Steve J. Moore

Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

The Ghost in the Machine: Part 3

In Nature, Science Fiction, The Web on February 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

by Ryan Burrell

This post is part of an ongoing collaborative conversation.  You can view Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Part 3

This discussion has so far covered some mathematic theory, and a histoy of life before the web.  Now, let’s examine the future in pursuit of our original line of inquiry: Does the Internet reflect Humanity or vice versa?

We’ve given our conversation the title of “The Ghost in the Machine“, because the subject matter deals with the duality of human experience – the mind reflecting the body, or the body reflecting the mind.   A series of anime movies based on the questions involved in the original thesis, entitled The Ghost in the Shell, were produced in 1995 and 2004. The series focuses on the question of delineation between man and machine (the films are quite excellent on a number of levels and I highly recommend renting them and experiencing their intellectual pathways firsthand).  In the movies, consciousness has expanded to encompass all information, begging the question: How do you define the difference between software and biology – thought and algorithm?

Such questions are highly appropriate for our lines of reasoning.  In The Ghost in the Shell, it was extremely common for people to have cyborg implants, called e-brains, as well as external memory devices where they could offload their thoughts, memories, and other information..  A physical body was no longer a necessary requirement for “life”, and one’s stored thoughts, ideas, and memories could be shuffled around from location to location, easily merging with other data types and being shared across networks…for good or evil.

An Extension of Humanity

In an extremely short time relative to the whole of human history, the Internet has impacted us all in ways we don’t even realize.  A completely new method of communication and interaction has been opened to us, and we’re just beginning to understand its potential.  Like the e-brains, wetware upgrades, and external storage units of The Ghost in the Shell, we have used the Internet to extend ourselves beyond our normal capacity, both literally and figuratively.

In a very real sense, the Internet has allowed us to extend our capacity to store our thoughts, memories, and even feelings.  Services like Evernote or Remember The Milk replace the string around the finger of past days, but bring also the capability of being accessed anytime from nearly any location.  Xanga, Blogger, WordPress, and any of the other myriad web logging services allow us to store snippets of time and ideas in a centralized location – yet still accessible freely by all.  Even applications like Twitter, that thrive on an endless stream of output about things as trivial as our moods, store all of their data as external records of our feelings at any given point in time.

We no longer have to rely on our long-term memory capabilities, but instead store them externally – outside of our physical selves.  These items of data, units of thought, and cubits of thinking have gained a permanence beyond what previous media (such as books and recordings) can offer. A book must be reprinted on physical materials, but a database can be duplicated a multitude of times and its information dispersed in the blink of an eye.  This metadata serves to make up a vast amount of what we’ve lovingly termed The Web, and obviously points to the Internet being a product of humanity’s contributions.

An Advancement of Humanity

But what about the idea of reciprocal change?  We have created a complex network of thoughts and ideas – a network rapidly becoming accessible to more and more of the world’s populace.  The data we contribute to it isn’t locked away, to be perused only when the fancy strikes us.  No, instead the vast majority of information stored on the open Web can be accessed by anyone…and that information can be a powerful force of change.  The Internet exists as an extension of our humanity, but it also serves as an agent of adaptation and movement.

Every conversation we have with another person, every book we read, every song we hear, every new idea we encounter, changes us in some way.  In daily life without the Web, a thousand new experiences may cross our path, both large and small.  Add in the ability of the Internet to spread information at an exponential rate, and its ability to change us is obvious.  We have created a perpetual motion device; we have created an engine that publishes our ideas and feeds new ones to us in one swift movement.

With the ease with which we can access such information, we change more rapidly.  New ideas can be traded more easily, and refinements made more quickly.  Trends can be communicated instantly, future predictions more readily available.  Our societal ideals and cultural influences, the very things that we feel make up each of our unique viewpoints…all of these can now feed off each other and adapt beyond any previously known speed or capability.

A Paradox

It is not the first time in human history that such a situation as what we are observing with the Internet has existed.  The construction of Roman roads led to an unprecedented spread of commerce and communication.  The printing press made efficient mass reproduction of thoughts a reality.  Television allowed not only a lightning-fast transference of ideas, but also the subtle visual cues that went along with them.

But at no other point in our history have we had the ability to communicate so openly, to save our ideas so easily, and to share information so quickly.  Ideas abound about the creation of a “global consciousness”, an interlinking of thoughts and ideas occurring at such a rate that a whole greater than the sum of its parts is created.  Perhaps this is a good thing, or perhaps it is not.  Yet, confusing though it may be, one thing is clear:  The Internet exists because we created it, but the Internet is creating the next great chapter of humanity.

The Ghost in the Machine: Dialogue on the Influence of the Internet

In Nature, Philosophy, The Web on February 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm

This post is from Nathaniel Carroll’s blog “NonDeScript” and is a collaborative conversation. If you have another blog and would like to join in let us know!

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” – Oscar Wilde

This week, an e-friend of mine, Steve J. Moore, proposed an interesting question: Does the Internet reflect Humanity or vice versa? To start the discussion, we will take a look at life before Internet. Then, we will examine the life after Internet and its impact on the individual.

Information is power
Nikola Tesla began tinkering with the wireless transmission of information in 1891. The first television broadcasts were transmitted in 1928 to mechanical tv sets with horrible picture quality. In the mid thirties to the beginning of the forties, mechanical sets were commercially available for home use, but production soon stopped as manufacturing efforts became focused on World War II. After the war, the technological boom began to pick up speed again. The first full-color set came in 1954 and cost $1,000.  Today, one thousand bucks buys you a 50″ flat screen tv like this.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1

There seems to be an inverse correlation between the availability of information and its value (see Figure 1.1).  In other words, the easier accessing information becomes, the less we are willing to pay for it.  To learn more about this correlation, read Thomas L. Friedman’s book, The World is Flat.  The expansive virtual bank of knowledge has made the world seem much smaller.  Thanks to Mobile 2.0, we expect information to be readily available to us at all times, to the extent that even email is considered an inferior form of communication.  I drew Figure 1.1, photographed it with my phone, sent it to my email address, and uploaded it to the blog in less than one minute.  We want information now, and we want it to be free.

The Shape of (Human) Things
I am twenty three years old.  My first vivid memory involves my father busily working on a thesis under the blue glow of a Tandy 1000 computer screen, my curious finger, and a large red reset button (I’ll post the whole story sometime).  The internet, in a relatively archaic form, already existed.  But even in my youth, when I wanted information for an Earth Science research paper on volcanoes I made photocopies of encyclopedia entries in the school library.  The card catalog was not computerized until I was in high school.  Back in my day, you had to be patient – you had to wait for information to come to you.  Back in my day, you had to be dilligent – you had to spend countless hours scouring tiny print and irrelevant factoids in search of answers.  Back in my day, you had to respect the information you sought.

Today, the quality of content published on the internet spreads from precise, powerful information to pure unsolicited crap.  Because the good stuff can be accessed through the same medium as the bad, it has to be free and effortless.

With regard to the value we assign information, I say that Internet reflects Humanity.  Internet – 1, Humanity – 0.