Internet to become ‘global brain’, says billionaire

When Yuri Milner invested $200m dollars in Facebook people said he was crazy. Since then he has got it right again and again. Now he has made his boldest prediction of all.

In the next ten years the world will develop a 'global brain' consisting of all of humanity connected to each other and interacting, creating an intelligence that does not belong to any single human or computer but which is spread out all over our planet and living its own life.

This prediction has just been made not by a science fiction writer or even by a mad research scientist but by a hard-headed Russian businessman called Yuri Milner.

People listen to Milner because he has been right before – he made his fortune investing in digital media projects, notably Facebook, of which he controls 10%. Now he has been advising the leaders of the G8. While most of the politicians are depressed, Milner is optimistic. Why? The technology revolution – which he believes is only just getting started.

He bases his optimism on what he claims are seven key facts.

1. The internet revolution is the fastest economic change that humans have ever experienced and it is accelerating. Two billion people are online today and in ten years it will be more than four billion.

2. The internet is about connecting machines. Five billion machines are connected today. In ten years there will be more than 20 billion.

3. More information is being created than ever before. Last year we created as much information every 48 hours as was created between the dawn of time and 2003. (In ten years it will be every hour).

4. People are sharing more often. During 2006 we sent 50 billion emails. Last year: 300 billion.

In the three years between 2009 and 2011 the amount of information being shared on Facebook increased by 28 times. (Not because more people were joining Facebook).

5. The largest newspaper in the USA is only reaching one per cent of the population while the Internet is used by 25% of the population every day.

6. Major Internet businesses produce revenues of $1 million per employee compared to traditional businesses, which only produce 10% to 20% as much.

7. Artificial intelligence is a growing part of our daily lives. We all know examples like Amazon's recommendation of books based on ones we have read and Google's constantly improving search algorithm s.

What next?

Milner predicts that in the future every human will be plugged into a global network of machines and artificial intelligence. We will be just as individual as ever but we will also be part of a greater whole. Twenty per cent of the world's energy will be devoted to running this 'global brain' – which happens to be the same percentage of human energy that runs the human brain.

Sceptics argue his prediction goes too far. The explosion of the web will hit a wall, just like other trends. People are already getting fed up with being 'linked' all the time and value direct human interaction more than digital communication.

You Decide

  1. Does the vision of the future painted here seem attractive? Do you look forward to being linked up to the 'global brain'?
  2. Yuri Milner makes his money from investing in internet projects: should we listen to someone with a vested interest in seeing the web develop in the way he predicts? Is it right to value expertise, even if the person isn't neutral?

Activities

  1. Write about how you imagine a day in the life of a hugely successful international investor (the links will help), or script a short dramatic monologue about a global businessperson and their view of the world.
  2. Milner was inspired by Andrei Sakharov, the Russian physicist and human rights campaigner: Sakharov was always trying to predict scientific progress five or ten years down the line. What other major trends do you foresee in how science and technology will change our lives?

Some People Say...

“The more you share your life with others, the happier you are.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is the 'global brain' really a new idea?
No. Amazingly it was almost exactly described in 1922 by the French geologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He invented the idea of the noosphere (which means 'mind-sphere' from the Greek).
What did he mean by that?
For him it was the ultimate stage of evolution in which human consciousness would eventually weave a single 'envelope' that would surround the earth, culminating in the 'Omega Point', which he saw as the goal of history.
Uncanny.
Yes. Before the internet was even thought of, he pretty much described exactly what Yuri Milner is talking about today.

Word Watch

G8
The club of pre-eminent industrialised nations, which together account for around half of world GDP. France founded it in 1975, with Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US as members. Canada joined later and Russia made it up to eight in 1997.

Artificial intelligence
The branch of computer science which enables technology to interact with humans and perform tasks and make connections that we used to believe were human.
Search algorithm
The maths behind the way that you can find what you are looking for on an internet search engine. Google makes changes to its algorithm around once every 17 hours.

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