Who or what else might be reading this?

"What is your dangerous idea? An idea ... that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?"

Such is the question posed this year at the Edge World Question Centre. On January 1, 2006, 119 responses to this question, from some of the most complex and sophisticated minds in the world, were published online. The responses were a thought-provoking, often controversial, and occasionally chilling glimpse at the possibilities that the futures of society, religion, technology, philosophy, science, and humanity hold for us all.

Edge World Question Centre
Edge World Question Centre

Amongst suggestions that "evil" is an inherently necessary force, that schools are bad for kids, and that democracy is coming to an end we discovered an essay by Professor Terrence Sejnowski, a Computational Neuroscientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and coauthor of The Computational Brain. Professor Sejnowski's responded to the question with one of his own, a single inquiry which carried with it implications for the future social and technological development of communications. His question was simple - "When will the internet become aware of itself?"

Such a thought will immediately bring the tales of sci-fi horror from movies such as Terminator and The Matrix to most readers' heads. Computers taking over the world, driving humanity to desperate extremes. It is important to remember here, however, that the internet is not a computer, but rather a medium for communication. Professor Sejnowski makes comparisons between the human brain and the internet in terms of potential data storage and transfer capacities, revealing remarkably similar levels of memory and bandwidth. With such similarities in mind, is it that far fetched to imagine the development of a coherent consciousness online that parallels our own? Professor Sejnowski notes in his essay, "The growth of the Internet over the last several decades more closely resembles biological evolution than engineering." To think of the internet as a living thing is a huge paradigm shift, even by today's standards, but in our opinion, the breadth of wonder imaginable in such a scenario makes it a worthy fantasy.

And so, the GoodGearGuide wishes to welcome all of our readers to the new year, and we urge you, if only for a second, to step back from the day to day reality of technology as it is in the present, and allow your imaginations to show you the wonders that technology holds for us all in the coming years and decades. In closing, we leave you with the same statement that concludes Professor Sejnowski's essay,

"For all we know the Internet is already aware of itself."

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Benjamin Russell

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