A longstanding meme in popular culture is the idea that a sufficiently complicated system or society can “wake up” as a willful super-organism version of itself. The cheery version of this is an Aquarian global consciousness linking us all. The grim version is Terminator’s Skynet.
Here’s Tim O’Reilly giving a talk at the Long Now Foundation on Birth of the Global Mind. O’Reilly starts with some personal experiences from the 70s. As Long Now host Stewart Brand says in his introduction
Global consciousness was a recurrent idea in the 1970s—from Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere and Omega point (“the Singularity of its day”) to “New Age mumbo-jumbo” such as the Harmonic Convergence.
But O’Reilly is charitable in his treatment of these loopy ideas, focusing on what they got right and the lasting impact of their optimism. He eventually dwells on augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence as the real smarts in the global brain.
I’ve been a longtime fan of both Brand and O’Reilly, so to me the best part of the talk is when they chat during the question period at the end. They end up touching on two topics I care a lot about: society-as-flesh and the modern pantheon of Greek-like gods. It’s an entertaining and wide-ranging conversation.