The Global Brain

Linas Vepstas
4 min readOct 23, 2017

“The Global Brain” is the concept that, as we build higher-bandwidth connections between human brains, we integrate further into a collective global social intelligence. Cell phones and social media are just early examples of “higher bandwidth connections”. And that fabric is already inhabited by alien intelligences, artificial intelligences: search engines, for example.

This vision of the future has it that we, as individual bodies, co-exist on a global network of natural and artificial intelligence, becoming more highly interconnected, at ever higher speeds & feeds. The question is whether or not AGI/”hard takeoff” doesn’t happen until we’ve all got cellphones implanted in our skulls… For if we do, then we just go for a ride, along with it. At uncomfortable speeds, I suppose…

You may find the above two paragraphs to be unintelligible gobbledy-gook. Allow me to unpack it for a bit. (This entire essay started in a comment section elsewhere. Its not structured as a formal essay.)

Yes, we communicate by writing, speaking, posting photos and short animations but also by dancing, singing, funny facial expressions and body language. Yes, that communication is always “local” in the sense of having a limited audience (except for Psy’s Gangnam Style, which apparently the whole planet saw). All determinations and decisions to act are made locally, by individuals, who might band together into organizations. And all this is like it’s always been. And it will be like this into some indefinite future.

What is different is that the internet (social media) has disintermediated traditional media. In the past, crazy uncle Boris had an audience that consisted of local family gatherings, cocktail parties, and shouting from a soap-box on a street-corner. That’s it: maybe 50 people max. Social media allows the crazy uncle to reach a far far greater audience. To find others who share similar ideas. This changes the topics, the dialog itself.

In my youth, I found it very hard to find anyone interesting to talk to. It was a hell-hole of boring conversations with boring people. For me, social media has changed all that: I now have interesting people to talk to (like you). The topics I can now talk about are just so, so much richer, and I can impact the lives of others so, so much more. I’ve found my millieu. And I claim that its like this for many, if not most.

What are all the things that the human race is talking about? Well, some people talk about Aristotle. Aristotle, the carcass, has long been dust, but his ideas live on in writing, and continue to influence the thought of others. I want to call Aristotle a “meme” — a surviving, even living thought-entity inhabiting many brains (and many books). Aristotle lives, and we provide the energy to allow that idea-collection to live and mutate. Aristotle is a thought-pattern, surviving in the minds of various professors, students, and popular media.

The global conversation is filled with such zillions of such “memes”. Another example of such a meme is “global warming denial”. Plenty of otherwise “normal” people give life to this meme, despite it’s obvious detriment to society and civilization. This meme is partly amplified by fake-news and twitterbots — by algorithms. Its not the only one, and it gets worse: there’s the vast complexity of propaganda; and now it is algorithmically amplified. Today, you can purchase billions of cpu-hours to create psychological profiles for entire populations, and automatically custom-tailor disinformation.

This is the world we live in: all these memes, all calling for our attention, all wishing to inhabit our brains. We let some in, we shut others out. What is the “global brain” thinking? It’s thinking all of these things, everywhere, all at once, in a global but decentralized fashion. All thoughts are local, yet the conversation is global.

Much of this is as it was before the Internet: in the past, there were “memes”, but the global conversation was dominated by professors, writers, newscasters, editors, celebrities, CEO’s, politicians, the intelligentsia. We call them “intelligentsia” because, for the most part, they were smart and they were educated. This was (still is) the “mainstream media”. What’s new is that social media has given a voice to the voiceless, which is both good and bad: some of the voiceless are really into Trump. Some of the other voiceless are using social media to try to figure out why. The things that the global brain is “thinking” is changing, and it is the Internet that allowed this change.

The place where AI/AGI plugs in is at this level. The AI is on the Internet, interacting with us. It’s not living in some cave in the Himilayas. As it gains intelligence, this will continue to be the case; it stays here, becomes a part of us. I suppose some skunk-works at some company could build a super-AI isolated in a cave, but the mainstream reality is that we become one with it: it helps us do our thinking for us, not unlike how search engines help us think today. And the scary part is that it’s not obviously benevolent: targeted advertising is annoying; targeted propaganda could be real bad news.

Don’t under-estimate the risk: “Stockholm syndrome” is a real thing. Patty Hearst had it. The Scientologists have fine-tuned it. I see no reason why some billionaires might not build on those foundations to develop an algorithmic brain-washing machine. It certainly seems possible.

Lets see .. I don’t want to end on that note, so let me end on this one: ponder on the ideas described here: — Can Basic Income Plus The Blockchain Build A New Economy and now imagine attaching AI to that infrastructure.