Pathway to the Global Brain (part 4/5): Entering the Global Brain


Inside our brain.

Previously in the Pathway to the Global Brain blog series:

(Part 1/5): Introduction to Cybernetics

(Part 2/5): Waking Up

(Part 3/5): Agriculture and Industry

Global Brain

So we have travelled through 2 million years of human evolution and here is where we stand. It sure did take a long time to get out of the trees.

I have tried to show that challenge propagation as a theory can explain quite well how our system behaves, and why our systems structure is essentially identical to an actual brain.

Today, we live in a world that has just gone through (or actually is going through) a communication revolution with the development of the Internet. Francis Heylighen, the director of the Global Brain Institute summarized the importance of this communication revolution in 2012:

There is little doubt that the most important technological, economic and social development of the past two decades is the emergence of a global, computer-based communication network. […] A general trend is that the information network becomes increasingly more global, more encompassing, more tightly linked to the individuals and groups that use it and more intelligent in the way it supports them. The web does not just passively provide information; it now also actively alerts people to information that is likely to interest them, gives them personal recommendations, and incites them to collaborate with like-minded others. To support this, the web increasingly builds on the knowledge and intelligence of all its users collectively, thanks to “Web 2.0” technologies such as wikis, social networks, tagging, collaborative filtering, and online markets. The Internet appears to be turning into a central nervous system for humanity.

Coming from my evolutionary anthropological perspective, this is clearly a communication revolution like none other in human history. And what has happened, almost like clock work, in a feedback loop with every communication revolution? A metasystem transition from the exploitation of a new and more abundant energy resource, followed by a transportation revolution while the metasystem transition matures..

Let’s continue on our evolutionary path. But this time we won’t be applying theory to our species evolutionary past. We will be attempting to understand our likely evolutionary future.

Because metasystem transitions follow a very simple pattern (new communication/new energy source feedback loop -> new transportation) we can predict a few things about our systems future. Most notably the problems and opportunities individuals and institutions solve and experience will be transformed almost completely. This will happen because, like in the other transitions, our challenge propagation centers become more decentralized, and hence, inherently more intelligent than the previous system. Furthermore, the timing between each metasystem transition seems to get exponentially shorter, as does the diffusion time of the transition itself.

So when should we expect some major changes? And what will this mean for your life?

As I move into the Global Brain itself I am going to draw on the work of prominent computer scientists and economists to estimate when the major transition will occur. From their estimates, which I largely agree with, the next transition will happen in just a few decades (~2041-2047 C.E.). In fact, the calculations from computer science and economics suggest roughly the same date, which I found astounding. That means if you are currently in your 20s, the next transition will occur when you are in your 50s. So mark your calendars. The largest metasystem transition in human history is probably going to happen in your lifetime.

First, for the computational advancements. Future projections of the Global Brain are very much based around the continued growth of Internet communication, but also based on the reasonable assumption (based on Moore’s Law) that the substrate of that Internet explosion, computers, will continue their exponential increase in power and decrease in cost. If these trends continue we will likely see all humans with access to high speed Internet (e.g., Google Fiber or some future equivalent) by the end of the 2020s. We will also see an explosion of consumer robotics in the late 2020s that will change our communication and socio-economic infrastructure in more profound ways than perhaps the Internet over the past 20 years. Whether or not artificial general intelligence (AGI) happens during this time period is currently controversial, but it could. Either way, an explosion of consumer robotics will not be stopped by our inability to achieve AGI. In the 2030s we should also be well into a transition to nano-technology that merges with human biology. The macbooks, iPods, Google Glasses of the 2030s will be inside your body. In accordance with this time period, we should get full immersion virtual reality environments, so the future social networks will likely be designed in these mediums (at least partially). And then importantly, computerized transportation grids will solve all of our current urban transportation system problems, and likely car ownership problems. Real smart grids. No traffic james. No accidents. No car insurance. No stress.

This is all an extension of the communication revolution that we are currently within and lays the framework for the Global Brain. This is the human nervous system turning into a real brain.

Metasystem transitions always increase the wealth of the average agent within the system. So when will we get an accompanying economic revolution? The economist Robin Hanson has calculated that if the economy has followed the exponential growth phases that have occurred throughout human history, another phase should begin in the 2040s producing superexponential economic growth that, to be honest, is hypothesized to be so large that it is hard to conceive. Even still, Hanson suggests that his attempts to incorporate an economic model controlling for the effects of artificial general intelligence on the economy was difficult, and so his predictions may even be an underestimate.

Here is a replication of Hanson’s exponential economic growth modes within the three human metasystem transitions:

  • Hunting 2 million years ago – 10,000 years ago Economic doubling time – 224,000 years
  • Agriculture 10,000 years ago – 250 years ago Economic doubling time – 909 years
  • Industry 250 years ago – present Economic doubling time – 6.3 years

And here is Hanson’s qualitative extrapolation of the exponential nature of these economic growth modes:

If this growth mode does not hit limits to slow it down, then by 2047 i.e., within six years of becoming noticeable, the economy would then grow by a larger factor than it had from two million B.C. until 2040. […] If one takes seriously the model of economic growth as a series of exponential growth modes, and if relative change parameters of a new transition are likely to be similar to such parameters describing old transitions, then it seems hard to escape the conclusion that the world economy could see a very dramatic change within the next century, to a new economic growth mode with a doubling time of roughly two weeks or less.

I for one, do think that we should take seriously this model of economic growth, so I feel as though it’s predictions are in line with the future of what computation will make possible. But what about our energy source? Where are we going to get energy for another metasystem transition?

At the moment I would be shocked if the new energy source to power this economic revolution was not advanced solar power. There are just too many unused photons that fall on our planet everyday that are not being used. And it is a power source that has so many benefits over our current energy system:

  • Solar is practically infinite
  • Solar cannot be easily monopolized by territory
  • Solar produces no harmful byproduct (like fossil fuels do)

Of course, there are several problems to solve before solar can shoulder our energy burden and usher us into a world of energy abundance for 10 billion humans (and however many A.I.’s). But Solar City, SpaceX, and Tesla Motor pioneer Elon Musk, as well as futurist Peter Diamandis both expect, based on current trends, for solar to reach grid parity with any other fuel source before 2030. This would be more than enough time for solar to be the likely exploited fuel source to usher in a new energy economy between 2041-2047 as predicted based on Robin Hanson’s economic exponential growth model.

However, as I promised I will now discuss our institutions and how they will change as the next metasystem transition takes hold. As I more than alluded to when discussing industrial political systems, we are becoming increasingly frustrated with the democratic political institutions on our planet today. They were a massive step in the right direction 200 years ago, but they feel archaic in 2013. In essence the Internet has made our political systems feel as ancient as it has made our transportation grid feel.

Essentially, in modern democratic political systems you get a choice of a few economically privileged individuals that probably know less than you, and make worse decisions than you would make, when it comes to most issues. And then you get pretty much no say after that person is elected. Sure, different organizations do public polling and that can effect the decisions some politicians will make, but usually public polling doesn’t really effect change and when it does effect change, it doesn’t effect change fast enough. What is the solution to this problem?

Like every transition in the past, it means making the political challenge propagation center objectively more intelligent, which means decentralizing it completely. In the future we won’t elect individual politicians and we won’t have an institution of government. After the next metasystem transition we will all (probably both regionally and globally) collectively vote on every issue, whether it is a social issue or an economic issue. Obviously the Internet today could make this a primitive reality that functions more efficiently than our current government systems do, but governments wont’ just give their power away, it will have to be a revolution, much like the American Revolution or the French Revolution (although hopefully non-violent). But it could be violent, and that will depend on the resources of the old political challenge propagation centers versus our collective propagation centers in the 2030s and early 2040s.

But with a completely decentralized government, issues would get solved immediately and nobody’s selfish interests could override the will of the collective. We could easily “institutionalize” this using some type of “voting app”. This app in the 2040s would be in your brain and you could control how you receive the notification to vote on a given topic, and you could also download all of the pertinent information you would need to make a decision on a certain social or economic issue. Perhaps such a voting system could take place once a month or something and it would take relatively little time for everyone to do and for the votes to be quantified and statistically calculated. Obviously, like voting today… it will be optional. You don’t have to vote and no one will force you to vote, you can not download the app or turn off notifications for voting. Or you could design your app so that that you are only notified about voting on certain issues that you care about. The White House will make a nice museum and/or historical site. That may seem hard to imagine, but if it helps, think about what the Pharaohs of Egypt would have thought if they found out their pyramids were being used as historical sites and museums! The functional structures of the agricultural revolution lost their function. So will the functional structures of the industrial revolution. This is evolution.

Because the United States of America is so close to home, currently the most powerful nation state, and potentially the easiest example, I’ll use them as an example of how much more intelligent our political structures would be if we had a crowd sourced government in operation today:

  • Gay marriage would be immediately legalized nation-wide
  • Marijuana would be immediately legalized nation-wide
  • The “war on drugs” would be de-funded
  • Corporate influence in politics would be banned
  • All international wars would cease
  • Guantanamo Bay would be closed
  • Chelsea (Bradley) Manning would be free
  • Edward Snowden would be free
  • NSA spying program would be shut down
  • Stop and frisk would be shut down

All of these are examples of what the majority of Americans want. The reason why these decisions aren’t the decisions of the American government is because it is not in the best short-term interest of centralized authorities… or “democratically elected” politicians.

What about religion?

Religion. Once everything. Religion will crumble during the next metasystem transition. It will happen in “the West” first and it will probably be semi-painful for Americans. The nature of the transition in East Asia will be probably least painful because their religions are not as dogmatic and exist without an interfering supernatural entity. The collapse in Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa will all probably have difficult phases but will eventually happen. By the end of the 2040s, most people will express themselves spiritually with an appreciation and awe of nature and existence, but spirituality will have taken on a new form with such incomprehensibly efficient information transfer systems around (and potentially some post-language and artificial general intelligence). I would predict that the nature of spiritual belief will look quite a lot like some future form of humanism or transhumanism today.

From a personal perspective, I’ve struggled understanding the demise of religion. It has just left me intellectually confused over the years. On the one hand religion’s downfall seems inevitable. On a national stage how many educated people actually take these challenge propagation centers seriously? Who really cares about what religion says? Religion is a shell. It is running on fuel from their past influence, but that fuel is finite.

But by the 2040s all religious institutions will essentially be naturally selected away. As soon as we have a completely decentralized government they will stop getting tax subsidies and they will lose their tax exempt status. Did you know that in America religious institutions are not only tax exempt for the land they own, but they also get 82.5 billion dollars a year in tax subsidies! That is Martian colonization type funding! Completely wasted.

There is no chance that when we actually get a chance to vote on this in the 2030s and 2040s that we will opt for them to be taxed and have their subsidies revoked. The institutions will then just financially crumble. By the end of the 2040s and early 2050s, whoever is still religious, will probably have to be put in special zones for non-enhanced biological humans. No significantly enhanced human or artificial intelligence will be religious in any way approximating what we understand religious behaviour and adherence to be today. The reason being is that they will have not only access to too much information but they will understand all of the information. We have access to enough information for no one to be religious today, but we don’t have the brain power, or the resources, or the biological makeup, to make sure that everyone understands all of our knowledge perfectly. Of course, it’s not only massive amounts of knowledge that will kill religion, but also resource abundance (removing the need for a “Parent God”) and radical life extension (which will knock people out of what Aubrey de Grey calls a “Death Trance”).

Again, this may be difficult for some to hear, but like I said, most of us will find our spirituality elsewhere. It will probably be more awesome than anything traditional religions could ever offer.

What is the future of science? Science is already quite decentralized and free from authority, but not to the degree that it could be and will be in the 2040s. What I see happening is actually a convergence between academic research and open source information platforms like Wikipedia. At the moment academic research is not open source, so even though the information is as high quality as can be produced by modern humans, it is not freely available to all minds on the planet. In the future, all humans will have access to all knowledge in one centralized hub that collectively becomes better and better everyday. And most people will be able to contribute to this hub, and it will go through a collective peer review. The system will essentially be a merger between what Wikipedia is becoming and the peer review process that has currently operated so well for academics since the Industrial Revolution.

With such a system almost anyone could be a scientist, as long as they understand the methodology, have access to the requisite technology (which they’ll be able to 3D print), and are a talented enough researcher and writer, all of which most people will be, not only because humans are inherently smart, but because we will all be significantly enhanced intellectually with wetware.

The pace at which science will be able to accumulate understanding of our universe will be accelerated to incomprehensible degrees by modern standards. For me, I hope that during the 2040s, my research will have shifted from understanding the Global Brain metasystem transition to understanding whatever system transition comes after that! Always gotta think ahead!

As for funding, it will come directly from the public. The public will be able to personally fund research that is most important to them, whether that be ungulate evolution, Ancient Roman religious rituals, quark-gluon interactions, or the nature of consciousness.

In the 2040s, I’m not sure if universities themselves will need to exist, but their structure will most likely be completely research. I don’t see how it will be necessary to have any teaching at all, since that can be outsourced to digital Aristotle-like computer systems, the pre-cursor technologies of which, are already in existence today.

What about sexual institutions?

As we learned back in the analysis of the first metasystem transition, we started to pair bond with increased frequency during this time period. This is because our brain size started getting larger, which meant it took longer to raise our offspring. Two parents became functional and necessary for the first few years of life, which is about how long we are adapted to pair bond. One of the biggest empirical clues that we started to pair bond more during this time period is because of our body size sexual dimorphism, which is a hallmark of increased monogamous behaviour.

Historically our sex lives have been handled by religious and political institutions (obviously more political institutions after the industrial revolution because religious institutions are in the process of becoming marginalized and eliminated). These institutions have always strongly promoted monogamy cross-culturally because the challenge propagation centers were controlled by men and the entire function of a patriarchy is to control female reproduction. In essence, marriage is the old and unintelligent challenge propagation centers way of enslaving women. This was functional because men would have started building large harems with increasing wealth inequality, and the agricultural and industrial systems would have fractured. However, today, as we continue to decouple reproduction and sex, and as we now live in a world with equal rights, the institution of marriage is falling because it makes no sense in the 21st century, and it will disappear.

After the next metasystem transition there will be no institution that will have any say in your sexual life. No sexual bonds will be recognized by the government, because there won’t be a government to recognize them. Marriage in the future will become unrecognizable to what it currently is. Monogamy as we have historically conceived of it, will also likely be dead. Monogamy has always had a powerful function, but as soon as you know the evolved function of monogamy, which is related to rearing offspring, it becomes pretty obvious that its future is on shaky grounds.

In the developed world today, people are getting married less often and at later stages in life because it is becoming increasingly obvious that we did not evolve to live happily with one person for seven decades. We evolved to live happily with one person for a shorter period of time. The only people in long-term marriages or pair bonds that are actually happy are people who would be very good friends without sex anyway. These couples exist, but they are few and far between.

Most importantly, in the future our life expectancy is going to be astronomically longer than it currently is, and we won’t be having children biologically, if we even have them at all. This, ultimately, is what kills monogamy. Once sex is completely decoupled from reproduction, we will become even more promiscuous than we already are. We are a hypersexual species. Remember that there will be virtual reality environments as well. Will the future of porn be here? Obviously.

Let’s not forget that by the 2040s we will be sharing our minds more intimately and interacting more intimately with the Global Brain itself. We will probably share what artificial intelligence pioneer Ben Goertzel called “mind spheres”. This could actually be the real future of sex. Perhaps emerging fully in the last half of the 21st century. Why would we share gametes when the function for sharing them is gone? I think it is probable that “idea sex” will supplant biological sex before this century is over. Sharing of memes is already becoming more important than actually sharing genes (i.e., having kids) for many people.

So if you’re in your 20s today and are unmarried, you may want to factor this into an analysis of your decision about whether or not to tie the knot. Odds are you aren’t going to be able to stay in a happy and stable pair bond for 15-20 decades, which is how long your life will be at the minimum.

If you are married, I don’t mean to offend. Humans have an incredible ability to pair bond for a long period of time and if you are truly happy that’s great. Just be aware that you will probably be living for a long time and that you will have to discuss with your partner what that might mean 10 decades in the future.

As for kids, if you want to plan on having kids, I think that is perfectly fine obviously, but just don’t plan on being a grandfather/mother. Because you probably won’t be.

Finally, medical institutions will probably become decentralized as well. Like universities, I’m unsure if they will need to exist in the form they currently do. Almost everything a hospital or a family doctor provides will be able to be outsourced with nano-technology inside your body, which can wirelessly communicate with the Global Brain. You will have an unlimited supply of backup organs that can be 3D printed, how you will actually replace your organs will probably require some form of institution, but the replacement itself will probably be taken care of by artificial intelligence, not a human doctor. Just like we’ll outsource driving to computers, we’ll outsource health and medicine to computers as well. Since both 3D printing and stem cell replacement organs are already here, they will be fully mature technologies and available to everyone by the 2030s.

Let me quickly end this section by stating that the Global Brain is going to be awesome. Once you get over any superficial connection that you currently have to any of these institutions, it will become all the more apparent. My recommendation is that you abandon any close connection you have with these institutions in the form they are currently in. For example, religion won’t be around, but some form of decentralized spirituality will be. So embrace that. Marriage won’t be around, but love and commitment and sex and all the good stuff will be. Political institutions won’t be around, but better decentralized global decision making structures will be. We are going to get rid of all the bad stuff and replace it with better and more intelligent stuff. This may have been the toughest part on the path to the Global Brain because you have an emotional connection to the present.

Next, I’ll explore some deep future possibilities.

Again, if you missed the previous entries:

(Part 1/5): Introduction to Cybernetics

(Part 2/5): Waking Up

(Part 3/5): Agriculture and Industry

Thanks for reading

Discuss this below or let me know what you think on Twitter!


I'm an evolutionary scientist conducting research at the Global Brain Institute and a science writer for The Advanced Apes YouTube channel in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios. I am interested in what evolutionary science can teach us about the human past, present, and future.