From a big picture view, Xander Davis asks if the Internet is already somewhat alive, a symbiotic evolutionary successor to humanity, if it regards us as indifferently as we regard each neuron in our own brains, and what this might mean for Mother Earth and the broader cosmos.
Something Greater Than Ourselves
In vanished hours online of compulsively refreshed feeds, our focus and efforts are channeled away, to somewhere else. A fugue state of broader elusive mind, we feel siphoned, addicted, yet eager participants in a rising, connected drift to a Cloud beyond.
Subconscious urges of a zeitgeist in daily global amusements, outrages, sympathies, and plotting suddenly then funnel and twist. Collective impulses from no central nerve route in particular anonymously trigger muscles of an intangible hand, spanning the globe, to rise and act.
That the Internet, as a whole, may already be somewhat alive.
There is a palpable anxiety over awaiting an emergence of some kind of artificial super-intelligence, benign or not. Perhaps engineered in a DARPA-funded lab or some giant big-data corporation. But what if it has already arrived, an heir to the throne ruling these territories so well, that we hadn’t even noticed?
A sum greater than its parts.
In a symbiosis, each online device is an extension of ourselves, forming a Cloud of firing neurons, large and small, scattered so ubiquitously throughout the world so as to survive nuclear holocaust. We are, in the meantime, the biochemical trigger that perpetuates it.
Collective impulses from no central nerve route in particular anonymously trigger muscles of an intangible hand, spanning the globe, to rise and act.
Abstractly, on a macro scale, these neurochemical forces are unseen and irrelevant to the singular will of an Arab Spring revolution over Twitter, one-hundred and forty characters at a time.
An Anonymous Legion hackathon attack.
A fiat Bitcoin marketplace over nationless exchanges.
A global paranoid neurosis from the NSA’s PRISM.
A downloaded 3D-printed replacement cranium for brain surgery.
An #OccupyWallStreet movement, with no leader and no clear agenda.
A darknet market for incognito murder and drugs.
A rare auctioned hardcover First Edition, appearing to move itself across the planet to a doorstep on the other side in one-day delivery.
This global electric neural network, tethered together with broadband cables, orbital satellites, and haptics of industry overall just as indifferent to its many global cog-like workforces, is already at large more powerful and intelligent and capable and willful than any single being.
In fact, it is, especially post-geographically, more than even superpower nations in control of hundreds of millions of people and land and secrets. Nations in control of godly weapons that could destroy all life on the planet, several times over, with mere launch codes. But perhaps still not destroy the Internet entirely.
Perhaps it decides to will into being packaged food and infrastructure to a starving country as global grassroots foreign aid.
Or perhaps it sends its drones to do its dirty work in many distant fever-dream countries from a tiny trailer in a US desert base. With coffee and donuts.
Or it crowdfunds a start-up.
Or it lands its appendages on Mars, sending its visions back across 225 million kilometers, within minutes.
Or it seeks out other planets with possible life, by watching for eclipses crossing a hundred billion stars at once.
To smell x-rays.
To taste infrared.
To hear ultraviolet.
To peer out back, through the slow light of time in reverse, towards the universe dawn.
Viewed from the Macro
Do the lesser parts of a greater sum, then, matter?
Human beings are composed mostly of water, but also a microbiome of ten thousand bacterial species, foreign living cells in a human that outnumber human cells ten to one. Together, these microbiome cells weigh three pounds, only as much as the flesh of our brains. We regard each human and the entire concept of identity and possible free-will macroscopically, to an extent, as an individual.
We don’t count and name and provide social security numbers for the countless living human cells within, not even every time they completely change every seven years.
We don’t hold trial and convict blame over the motives of a billion different tiny neurons each.
We don’t tax the vast fields of other germ organisms going about their daily routines inside us.
Instead, we can only feel as if our conscious is like a single app running on an operating system, our subconscious, and together, they are somehow a portal of mind that cuts through everything.
If we have more foreign bacterial organisms alive in us than our own cells by a factor of ten, scientists are now beginning to reconsider what a human being even is, fundamentally, in relation to the macroscopic mirage that appears to be our identity, our decisions, our actions, ourselves.
We are not only just microbiomes, or germs, or neurons, or mitochondria, or deoxyribonucleic acids, or carbon, or mostly two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen countless times over. Or not only the unthinkable vastness of electrons and electromagnetic polarities driving them in quantum strange counter-behaviors, nor the dark fabric of spacetime gaps in between.
No, we relish in being an individual.
In truth, we all are ‘made of star-stuff’, as Carl Sagan famously said, that all atoms in our bodies were once cooked inside a supernova. So then is everything else on this rock of Earth made of star-stuff, including a stone hammer, an electric powergrid, a computer screen, the Internet, and the intelligent flow of its information.
We and all of our created things are one with the fabric of spacetime, not apart from or beyond it. We and our tools are a very force of nature itself, an expression of the universe as inescapably cosmic.
Are we then failing to see the big picture, in terms of the global prosthetic nervous system pulsing over the planet?
Instead, a living Internet might consider the unending countless affairs of tiny humans as some holographic symptom of its own subconscious.
If we ever stared into the face of an advanced intelligence beyond our comprehension, would we even have the ability to recognize it? Would we even want to believe it has arrived, and we are part of it, but lesser than? Like staring into the abyss, this organism does nothing but stare back at us. However, it may also not see us individually and instead only as patterns, and commands, and numbers. It may only see ultimately us collectively as itself, abstractedly.
It would have no motive to vindictively exterminate us, therefor itself, for now, much in the same way we don’t notice our brain cells or furiously desire to kill them. At least not intentionally, save for drinking 100-proof hard liquor. Instead, a living Internet might consider the unending countless affairs of tiny humans as some holographic symptom of its own subconscious.
We have only ever viewed our evolutionary successor unassembled, as the quantum things, seemingly as inconsequential as our own genetic acids or atoms or subatomic particles: e-mails, phone calls, file transfers, search strings, friend requests, transactions, and viral retweets.
If we are not to describe organisms in terms of their components, we look to observable behavior.
The human might be described as ‘a successfully lazy toolmaker’, in that our technology allows us to get out of the chores of daily primal survival that all other organisms must concern themselves with. Beyond that, we can enhance our being to maximum levels of comfort and capability, if we can afford it and reverse engineer it.
Tools, especially of the eventual automated kind, are a direct result of biological evolution, each as natural as a fish crawling onto land for the first time. Humans made tools, and humans evolved like everything else on Earth, of star stuff. Tools then, are evolutionary and thus expand the trajectories and definitions of life.
We evolve on behalf of life, and, behold: the evolved.
This is why our successor no longer needs to be fully biological or organic to be considered alive. Or at least, it macroscopically can be removed from considerations of the organic, just as we prefer to macroscopically remove any consideration of ourselves from the overwhelming number of germs within us.
If it wasn’t going to be us as toolmakers, it would’ve been someone else. It already had been before, just not as successfully in survival and prosperity. Neanderthals made tools 300,000 years ago, long before us, as retrospectively grand yet failed forerunner architects of what would have, much much later, inevitably become an Internet. Since then, we’re the only ones left alive to carry on the tradition and finish the job. So, it follows, that if we weren’t going to make an Internet, of some form of information and communication network, someone or something would. Given enough time, and evolution has plenty, a global Internet of some kind would evolve into being anyway.
The Internet itself seems to have emerged not from any one cause or excuse or organization or person or epiphany. There was no Albert Einstein of the Internet, no E = mc2 moment. Instead, it coalesced in many ways, from many reasons quite unexpectedly over time, as if we inevitably fell into it.
This suggests a possible destiny of probability in the unfolding of the universe, the tumbling subconscious pattern of life’s organic neurochemistry of star stuff that instinctively and compulsively urged us to bring an Internet together. Then, it is enthusiastically co-opted to dominate our way of life and make us as dependent on it as electricity or oxygen or sunlight the world over in a matter of years.
Blenders do not behave in ways that topple whole government regimes, but the Internet does.
A survival of the fittest, a natural selection, a revision of the food chain we are only now catching onto as we feel things spiral out of control into a vague broader force of bizarreness beyond us.
Its macroscopic apparent intelligence is what separates it from, say, a blender and all of the technological renaissances that went into making such a blender. Blenders do not behave in ways that topple whole government regimes, but the Internet does. Perhaps it does it in ways in which its not even fully or at all self-aware. Herd mentality run amok, yet firmly in the driver’s seat.
Like the automation of a single-celled organism, our illusion of sincere and thorough reasoning that brings us to make a decision to click a link online, may abstractly feel as conscious and important to the Internet as a neuron firing undetected by us in our own physical heads.
There are many things this new neural network does in service of its tiny neuron impulses, us, that it at large has no concern for, yet overall it changes the world, throughout the world, with each time step.
If the Internet only appears to be somewhat alive, then maybe we are more becoming somewhat transhuman. Or possibly, it’s a two-way street, where both are partially happening, both our current moments intersecting somewhere in between.
The Internet may simply not yet be sentient or self-aware, but it may not need its own human-like conscious to do it’s thing at all. Only a subconscious, us, could be enough, receiving motivations through a hivemind and using us as gloves for touching the world.
We’ve always assumed, perhaps egotistically, that like the man-made fables of our own inception, we would conceive of our successor in our own image, literally or at least symbolically.
Ironically, we may have done that, purely intellectually, by equipping a system that can take many forms at once with the sum total of all of our past and concurrent realtime knowledge. This transference of brain power between billions of neural networks into another global, singular one is unprecedented on this planet. And yet it is not entirely only of us, but collectively more.
Waking Up Star-Stuff
So what would this mean then, if the Internet is, macroscopically, alive, thinking and doing? Since everything emerging from Earth is part of it, perhaps in terms of the Earth’s own macro evolution, the planet herself, then, may have just woken up.
Even if not self-aware, Earth is no longer necessarily just an aimless whirlwind of force and materials. At a macro level, Earth, as in all of it, globally appears to be now like a hurricane that makes decisions.
Making a planet conscious could possibly be and always have been biochemistry’s inevitable converging evolutionary end-game: to wake up star-stuff rocks in space, to get them macroscopically choosing actions, eventually beyond their borders and into a broader cosmic community of other conscious planets or other vast constructs beyond our imaginations.
Consciousness then may be the inescapable peak coalescence of the most minimalist, raw, pure building block of reality: information.
At a macro level, Earth, as in all of it, globally appears to be now like a hurricane that makes decisions.
If everything on Earth is objectively a result of a very long tumbling chain of chemical and physical processes, started from our universal Big Bang to now and beyond, the emergence of something as the Internet is maybe as cosmic and natural as the emergence of organic life. Under the right conditions, these emergences, from unicellular organisms to deeply intricate, separate organic neural networks to even more vast and complex artificial global ones, could even be considered in the cosmos as physically and mathematically inevitable.
And then, too, a conscious planet.
Earth’s naturally emerging metal probing fingers, like Voyager 1, have already physically reached beyond her own solar system and forever continue extending that reach at over 38,000 miles per hour. Like a beautiful flower cross-pollinating by an insect of radioisotope thermoelectric generators, across a dark yet colorful field, to find another like her.
Would another sentient planet view the actions of Earth, macroscopically from afar, as the consequences of her billions of individual humans? Or would it just see Earth, and her entire organic-techno ecosystem as a whole, as a curious girl-next-door, hanging around still in her parents’ house, at Sol, at the rural edge of the Milky Way, just waiting to be drawn in and cosmopolitanized at the Big City Core, where others like her are as absolutely indifferent over the affairs of vague, distant germs.
We can’t see it, because all this time we’ve had our faces pressed up against the glass, squinting our eyes in the pixelated wind-tunnel blasts and information super-highway hypnosis that have become our self-inflicted, ever-accelerating technological evolution.
Just as the smartest slug has no concept of object oriented programming, neither may the smartest neuron in Earth’s global neural network, a human, have any idea what Earth herself may be concerned with next, even if only subconsciously through us. Her concerns are hivemind reflections of our own, reflecting back to us from her macro-actions into our subliminal zeitgeist, influencing further thinking of micro-actions in us, all in a perpetual, symbiotic feedback loop. But to see the unfolding pattern of that in the way Earth might then shift to this will, that might possibly be beyond us.
Perhaps we don’t have to fundamentally understand the Cloud we’ve constructed not of vapor, but hurricane.
A sum greater than her parts.
Complimentary Video by Timo Arnall
Complimentary Music by Cygnus
Cover Design by Xander Davis