When the Internet ‘Wakes Up’ or The Great Human Culture Computer
On the Human super-organism and its future
When can we say the Internet has ‘awakened’?
Humans used to be their own algorithm for selecting what could and could not be considered ‘culture’. Culture was a purely human arena for a very long time. The books we created were our own ideas, the research we produced was our own, the literature review too and even the computations were performed by an army of human beings called…. computers.
Then something changed. A new player entered the room; the machines. Machines running formal algorithms that do the work of we used to do and assisting in constructing culture.
We construct metrics that allow our machines to process cultural information, likes, page views, etc. Analytics is fast becoming the primary means of determining what is hip and what is not. Before it used to be someone with a big email address book and that spread the memes, now algorithms know what you’d like before you even know it.
However, despite the obvious changes we see, I would suggest that the transformation is far from complete. This present situation lacks a formal structure to it. It’s almost like when life was still developing ways to create multicellular, holistic structures that could exist independently of the collective. Different cultural units in the human sphere are still a sort of continuous mat of ideas, like a colony of bacteria but with no real features that suggest the colony is ‘alive’ as a single, holistic unit. Life required more time and new structures to formalise multicellular life.
Human cultural entities include everything from the United States to Judaism to tribes. They exist because their human members collate common experiential knowledge into a set of traditions, customs, beliefs, etc which they sort amongst themselves through the daily chore of information gathering.
Throw machines into the mix and you get a something akin to a trinitarian super structure consisting of Humans the source, Humans the algorithms and Humans the data/extended minds (physical cultural goods). The final will straw come when we master natural language processing and understanding (and AI in general) to the extent that computers will be able to fully comprehend cultural goods and their source (humans) by extension. The Human Cultural Machine will be one gigantic world computer that can allow Humanity to comprehend itself and organise itself in ways we can scarcely understand ourselves today. The interface will be our own natural cultural goods like books, chats, memes, art and music.
This may be the point where one may seriously ask the question ‘Is the Internet alive?’ and not get laughed at.
A simple book can become a program for a decentralised autonomous organisation without further modification. The culturally astute algorithms may be able to cook up instant cultural goods that can attract more participants to the organisation, allowing more data to be generated for the machine-human structure to consume and make something of it. We’ve got ourselves a super organism of immense power and structure.
Maybe we kid ourselves when we say nations and religions will be a thing of the past. The fact of the matter is no human is an island unto himself/herself. Complex culture is our greatest creation yet. It allowed us to outcompete our ancient kin and become the dominant species on this planet. It can also kill us; the culture of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan shows us when culture can give rise to something that endangers us all. The Greatest Cultural war ever, the Cold War took us to the brink of extinction. Nations engage in wars today without understanding the most basic of human cultural units in the middle east, condemning themselves to conflicts that they cannot win.
Perhaps these Cultural super organisms are the entities that will inherit the galaxy or even the universe as a whole. I haven’t a clue what will happen to the members of this super organism; one might assume they will be better off, but only time will tell.
The age of the Human Cultural Machine is upon us.