Filmed on Wednesday September 5, 02012

Tim O'Reilly

Birth of the Global Mind

Tim O’Reilly is founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media (technical books, conferences, foo camps, Make magazine, Maker Faires).

“The history of civilization is a story of evolution in our ability to build complex ‘multicellular minds,‘" says Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media (books, conferences, foo camps, Maker Faires, Make magazine.)

Speech allowed us to communicate and coordinate. Writing allowed that coordination to span time and space. Twentieth century mass communications allowed shared information and culture to blanket the world. In the 21st century, memes spread mind to mind in nearly real time.

But that's not all. In one breakthrough computer application after another, we see a new kind of man-machine symbiosis. The Google autonomous vehicle turns out not to be just a triumph of artificial intelligence algorithms. The car is guided by the cloud memory of roads driven before by human Google Streetview drivers augmented by powerful and precise new sensors. In the same way, crowd-sourced data from sensor-enabled humans is leading to smarter cities, breakthroughs in healthcare, and new economies.

The future belongs not to artificial intelligence, but to collective intelligence.

The global mind is us, augmented

As a student of the classics at Harvard in the 1970s, O’Reilly was impressed by a book titled The Discovery of the Mind: In Greek Philosophy and Literature, by Bruno Snell. In the four centuries between Homer and classical Athens, wrote Snell, the Greeks invented the modern human mind, with its sense of free will and agency. (In Homer, for example, no one makes a decision.) O’Reilly sees a parallel with the emerging of a global mind in this century.

Global consciousness was a recurrent idea in the 1970s---from Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere and Omega point (“the Singularity of its day”) to “New Age mumbo-jumbo” such as the Harmonic Convergence. O’Reilly noted that the term “singularity” for technology acceleration was first used in 1958 by John von Neumann. In 1960 J.C.R. Licklider wrote an influential paper titled “Human-computer Symbiosis.” O’Reilly predicted that “exploring the possibility space of human-computer symbiosis is one of the fascinating frontiers of the next decades and possibly century.”

Echoing Dale Dougherty, he says the Web has become the leading platform for harnessing collective intelligence. Wikipedia is a virtual city. Connected smart phones have become our “outboard brain.” Through device automation, Apple has imbued retail clerks with superpowers in its stores. Watson, the AI that beat human champions at “Jeopardy,” is now being deployed to advise doctors in real time, having read ALL the scientific papers. YouTube has mastered the attention economy. Humanity has a shared memory in the cloud. Data scientists rule.

The global mind is not an artificial intelligence. It’s us, connected and augmented.

What keeps driving it is the generosity and joy we take in creating and sharing. The global mind is built on the gift culture of every medium of connectedness since the invention of language. You gain status by what you give away, by the value you create, not the value you take.

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