Introduction: The Internet is a Brain
…but for a long time the brain was thought to be too mysterious to explain. We might create a pump in the image of the human heart, or a camera lens in the image of an eye, or even a hinge in the image of a bone joint. But what analogy could there be to the brain—a sticky, three pound lump of wrinkled matter lying silently in the skull?
With computers, we have tried to find that analogy. We say that semiconductors switch on and off like neurons and that fibers of glass can transmit messages as do synapses and axons. Beyond that, however, we’ve come to a dead end. The computers we have built are not really as analogous to the human brain as, say, an artificial heart is to a real heart. A computer itself is not like a brain.
But then there is the Internet. With the Internet we have created something unlike anything humankind has built before. Steam locomotives, television sets, automobiles—they are all inert. Even chessboards and baseball stadiums, which flicker to life momentarily, go dark when the game is finished. But the Internet is not like that. It is unbounded, self-perpetuating, and capable of collective consciousness. It is more like the crowd in the baseball stadium than the ball game, more like the gambits of chess than the chessboard and the rules.
To be sure, every significant innovation is miraculous—a discovery that is more than the sum of its parts. Alexander Graham Bell attached two small drums to two solenoids, for instance, and out of those bits created something beyond the sum of the parts: transmission of the human voice. But the telephone did not go on to replicate and improve itself, by itself; the Internet can and does.
And beyond that, the Internet learns. It processes information, shapes it, transmits it. It remembers some things, forgets others, and constantly loops whatever it has, spinning it in as many ways and as many directions as one could imagine.
For these reasons (and many more, as you will read in this book), I offer you this simple analogy: as the artificial pump is to the heart, as the camera is to the eye, and as the hinge is to the joint, I believe that the Internet is to the brain. In fact, I’ll go one better than that. I believe that the Internet is a brain.