So, we reached out to professor Francis Heylighen of the Vrije University of Brussels. And he is one of the primary founders of cybernetics. He has a PhD in mathematical physics. He is considered the godfather of the ‘global brain movement’ or the idea that the internet can, indeed, become sentient. There is talk amongst this crowd that due to advances in technology we can definitely begin to consider the internet becoming sentient and a global brain forming. And we can actually expect this a little sooner rather than later.
Now, what would this be? What effects would it have? Simply greater organization on the web that would, of course, trickle into society. He suggests that consciousness is actually a very simple process; it’s not complex at all. And it centers around selection. So consciousness simply is our brain’s act of choosing, which information to become aware of. He was quite encouraging and thought actually considering Google as a contender for being consciousness was a step in the right direction. So, Maf and I were very thrilled and a little relieved because we actually found that there is a little credibility to this idea.
Maf Lewis: He suggests that the internet can become sentient because the links of the semantic web could be turned into the equivalent of neural network connections in our brains, i.e. links with a variable strength that adapt their strength to experience.
Rome Viharo: Now, Maf and I, we believe that Google already counts for this. It already counts for what he is talking about right now. Especially by “stronger links” he means that links that get shared more or thumbed up or down. These behaviors are directly related to our user experience online. Google implements these things as well as sites, such as reddit, iReddit. Some redders out there, they would be laughing right now.
So, consider. We would be an intrinsic part of Google consciousness. Google is simply the thin silver lining between those who are seeking knowledge and those who are revealing knowledge. Google is simply the result of our collective user experience.
Maf Lewis: So, a few weeks later after our chat with Francis Heylighen, he was interviewed on a newsletter for H+ Magazine, which is a community of neuroscientists, futurists, artificial intelligence enthusiasts. During this interview he was asked about the emergence of the global brain and what could trigger it. We were indeed surprised when he said — when he said, “One example of how this may happen is how Google or other search engines select the most important websites or news items as pointed out to me by Rome Viharo.” This was an interesting development in our story because now the meme Google consciousness has now spread from discussion between myself and Rome to discussions on the internet to an invitation to speak at a TED Talk, and now has spread to niche group of intellectuals, thinkers, and scientists who actively explore and research and study such an emerging phenomenon. So, welcome to Google consciousness.
Rome Viharo: And here we are. So we delivered you the story of the meme Google Consciousness so far, and our conclusion: Google may be conscious. Maybe. But, so what? I mean, if our collective intelligence gets complex enough to produce its own sentience, or if the rich flora and fauna of the Amazon Basin could become a conscious neural network this is something that is really beyond our control. There’s nothing any of us could say, do, or inspire to make that happen or not. They either exist or they don’t.
So why is it relevant to bring this to Ted and talk to you? What would we like to inspire here? Well, our individual intelligence is certainly now becoming socialized, and, as we can see, almost everybody is giving a TED Talk about the powers of social media. Oh, New York Times, go away. Social media is now being hailed as being responsible for the, of course, the collapse of the Egyptian government and Revolution 2.0.
Maf Lewis: We must admit, it’s stimulating to consider that Google Consciousness already exists, and the sentient web is now attacking the very power structures that threaten its existence in the Middle East. After all, social media helped to collapse much of the old media empire that refused to adapt its elegant principles: Newspapers, film, television, magazines, music, a lot of the companies that we’ve worked for. None of these industries now in this way exist as they did 10 years ago. And many companies like that are now dead and gone.
Rome Viharo: So, I think what Revolution 2.0 kind of signaled is we can actually now begin to think of using social media, our collective intelligence, now, of course, we’re Revolution 2.0, which will tear down these structures, but for something called Democracy 2.0, which can transform and rebuild the way we govern ourselves in a more elegant manner. And I notice some of talks here talked about the frustrations of political discussion. Political discussion is essentially irrational discussion. And social media, we believe, will be evolving very quickly to a new form of social administration and discussion that is more likely to produce win-win optimal outcomes for any citizen who chooses to use it. Just like email replaced the letter, we will eventually see social media replace government as we know it today, and government as we know it today will be considered irrelevant.