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Sentient Mechanics: The Web Like You’ve Never Known

The web is changing more and more with every passing day. Not only are the applications and abilities afforded people by the internet becoming more and more readily available, but those both in the governmental and private sector eager to capitalize on e-commerce are constantly brainstorming and developing new ways to cash in on what the web has to offer.

But will this continue to make the web a profitable e-industry, or will it eventually stifle the progress made in recent years by electronic data systems?

It is unlikely that anything could stifle the rate at which information is made available on the web at this point. Even if a system of taxes or revenues were levied in order to profit from news sources making their content available online, or even to prevent intercontinental transactions occurring without some form of taxation, the allure of internet-based businesses still outshines the traditional elements of a physical business with a street address, with many of the latter expanding their operations to national (and even global) potentials by integrating the two. But what if the web were growing in other ways–and so quickly that its progress had potential to sneak up on us?

Truth be known, there are some experts who already feel like the internet, a summation of virtually all mankind’s knowledge outsourced from our brains and into computers, is functioning more and more like an enormous, interdependent (yet strikingly autonomous) human mind itself. The collective intelligence of our species, funneled into online networks, contains a frightening amount of personal information about virtually every living person, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping with social networking sites like Facebook. If anything, as more and more information become available to the growing body of technology already accessible to the web, the science fictionist deep within may begin to question at what point the net begins to function as an independent entity?

Sure, it extends into the realm of science fiction at this point (as posts written by yours truly most often tend to do), but speculation regarding such things may not be premature, nor anything to play down too quickly. After all, the idea of a gigantic “Earth brain” isn’t anything new. In fact, it dates back to the 1980s, and even has an entry on Wikipedia devoted to it with the following revelatory statement about collective consciousness and Earth brains:

“As the Internet becomes faster, more intelligent, more ubiquitous and more encompassing, it increasingly ties us together in a single information processing system, that functions like a “brain” for the planet Earth.”

Author Peter Russell is credited with actually coining the term in his book The Global Brain. By the late 80s and early 90s, speculation among writers in the science and IT communities had begun to also speculate on the emergence of a global “in-tech-ligence” of sorts. But how soon until the internet becomes self aware and begins launching hoards of cybernetic robots out to hunt and destroy mankind? This may not be a concern any time soon, but the development of consciousness–and whether the Internet has begun to exhibit signs of it–is already a matter of scientific debate also. According to a statement in 2009 by Ben Goertzel, chair of the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute, “The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind,” adding that it “might already have a degree of consciousness.”

How might out-sourcing the web’s “intelligence” begin to lead to manifestations of consciousness on a broader level similar to the human mind and its thought processes? Furthermore, could the web indeed ever become self-aware, and if so, would this present a great benefit to mankind in the pursuit of knowledge and technological advancements, or would it be a proverbial death-nail, as proposed by so many futuristic thrillers and science fiction films?


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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