The Edge Question 2010: how is the internet changing the way you think?

Paul Raven @ 19-01-2010

Just in case you’ve not encountered it before, the Edge Foundation runs an annual open-question session wherein they pick a current topic and pitch it to some of the more interesting and adventurous thinkers of the world.

This year’s question was, simply enough, “How is the internet changing the way you think?”, and the resulting answers – from characters as diverse as Brian Eno, Freeman Dyson and Howard Rheingold – range from concerned through to cautiously optimistic and back again.

This year sees one of my favourite science fiction authors among the respondants; those of you already acquainted with Rudy Rucker’s writing won’t be surprised to see that his vision of the near-future has more than a hint of the psychedelic communal utopia about it:

At this point, it looks like there aren’t going to be any incredibly concise aha-type AI programs for emulating how we think. The good news is that this doesn’t matter. Given enough data, a computer network can fake intelligence. And—radical notion—maybe that’s what our wetware brains are doing, too. Faking it with search and emergence. Searching a huge data base for patterns.

The seemingly insurmountable task of digitizing the world has been accomplished by ordinary people. This results from the happy miracle that the internet is that it’s unmoderated and cheap to use. Practically anyone can post information onto the web, whether as comments, photos, or full-blown web pages. We’re like worker ants in a global colony, dragging little chunks of data this way and that. We do it for free; it’s something we like to do.

Given the choice of fictional futures to inhabit, I’m inclined to think the ones born of Rucker’s mind would be the most fun… 🙂

If you’ve got some time to kill, I recommend browsing through all the Edge question answers; even if you disagree with all of them, I’ll be surprised if you don’t find some serious food for thought (not to mention ideas for stories).