This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
Birth of the Global Mind
Wednesday September 5, 02012 – San Francisco
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The global mind is us, augmented – a summary by Stewart Brand
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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