January 25, 2006

The Web: a new mind for an old species

Back in August of 2005, Kevin Kelly wrote a highly detailed and fascinating account of the World Wide Web for Wired. Titled We Are the Web, Kelly reviews the history of the Web -- including its early conceivers (Vannevar Bush wanted hyperlinked pages in 1945!) and its naysayers. He also describes its present manifestation and predicts its potential form in 2015.

Kelly's main thrust in the article is that we shouldn't under-estimate where the Web will be in 10 years. Massive parallel processing, he argues, is made possible by the Web. Consequently, in 10 years, the entire Web "system" will contain "hundreds of millions of miles of fiber-optic neurons linking the billions of ant-smart chips embedded into manufactured products, buried in environmental sensors, staring out from satellite cameras, guiding cars, and saturating our world with enough complexity to begin to learn. We will live inside this thing." It's conceivable that the first real attempts at creating AI will happen in this environment rather than massive supercomputers.

By 2015, he says, it will anticipate disturbances and avoid them, while having "a robust immune system, weeding spam from its trunk lines, eliminating viruses and denial-of-service attacks the moment they are launched, and dissuading malefactors from injuring it again."

He calls it the "Anticipation Machine."

Ultimately, as the Web becomes more brain-like, it will be a near-literal extension of our own minds. "What will most surprise us is how dependent we will be on what the Machine knows - about us and about what we want to know," writes Kelly. "We already find it easier to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves. The more we teach this megacomputer, the more it will assume responsibility for our knowing. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity. In 2015 many people, when divorced from the Machine, won't feel like themselves - as if they'd had a lobotomy."

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