Will the Internet Evolve Consciousness

One of the most frequent questions I see in the communities I use online is whether or not the internet is likely to become a ’supermind’ type entity. It’s an interesting question, because the answer depends largely on how much we as a race are willing to modify ourselves.

The simple answer is always going to be ‘not likely’. Yes, the Internet holds a large amount of information (knowledge) and is constantly building new connections between items (learning), but there’s a key element missing, and that’s consciousness. That makes it the equivalent of a brain without a mind. As far as any of us can tell, our machines have not yet decided they exist and started reasoning for themselves.

However, the web at the moment is evolving away from being a large knowledge repository and towards a collaboration & networking tool. That’s called “Web 2.0″. This evolution is being orchestrated by us – people. No longer limited to just programmers, customisation is the province of every user in the new wave of social media. If you look at it from a bigger perspective, it’s shifting away from being a tool for users, towards increasing involvement. We’re getting ‘plugged in’.

Very, very broadly, if you looked at humanity as a whole in conjunction with the internet, you could argue that it is a form of collective intelligence, or ‘hive mind’. Except it’s reliant on us to provide the ‘mind’ part. So is it the internet, or us, that’s evolving?

The next step, of course, if it/we were to go down the path of becoming this supermind entity, a la the Borg in Star Trek, is a frighteningly short one. Improving the interface. We’ve already unplugged ourselves and given ourselves a connection that can move around with us (WiFi, Bluetooth, Laptops, Phones, even wearable devices are all part of it), so considering the fact that so many sci-fi books have predicted it, how far away are we from direct connection implants?

If that happens, then where does the boundary between the Internet and Humanity go to? Do we, collectively, become parts of a greater whole? In merging ourselves into this larger pool of awareness, do we lose anything of ourselves or do we purely gain?

I believe the answer will be driven by how we, as individuals, feel about the possibilities involved. If we are driven by fear, then we will pull knowledge down, but not provide anything of ourselves back. The Internet remains distinct from us, and devoid of consciousness. Imagine an online community full of ‘lurkers’ who watch but don’t participate – it’s not very lively. On the other hand, if this and future generations decide they are willing to be part of larger communities, pool and participate what they each have to offer as individuals, then these communities can and will develop as forms of group consciousness. It won’t be the machines becoming self aware, but us using technology to create something bigger than our individual awarenesses, through plugging ourselves into a collective. Isn’t that a form of ‘hive mind’?

So why are so many people scared of it?