Sunday, May 13, 2007

the global brain

from Pp. 191-192 Nonzero by Robert Wright (of Bloggingheads.TV)

The locomotive, along with other rapid data carriers, accented the truth highlighted by the printing press: the more easily data can move, the larger and denser a social brain can be. The vast, fast collaboration allowed by information technologies slowly turned the multinational technical community into an almost unified consciousness. Increasingly, good ideas were "in the air" across the industrialized world.

Witness how often the same basic technological breakthrough was made independently by different people in different places at roughly the same time. And witness-as testament to the impetus behind easing communication-how often these independent breakthroughs were in information technology itself: the telegraph (Charles Wheatstone and Samuel FB Morse, 1837); color photography (Charles Cros and Louise Ducos Hauron, 1868); the phonograph (Charles Cros-again!-and Thomas Edison, 1877); the telephone (Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, 1876)-and so on, all the way up to the microchip (Jack Kilby at Robert Noyce, 1958 to 1959).

These independent epiphanies speak of the overwhelming likelihood of various breakthroughs in modern information technology. And each such breakthrough-by further easing the transmission of data, whether by sound, print, or image-only raised the chances of further breakthroughs. Via endless positive feedback, the technological infrastructure for a global brain was, in a sense, building itself.

And this infrastructure, of course, did double duty. It sponsored not just long-range investing, but the workaday business of animating the economy; it carried the signals that allocated goods and services. As the process got faster-as, for example, locomotives, governed by telegraph signals, carried nicely illustrated Sears catalogs to small American towns and then carried order forms back to the big city-everyday economics came to resemble a kind of superorganic metabolism. In the superorganism increasingly assumed planetary scope.

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