conversations on such topics are completely meaningless.

    Posted by: vitalypimenov   March 10, 2009
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  5. 2030 is too soon… I think more like 2500. Keep in mind the internet is an amalgamation of software. Software is a series of instructions designed to operate with a specific purpose in mind. If instead of the web, every networked device was designed to cooperate as part of a sophisticated neural network, that consciousness would likely form a lot sooner. However, that is not their design nor purpose.

    In short, if the global network is to achieve a unified consciousness (independent of its billions of users) it will have to either evolve or be designed to work as such. Either way, the path of evolution supercedes design in this case, so if the networks’ incremental gains towards consciousness result in its survival and expansion, then those gains may proliferate.

    There are so many layers to the software running the internet it is important to keep those in perspective. There is no directed process; technologies survive based on their perceived utility or worth to mankind. There are many, many layers, protocols, and intermediate technologies in a variety of languages. A long evolutionary process will have to take place in order for intelligence to emerge, and part of this will require direct efforts to write far more automated behavior. Otherwise, the net result will be a highly customized and well sculpted service, one that caters to the desires of human experience without any true understanding of itself.

    Posted by: michael2343   January 01, 2010
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