Monday, March 25, 2013

A Web not a Multivac

Us, not IT

One of science-fiction’s predictions was the rise of a planetary information system, containing almost all of human knowledge. This dream came true, but different in a critical and revealing way. Reality was more revolutionary and democratic than our fantasies.
For science-fiction imagined this network to be a kind of centralized Leviathan, an artificial cybernetic intelligence with a personality and an agenda of its own. You turn on the viewscreen and a big face appears, ready to answer all of your questions. This supreme AI could be benevolent, as was Multivac in Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, or a Habitat Hub in Iain Bank’s Culture series; or it could be a menace, such as Colossus (from “The Forbin Project”) or Skynet (from “Terminator”) or IT (from L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time).
We, on Earth, now have a planetary information system, but that system is not an all-wise Multivac, not a benevolent Hub, nor a tyrannical Colossus. It’s not a Personality set above us; it’s an Internet, it’s made by us, it’s ours, it’s us.
We have a Web, not a Multivac. No central intelligence because no center; and perhaps no intelligence either, for the Web has a notorious reputation. The Web loves cats, pornography, hacker scams, emoticons, videos and memes; lowdown tastes, but human.
We imagined the 21st century as Heaven or Hell, run by mysterious angels or demons; but we find upon arriving that it is Earth, run by chatty humans.

With songs to hear and sights to see
a web of wonders, lightning-quick;
the world’s widest library,
just point your mouse and double click.

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