Beijing apartment fire, tweeted live

What does the future hold? Sown today, the seeds of the future show us what tomorrow brings.

For example, consider a request recently issued by Matt (@ponk):

Carried from person to person, each forwarding it along into their own connections, this plea reached tens of thousands of people within a few hours, some of them Welsh-speakers, and eager to help. Matt quickly got flooded in offers of assistance, finally lamenting, “I wish there was some way to tell everyone I’ve received the help I asked for.” Thanks travel more slowly, and less broadly, than requests for help. Matt will find people responding to his request for some weeks to come, as it slowly diffuses out to hyperconnected humanity.

Even just a few years ago, with no way to reach out and reach everyone with our requests, we didn’t even think in these terms. We settled for what we had at hand, and made the best of it. Now we bring the best the planet has to offer to everything we do. Yet we do this inconsistently because we do not remember that in every moment we have billions with us. Only when it occurs to us do we fall back on our line of supply – fortified with hyperconnectivity, hyperdistribution and hyperintelligence transformed into hyperempowerment – acting with unprecedented strength. Like Matt, we frequently seem amazed and almost overwhelmed by our own capabilities.

In other ways, we take these new capabilities entirely for granted.

A fire in an apartment block in Beijing gets tweeted (with an accompanying dramatic photo) almost as soon as smoke pours from the building. Anyone listening for news from Beijing would see this photo, despite the fact that Twitter is banned in China, pervasively censored within an autocratic and ever-vigilant state. Somehow the news leaks out from behind the ‘Great Firewall’, where, almost immediately, it gets picked up by and shared with everyone who cares about Beijing. This happens not over days, but within minutes.

Hyperconnectivity has given us eyes everywhere, seeing things when others see them. We no longer wait for wire services or newspapers to tell us what’s happening. In an unremarked upon reversal, we now tell them. We pass along the important items that merit broader coverage. We are the news, but somehow this fact is not news. Everything looks much as it did half a billion seconds ago, even though everything now works quite differently.

Having eyes everywhere does change some things, as my friend Rod (@rod3000) indicates with this tweet:

In a hyperconnected culture, the near impossibility of anonymity of any public act gives us all pause. Someone, somewhere has the capacity to capture and share our actions. Anything done in secret will be broadcast, if it incites enough interest. Rod runs every day – and has undoubtedly endured his share of taunts over the years – but only recently realized he could share those taunts with others – and direct his observations to the police department monitoring probationary ‘P-plate’ drivers.

Rod needn’t have beamed the message to the authorities; his message would have found its way there, eventually, forwarded along by someone who took offense at the act. That’s one scenario, but it’s easy to imagine things spinning slightly out-of-control: his message could have inspired some of the public to action, a hyperochlocracy that could quickly translate a license plate into an owner, an owner into a driver, and a driver into a target of derision.

The boundaries of acceptable public behavior have always been arbitrated by the mob. Go too far and the mob will shun you, taunt you, perhaps even kill you. The mob serves as the mindless enforcer of the public will.

In the United Arab Emirates, the public – which favors conservative Islamic dress, up to and including the whole-body-covering abaya – Emiratis have been confronted by a deluge of foreigners (only 10% of the population of the UAE are native-born) with very different customs of dress and personal modesty. Asma al-Muhairi, a young Emirati, took it upon herself to begin a campaign to bring modesty back to the public places – malls, parks, beaches and restaurants. From the Twitter account @UAEDressCode, al-Muhairi connects to and works with other Emiratis to bring modest dress back into the public sphere.

The account has become a gathering place for people to connect, share, learn from one another, then transform that learning into doing, eventually catching the attention of the UAE’s Federal National Council, which pledged stronger measures to enforce the existing dress codes. Should hyperochlocracy successfully pressure UAE’s foreign-born population into conservative public dress, it will be a victory for the hyperconnected. But even if the campaign fails, everyone who participated in it has learned from their experience, and will put that experience to work the next time they need it.

Although we might imagine hyperochlocracy and hyperpolitics serve only radical ends, they can equally serve as the enforcers of conservative values. Wherever the mob finds an organizing principle, hyperochlocracies emerge. As we become more connected, we find ourselves increasingly confronted by the actions of others, inhabiting a state of continuous agitation (bordering, at times, on outrage), and as a result giving birth to an unending series of hyperochlocracies. Paradoxically, when we try to turn our backs on the future, we instinctively reach for the tools the future has provided.

In a 2003 interview with THE ECONOMIST, science fiction writer William Gibson (who coined the term ‘cyberspace’) quipped, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ Tomorrow has already arrived. The technologies have been deployed. We are all already hyperconnected — if we spend the next half billion seconds bringing the remaining two billion into hyperconnectivity, that’s little more than a denouement, almost an afterthought. The hard work is done.

Buzzing with ideas, each of us shares everything of importance, learning more and more every day about how to thrive in a hyperconnected world. Everything we learn we pass along, so we are learning very quickly now. Every day brings something new. The future is already here, and we hold the instrument of its distribution in our hands. Today. We no longer need to wait until tomorrow.

52 – #FIGHT

At the start of 2008, Anonymous went to war. A YouTube video, posted that January, featured actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the Church of Scientology. The Church, lawyers ever at the ready, claimed the video was ‘pirated and edited’, and threatened YouTube with litigation unless they removed from the site.

That seemingly minor act proved the casus belli of one of the oddest conflicts of recent times. Anonymous, at that time more of a loose association than a coherent force, used Scientology’s act of censorship-by-threat-of-lawsuit as a rallying cry, which concretized in the hyperpolitical ‘Project Chanology’.

Project Chanology began with Anonymous (hyperconnected via the 711chan.org and 4chan.org websites) sharing strategies and techniques for an attack on the Church of Scientology. Lacking any explicit command-and-control structures, ideas could be quickly proposed and implemented (by some group, somewhere), or ignored.

Black faxes – which kept lines busy while quickly running through the supply of expensive ink – started popping out of Church fax machines. Church websites went down in Distributed Denial of Service attacks, assaulted by thousands of computers simultaneously. Prank calls jammed Church phone lines. To the Church, it probably seemed as though the machines had revolted against their masters — or that teenagers had taken over the Internet.

The Church of Scientology, never one to turn the other cheek, went on the counter-offensive, branding Anonymous ‘cyberterrorists’ perpetrating ‘religious hate crimes’. But though the Church issued numerous statements and declamations, they could do very little to stop or even slow Anonymous. The Church had always been able to sue any opponents of its practices into silence, because those opponents had a body that could be targeted. Anonymous, everywhere and nowhere, potent yet invisible, had no face, and could not be threatened. Like a will-’o-the-wisp, striking out at Anonymous only left the Church spinning, dragged along in the wake of its own punch.

Gradually, Anonymous developed another battle plan, one which struck the Church at its root – its tax-exempt status. This effort – predicted to take months to years – completed the transformation of Project Chanology from a momentary blip of hyperempowerment into hyperpolitics, a persistent force confronting a poorly-matched enemy.

Anonymous used just a tiny portion of the spectrum of hyperpolitical techniques available to it. Had its hyperconnected, hyperempowered constituents been sufficiently interested, they could have laboriously trawled through the Church’s public financial statements, looking for inconsistencies, an effort in crowdsourcing similar to that performed by the UK Guardian newspaper, as it analyzed hundreds of thousands of expense reports from Westminster MPs, igniting the greatest political scandal of recent British history. Or someone could have written an app – like an inverted Foursquare – allowing Anonymous to track the movements of the Church hierarchy, and inviting anyone within range to participate in spontaneous protests, ensuring Church leaders never have a moment’s peace. Or an app which highlighted all of the products manufactured or sold by Scientology-affiliated companies, allowing Anonymous (and its friends) to easily boycott them.

The possibilities are practically endless, and reveal the half-hearted nature of the ‘war’ between Anonymous and Scientology. Anonymous didn’t really try to destroy the Church; if anything, Anonymous acted more like a cat toying with a mouse. We could destroy you, Anonymous seemed to be saying, but why bother?

The war between powers formally constituted, and those hyperconnected and hyperempowered has been going on for over a decade – ever since Napster, strangled in the crib by the recording industry, posthumously gave birth to Gnutella and BitTorrent. But it’s never been a fair fight; it’s only ever been a rout. Power uses the law and the threat of force in an attempt to bend the world to its will, while the hyperempowered invariably find a way to route around every obstacle thrown in their path. Worse, every time power strikes at hyperempowerment, the hyperempowered study the attack, learn from it, share that learning, and put it into practice, emerging with amplified levels of hyperempowerment. This is the Taoist paradox: only by doing nothing can power achieve anything at all.

Over the next billion seconds, as power becomes powerless, the triumph of the hyperempowered will be complete. At times, the hyperempowered will engage power directly and defeat it utterly. Most often, hyperochlocracy will simply ignore power, and carry on in its actions without even breaking stride.

Every encounter with an opponent is a learning experience. From the first, every fight has always been a period of rapid-fire connecting and sharing. Enemies learn from one another, becoming like one another as each battles toward supremacy.

When the hyperempowered land a killing blow and lay waste to power, they transform power into hyperempowerment. With every fight and every connection knowledge is transferred. Over the next billion seconds, through this mechanism, all power becomes hyperempowered, and all politics hyperpolitics.

This is the realm of the bellum omnium contra omnes, the ‘war of all against all’ prophesied by Hobbes in Leviathan, nearly 400 years ago. However, this is not the selfish, grasping behavior of individual Homo Sapiens – whose only salvation, according to Hobbes, lay in a benevolent but absolute monarch – but the hyperconnected, hyperdistributed, hypermimetic, hyperintelligent, hyperempowered, hyperochlocratic hyperpolitics of Homo Nexus. The war of all against all is the war of multiple manys against other multiple manys.

War is the health of a new state of being; a communion of many, the cohesive connection around something deemed sufficiently salient to command continuous involvement and attention. Flying apart means coming together, though differently constituted.

Where the hyperempowered fight one another, when like strikes like, there the sparks fly. Each hit accelerates the transfer of learning, and each combatant rapidly comes to resemble its opponent. Conflicts of hyperempowerment either end quickly – as one side overwhelms and consumes the other – or grind into stalemate, as each seeks an advantage unavailable to the other, a near impossibility.

The next billion seconds will look more like pandemic civil war than any time in our recent past, as the hyperempowered collude with one another to fight against one another. Hyperpolitical polities will rise, and in rising, produce their own opposition. The paradox of Taoism plagues hyperpolitics as well: every maneuver generates a precisely opposed countervailing force. As before, two sides grind on, although everything has changed.


51 – #FAIL

Power is never an end in itself. Despite the perfectly malevolent quality of Orwell’s Inner Party, power is always a means to an end, and the end is always the same: survival. Power confers success on those who possess it, and therefore power and its possession have always been strongly selected for. We scramble for power, we fight for power, we wrestle over power, and, when absolutely required, we divide it.

Nothing about power has changed for a very long time – much longer than the lifetime of our species. All of the hominids play their own power games: chimpanzees use violence, bonobos employ sex. Power, hard and soft, remains the organizing principle of our relations, structuring them comprehensibly. We know who to look up to, and who to look down upon.

Those in power tend to remain in power because they use their power to that end. This strategy has proven so successful that most of us, most of the time, don’t bother to question the ‘natural’ order of things. Those on top stay on top, while underneath, powerless to resist, the rest do as they are told.

In the rare moments when this careful balance tips askew, when the mechanisms of power ossify or themselves become the cause of amplifying levels of disruption, power, naked and revealed, loses puissance. People stop believing, and power becomes impotence. The old order, overthrown, makes way for a new order, which quickly uses its new power to reinforce its own hold on power. Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.

From the first time an aging alpha male Pierolapethicus fell before a young upstart, to the latest Machiavellian maneuvering in a corporate boardroom, it was ever thus: This is power. We all want it, and we all want to be free from it. Capability and restriction couple completely within power. We want to hold the whip, but to do so we must feel the lash. Of all the paradoxes of power, this is the most perplexing and essential: we beat ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Bloodied, we become compliant. Beaten, we become abusers. The cycle propagates.

Hyperconnectivity has overwhelmed the linkages which transmit power. Now that anyone, anywhere can reach out to everyone, everywhere, instantly, power has become less powerful, relatively, than the power of the hyperconnected, hyperempowered individual. The powerful, surrounded by the hyperempowered, suddenly appear weak.

This threat to power has emerged so quickly – over the last half billion seconds – and so subtly that until quite recently it appeared as though the regimes of power which existed before the emergence of Homo Nexus would continue to maintain control. This is provably not the case – now that power has to contend with hyperempowerment – so power seeks any mechanism at hand to consolidate its control. Power seeks to disrupt hyperempowerment.

In the panicked search for solutions, power reaches for the censor as the first most reasonable mechanism of control. All posts monitored, all messages read, specific services blocked for reasons of ‘state security’. Censorship raises the pressure of informational asymmetry, creating the fertile conditions for the development of new techniques for connecting, sharing and learning.

Barred from sharing their political feelings on Facebook, Libyians used popular dating websites to covertly signal their revolutionary intent, using a dab of green eyeshadow, or a few fingers extended in an unusual position to indicate allegiances, arrange meetings, and coordinate the overthrow of their government.

Censorship does not work and can never work because it assumes the pressure of informational asymmetries can persist indefinitely. Instead, censorship ensnares power in an ever-expanding set of relations which must be managed and interrupted. Power is eventually overwhelmed by the Burden of Omniscience, the censor swept aside, and everything is known.

Informational asymmetries have a tendency to equalize, just as temperature differentials do in thermodynamics. This is the essence of Gilmore’s Law. Censorship is not simply bad politics, it is literally impossible. Attempts to censor end in the revelation (sometimes catastrophic) of the censored material, and meanwhile generate techniques which render additional attempts at censorship increasingly ineffective. The more you tighten your grip, the more slips through your fingers.

When power recognizes that it can not simply censor its way into preserving itself, it begins to flail around, looking for the ‘off switch’. Since hypermpowerment is the by-product of hyperconnectivity, removing hyperconnectivity should deprive individuals of their hyperempowerment.

It’s not that easy.

Hyperempowerment is not technological. Technology serves as a scaffolding for the emergence of a suite of new behaviors – hyperdistributed hypermimesis – and these behaviors persist even after the scaffolding is removed. What we now know about how to connect, share and learn has been facilitated by six billion mobile devices, but what we know that empowers us resides within us, not within the devices. Pulling the plug produces a moment of disorientation, followed by the immediate enactment of the hyperconnected behaviors of hyperempowerment by any means necessary, and through every medium at hand.

Hosni Mubarak cut off Internet access in a revolutionary Egypt, but the protests continued – and grew larger – as people translated their digital networks of relations into physical contacts. In a final, desperate act, he brought the mobile carriers down – crashing the Egyptian economy in the process – and only accelerated his own fall from power.

Our networks are an outward sign of an inward state. What we have learned and embodied over the last half billion seconds of hyperconnectivity can not be unlearned. We have an entirely new kit of behaviors – the gifts of hyperconnectivity – and these have broad application throughout our all of cultures. Our essence as the species that communicates has been transformed in its core, by hyperconnectivity.

Power worked well for Homo Sapiens. It remains to be seen if it works at all for Homo Nexus. Over the next billion seconds, as power at every level – from parent and child, to state and citizen – confronts this fundamental reordering of our oldest cultural artifacts (so old they predate artifice) – we will experience an accelerating series of attempts to censor. When censorship inevitably fails, what follows will be a panicked search for any way to disempower the hyperempowered.

Power must disrupt relations in order to survive. All such attempts are doomed to fail.


Everything is process.

Far from simple, connecting takes practice. We begin with our mother, echoing her every move, from the curve of a tongue to the crack of a smile. The first milestone on the path to a broader relation, imitation makes mirrors of us all. We see ourselves first as others, undifferentiated, encompassing all space. We relate to everything in innocence, because we are everything.

The unkindest cut of all comes when at last we divine that we are not the all and everlasting. There is a world beyond us, making demands, ignoring requests, and doing as it pleases. We struggle to keep up, tagging along, looking for every opportunity to establish a new connection or deepen an existing one. Those first attempts outside immediate family seem laughably bold, more summary of terms than declaration of affection. But somehow it works, and we learn enough from this success to impel us into a whole series of relations, each with their own peculiar qualities, with each further refining our technique.

By the time we get sent off to school, we have become masters of relation, capable of establishing ourselves within just a few minutes. As we grow into our adult relations – benefiting from the full integration of our neocortex’s social centres – these connections deepen into a form that remains forever open, eager, and assured: love. The quintessence of connection, love requires of us everything we have ever learned about relation.

Connecting does not conclude with love. We move beyond love into connections that come thick and fast. Where once it took us weeks to establish a connection, we master meet-and-greets, our technique so perfected our lives sometimes seem like a series of speed-dates. In adulthood we evolve from halting to assured to nonchalance, growing rich in relations.

Precisely the same can be said for our sharing. Children draw on their abbreviated experience, amplify that with imagination, and share this broadly, only gradually becoming more circumspect, as they temper their sharing in congruence with their growing skills in relating. You don’t share everything with everyone, but instead selectively offer up the choicest delights to those whose appetites agree with what you have to offer. Sharing grows from universal to a laser-like focus (thus the origin of the hipster, expertise so tightly drawn it approaches sharing everything about nothing at all) as we learn more about who responds well – or poorly – to what we share.

Sharing becomes a matter of how as much as whom. Some people want to chat, others want to read, still others prefer pictures, while some want animations. Tastes differ as widely as people, and we each eagerly search for the formula that makes what we have to share unique and uniquely valuable. We want to succeed in our sharing, have it taken up and adopted, and each become salesmen, peddling our wares, foot stuck in the door, utterly unavoidable.

Unless everything we share falls upon deaf ears, sharing means learning. We start as sponges, soaking up every bit of sharing that comes with every connection. Every connection is an opportunity for sharing, which means more learning; in our first years we greedily fill ourselves with everything on offer – language, culture, the way things work, the stories we tell. This process grows more formal as we grow older, not because it suits us better, but for the sake of history and tradition. We could continue exploring, like children, our entire lives. Instead, we sit in classrooms and solve problem sets and experience the pain of education, so paradoxically at odds with the joy of learning.

Neither masochists nor fools, we flee the classroom for a happier realm, ruled by desire. We learn by moving toward that which seduces us, and with luck can manage a lifetime of seduction, drifting from subject to subject – serial philanderers – or by digging deep, in a monogamous and consuming attachment to the material unearthed. Breadth and depth: both have their uses, and in either axis we learn more about how to learn more. We accelerate, optimize, and continuously improve.

All of this is true for us both as individuals and for the entire species. Humans at the advent of language did not immediately possess our facility with communication. That facility came with practice, lessons learned and shared, passed through the culture so broadly they now seem second nature rather than the products of experience. We communicate more effectively than those first-speakers because we have learned from them. Similarly, although Sumerians invented writing, we share more effectively because we have over five thousand years of written culture and behavior to draw upon. They had no template. We have all of history.

We also have all of humanity, hyperconnected, to draw upon. We connect, share and learn from the billions, just as they connect, share and learn from us. Every time we do this, we learn something more. Just as children learn from every relation, every one of our billions of relations leaves an imprint. These imprints happen in the medium of the hyperconnected human universe and, where they prove successful (or at least interesting) are hyperdistributed, shared until they reach everyone who shares a common interest. The lesson learned from a single connection among billions becomes pervasively known, second nature.

We are each learning from five billion others, simultaneously. Everything we are learning of importance becomes pervasive. The way we learn today differs significantly from the way we learned a half a billion seconds ago. We are learning how to learn from everyone else. In another half billion seconds we will all work from a vast, shared experience of hyperintelligence. We are already refining our processes, with each refinement amplifying our ability to learn from one another, increasing the potency of our billions of connections.

This is the precise formula of the process transforming us into Homo Nexus. Every behavior described in this process is ages old, reaching culmination in an amplification of unknown amplitude. Human intelligence is neither additive nor multiplicative, but something unpredictable and non-linear. We travel no known arc, heading toward something entirely unfamiliar. We have all the fuel we need, but no maps for these territories.


In the beginning, we connect. From the moment we arrive in this world, we seek every opportunity to grow closer to the others we find within it. We never cease connecting, though we bear the scars of all our relations, bound inextricably to every joyous moment. All of this together frames us: instinct, memory, and desire.

Once connected, we begin to share. Again, no order need be given: we share because that is who we are as a species. We use our linguistic aptitude to reveal ourselves, search for common ground, and, once found, explore that ground together. Sharing is the performance of connecting; until we have shared we can not say that we have made contact.

As we share with one another, we find our experience differs. These points of difference become the highly-charged gaps in our knowledge which suddenly begin to buzz and spark as the differential discharges across that gap. We fill ourselves with what others have learned, just as they round out their own understanding. We shock each other, adding to our potential. The scope of our awareness grows, both in breadth and depth.

Once again, this happens by itself. No one commands us to learn. We move into knowledge because it pleases us, suits us, flatters us, and completes us. None of this is hard; it would be far harder to keep it from happening. We connect, share and learn from one another because that’s the survival strategy which, over hundreds of thousands of years, kept us alive in hostile environments. Tethered to one another, grateful for the insight of experiences beyond our own, we connect in order to thrive.

Half a billion seconds ago, connecting, bounded by proximity, took time and effort. People had to present themselves, or we had to present ourselves to them. This ‘tyranny of distance’ pruned our connections back to measured and gradual paths. We evolved in this environment, our brains growing large enough to manage connecting with, sharing, and learning from perhaps a hundred and fifty others – “Dunbar’s Number”.

Now there are five billion of us, directly connected, none of us further apart than the time it takes to type a short string of digits. Even the Urban Revolution did not bring us together like this: individuals on opposite sides of a great city might never meet. We continuously carry with us a connection to the greater part of humanity, and the greater part of humanity, likewise equipped, connects to us. This is not a conurbation; this is a zero-dimension humanity, every point directly connected to every other point, because there is only a single point, pervasive and unified.

Dunbar’s Number has been both amplified and extended beyond any human capacity ever imagined. We moved from hundreds to billions in a single gesture, a quantum leap which in retrospect will appear nearly instantaneous. We enjoy the curious privilege of being part of this transition, the generations experiencing life before, during and after the billion seconds which encompass the entire scope of this transition. A billion seconds is sufficient to change everything.

We are already connected. This amplification and extension has already happened, an event that lies behind us, in our history, a fait accompli. That may be the most shocking feature of the present moment: we think ourselves striding confidently on the ground, only to look down and find ourselves in orbit. How did we get here? We do not remember feeling the blast rocket engines lifting us above the atmosphere. Everything seemed so gradual, we failed to note the gentle but steady tug of acceleration which led inexorably to liftoff, pushing us ever higher.

Yet here we are, far out of our depth, each of us connected, sharing with and learning from five billion others. By itself, this would be among the most remarkable events in human history. But past is prologue. We each now have the learning and experience of five billion others to draw upon. In the mystery of practice, learning becomes knowing. “All knowing is doing, and all doing knowing.”

We now act with the capacity of five billion.

First we connect, then we share, then we learn, and now we do. Each follows ineluctably from the other. Nothing here is anything other than our essential human capacity, a capacity which emerged long before hyperconnectivity, a hyperconnectivity which created the fertile conditions for hyperdistribution and hypermimesis. Before hyperdistribution and hypermimesis laid the foundations for hyperintelligence.

Born equipped for one world, where we leveraged one another’s capacities to improve our own, we live in another, where we leverage everyone’s capacities everywhere, bringing an inconceivable intensity to our every act. Where once we sought the help of others to become fully empowered, we now find ourselves hyperempowered, catapulted so far from any of the familiar settings of possibility we have only barely intuited our newly amplified capabilities.

That is about to change.

In this moment, at the center of the billion seconds of transition between Homo Sapiens and Homo Nexus, we discover that we can do, that doing follows from connecting, sharing and learning. We now realize this is ubiquitously the case, reaching every connected human, everywhere. Not only are we all in this together, what we are, together, is something utterly different. We do not know what we can do. We do not know the limits of the possible, or even if there are limits.

We are not used to thinking like this. We have no frame for something so sudden and so unfamiliar. Inchoate, we fumble along and do amazing things, without any comprehension of the power we now bring to our actions. Innocent as babes, strong as bears, we have the capacity to wreck ourselves with unimagined ease. But we also have the capability to create at a scale previously inconceivable, and sustain with a scope heretofore unobtainable.

With great power comes great responsibility. We need to have a good think about how to use our new powers wisely. And we need to do this right now, for we have already changed beyond recognition.


All is known in the Age of Omniscience, but no one knows everything. Most know nothing at all about a particular something, while, through diligence, a few have achieved true mastery. This mastery is not something that can be proclaimed; rather, it exists only when recognized. Expertise has its own gravitational force, attracting those to it who feel themselves irresistibly drawn to learn.

The master is never hermetic. Masters might choose to sequester themselves behind the filters of acolytes, ensuring only those whose needs can not be addressed by lesser talents make their way through. Masters can choose to declaim themselves openly, taking all comers with whatever talents they present. In either case, expertise is social and transactional, conferred more than inferred. You are not an expert until others say you are.

From the moment a master is recognized, they become visible both to those working toward their own expertise, and to all other masters. Our competitive instinct drives us in both situations: peer-group approval in any community of knowledge is principally engendered by the mastery of that knowledge. The more one knows, the higher one’s standing. Anyone engaged in ‘climbing the ladder’ within any community of knowledge tacitly acknowledges that they must both simultaneously learn from those who know more than they do, and demonstrate that knowledge to those who know less. Neglect either obligation, and they may find themselves failing in the eyes of the community, a process which becomes self-reinforcing, because opportunities both to learn and to teach are strongly correlated to status with the community of knowledge. To he who has much, more will be given.

The struggle never ends, nor even slows down, for ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. Those at the top see only those struggling from beneath to surpass them. The master must assist the able student, yet doing so sows the seeds of the master’s undoing. But the master can not use silence as a mechanism of control: the collapse of informational asymmetry in the age of hyperconnectivity means that the master can neither obfuscate nor slow the student’s progress: too much is known. The master can maintain a position of recognized expertise only in a dynamic pose, always moving, further and deeper, doing everything possible to stay ahead of the student — just as the student puts every effort into a chase of the master, both trapped within an unforgiving environment that continually selects for expertise.

Where does the master turn for help? Who is the master’s master? One person’s mastery is not another’s; both individuals will reflect a peculiar mastery drawn from their unique experience. Much will be held in common, but – because of talent, or accident, or predilection – each master stands alone. Yet each master will be aware of the other masters; this is one quality that defines a master. Distinct yet equal, the masters now find themselves forced to turn to one another, each possessing knowledge which all others need. Masters must share with other masters, just as they must share with students. If they do not, they will quickly be surpassed and forgotten, yet another example of someone who neglected to stay current.

Experts seek each other out, not just to revel in the camaraderie of a shared quest, but because only here can they find the necessary defenses against the assaults which come as the natural consequence of their position. There is a never-voiced element of desperation present when experts gather together, for they conspire in nothing more than self-preservation. Sharing what they know with their peers is the only possible path into continued survival.

Expectations are higher and pressures stronger at the top. Experts become obsessives in a defensive action that sees them forced into tight expert networks, unwilling and finally unable to rupture the bonds which tie them to their peers. Losing that connection would result in the loss of everything. Pressed into this corner, thought-leaders instinctively form ‘invisible colleges’, mystery schools of knowledge communities supporting mastery. Within these colleges the masters learn from one another while passing on the mysteries to those who follow, an uneasy steady-state of sharing and learning.

One must learn from others, and teach them, but any collection of the like minded will inevitably open to the third mode of being: exploring. Each contributes from what they know in an investigation of the unknown. The master has more experience to draw upon, but those who know less may be open to more: T.S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions grounds its argument on this innocence of perspective. In each relationship – expert to expert, expert to student, student to student – each provides a component the other needs but lacks, a synergy which produces hyperintelligence, where ‘collective intelligence’ produces something greater than a mere addition of elements would allow for. It is not simply knowing more, but rather that the relations and connections create knowledge amplification.

In a network of hyperintelligence, those who know little learn much, quickly coming up to speed, while those who know much learn whom to turn to when they need to complement their capabilities. In the age of hyperconnectivity, the expert masters the connections to knowledge, working continuously with peers to constantly improve capabilities for the entire community of knowledge.

Such networks have long existed within universities, guilds and other forms of association. Now that these networks span the entire human race they have transcended the local and immediate to become permanent fixtures in our culture and the foundational elements in our new capabilities.

We need not fear the rise of the monolithic hivemind, dictating the subject and objects of consciousness. Hyperintelligence is dynamic, competitive and fractious, shaped by the competitive social pressures we possess as an inherent part of our primate heritage. Never singular, hyperintelligence looks like an amplified version of the ‘society of mind’ we carry around in our own heads.

During the last half billion seconds we created the necessary preconditions for the emergence of hyperintelligence. During the next half billion seconds, we are learning how to integrate our knowledge, our understanding, and our capabilities into these networks. We are learning how to be hyperintelligent.


Pity poor David Cecil, totally unprepared.

The unemployed truck driver, with nothing to fill his days, decided on a course of self-improvement. Clear on what interested him, he sought out others who shared his interests, connecting with them, then listened to everything they could teach him. Completely engaged, he spent up to twenty hours a day online, reading and researching and engaging those ahead of his own understanding, learning everything they offered up. An excellent student, Cecil soon felt qualified enough to apply his autodidactic efforts. That’s when the trouble began.

If Cecil had studied ‘bathtub biology’, learning how to catalyze the Polymerase Chain Reaction in order to do DNA amplification, he might have bred himself a superbug, a strain of E. coli capable of giving the whole planet a fatal tummy ache. If he’d briefed himself on nuclear engineering, he might have constructed a homemade particle accelerator, bombarded atoms, and perhaps created a contamination threat affecting his entire neighborhood. Instead, Cecil studied computer security, coming into an understanding of the techniques used to protect and secure networks, then used these skills to break into, subvert, and control the systems for a small Internet Service Provider.

It all ended badly: the ISP quickly detected his intrusion – Cecil didn’t know enough about how to cover his tracks – then shunted him off to systems designed as ‘honeypots’, which look inviting and potentially powerful, but which simply trap the attacker in a sticky dead end. After compiling a sufficiently large body of evidence, the police broke down Cecil’s door one morning, arresting him and impounding all of his computers. The neighbors seemed surprised; an unemployed truck driver with no particularly remarkable talents suddenly become an ‘evil’ hacker? It strained credulity.

Welcome to the age of connected intelligence.

Now that everything known is shared broadly and freely, now that everyone who cares about any given body of knowledge maintains a constant relation to it and to everyone else who cares about that knowledge, the entire world is composed of a continuously multiplying set of knowledge amplifiers. Any of us can place ourselves within one – or fall in, almost accidentally – simply by engaging. By being present, connecting and sharing, we shed our ignorance and quickly acquire a degree of mastery. We can know nothing and crash headlong into one of these knowledge amplifiers, emerging on the other side changed and potent.

Knowledge does not confer wisdom. That is a slower process. Cecil learned everything about how to penetrate and invade computer systems, but he never realized that to possess the capability is far more valuable than actually putting it to use. A well-qualified expert in computer security will earn two or three times as much as a truck driver, and can always find gainful employment. Drunk with power, blind to reason or even common sense, Cecil, guns blazing, charged into a buzzsaw.

This sort of behavior will become increasingly common, as we see individuals with hypertrophied knowledge reach out with their extended capabilities, grasping at things which they do not yet wholly understand. The step function between ignorance and arrogance has become so clearly resolved, communities are growing into an understanding of how those newly engorged with knowledge become a danger to themselves and others. Some communities may isolate these individuals behind a ‘blast shield’ of plausible deniability, others will seek to engage and bring these fledglings into wisdom. Neither approach will be wholly successful.

Imagine the secrets of the atomic bomb had been revealed not at Los Alamos, but within a kindergarten classroom, filled with the high and mostly thoughtless emotions of children still far from their full cognitive capability, and lacking any capacity to restrain themselves. ‘Knowing is doing, and doing, knowing.’ An uncontrollable chain reaction, created in a momentary fit of pique, vaporizes everything. The child has learned how to build the bomb, but has not learned they must never drop it.

Human knowledge in the era of hyperconnectivity has achieved ubiquitous dissemination, and as a consequence all human knowledge will be reframed around consequence. It is not that you can know something; with few exceptions that will be nothing remarkable. The entrapment of information no longer carries within it the seeds of power; rather, the application of information becomes the new wellspring of puissance. We can all know the same things – nothing any longer prevents this – but our application of this knowledge will be guided by wisdom. We can seek to self-aggrandize and destroy, or we can support and strengthen. The choice is always there for everyone, though not everyone will be able to see it.

In the next billion seconds, ignorance, presently viewed as a character flaw, a state of complete lacking, will be seen as something easy to ameliorate, more like a bruise that needs bandaging than a permanent and disfiguring scar. We will acquire (and perhaps neglect and forget) whole bodies of knowledge, transforming our understanding daily, as we become more expert at learning from those who know, and build tools more perfectly suited to the ways we want to learn from them.

Once again, this is no utopia, but actually a world more fraught with human dangers than any we have ever known. If the boy next door can brew up a superflu because he didn’t get a date to the senior prom, we will need to be more sensitive to both the moods and the capabilities of others, or confront pervasive, sudden annihilation.

Communities of knowledge must derive from within themselves the essentials of self-regulation that prevent these sorts of disasters. We are playing with matches while doused in petrol, and need to recognize this. Good fire control policies will prevent needless tragedies, lives ruined (like David Cecil’s) or even lost, merely because our knowing outstripped our sense of what is right. This is the new ignorance, the penumbra of wisdom. It is not that we do not know, it is that we do not know what to do with our knowing.

31 – #SHOW

Mobile service in India costs quite a bit less than in the developed world. In 2009, during a price war, most of the nation’s carriers cut voice call rates to half a paisa a second – with 100 paisa in a rupee, that’s roughly one-hundredth of a US cent per second, roughly one-fiftieth the price a caller might pay in Australia or Europe for the same service. And although the average Indian mobile user spends only US $3 a month on their mobile subscription, for a huge number of India’s most poor, that’s too much.

As is customary for mobile carriers globally, Indian customers pay nothing if their calls can not be completed, but the recipient of the call knows who had called – their mobile records the caller’s number. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out that this ‘missed calling’ could be used as kind of signalling.

Many years ago, when interstate calling was still very expensive in the United States, I remember visiting aunts and uncles making missed calls to our home phone, informing us they’d arrived home safely. A single ring (on the single household phone), then silence. It saved them a few dollars, and saved us all some worry. For as long as direct dialing has been available, people have been missing calls intentionally, signalling one another. One ring: safe. Two rings: call me. Three rings: emergency.

India went from very little wired infrastructure – one phone per hundred people – straight into hyperconnectivity. At least half of all Indians now own a mobile. But without a wired history, how did the practice of missed-call signalling develop? Someone might have invented it on their own, but more likely it came via a visitor from a country where missed-call signalling was already commonplace. As soon as missed call signalling is practiced in front of someone else, it is understood, and begins to replicate. When a behavior is practiced on the network, it replicates quickly and broadly, soon becoming pervasive.

Human beings are excellent imitators. From our birth we imitate everyone around us, beginning with learning how to talk – an inconceivable feat of intellectual accomplishment, listening to and imitating our parents and older siblings. We learn so fast because we imitate one another so well. Wired for mimesis – imitation – we embody ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

If imitation has any boundaries, we haven’t found them. Harvard researcher Dr. Nicholas Christakis has spent the last decade studying how behaviors spread through our relationships. First, Christakis learned that tobacco smoking (and the decision to quit smoking) follows from our social connections. The more smokers we are in relation with, the more likely we are to smoke ourselves. The more of our friends decide to quit, the more likely it is that we, too, will stop.

More than just like finding like, Christakis showed that these behaviors actively spread through our connections. One person deciding to smoke makes it more likely their connections will smoke. One person deciding to quit makes it more likely others will follow. Christakis then found that this also characterized obesity: you are more likely to be obese if your connections are with the obese, and more likely to go on a diet if those around you have made that decision.

Our capacity to imitate one another so well makes us peculiarly susceptible to the actions of others. Everyone has heard a lecture on good behavior from their mothers that culminates with, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” The answer, as it turns out, is probably yes. Our innate desire to imitate one another will even wrestle against the drive for self-preservation: we know that smoking and obesity are bad for us, but, under the influence of our connections – peer pressure – we surrender.

It goes deeper. Studies have also revealed that divorce spreads through our connections. If a couple you’re connected to breaks up, your marriage is in greater peril. Why is this? Does a close-to-home divorce get couples thinking about the dissatisfactions of marriage? Or is it simply a desire to imitate one’s friends, in sickness and in health?

Seen in this light, our connections have an almost epidemiological quality, acting as carriers for diseases of the body (obesity) and heart (divorce) which can infect us and leave us changed. Parents and mentors warned us to ‘be careful who you hang out with’; it’s common knowledge that maintaining connections with ‘the wrong crowd’ can be ruinous. Now we understand why. We are in each other’s heads, the best and worst parts of us always leaking out, or leaking in.

As we research how behaviors spread through the human network, we may attempt to medicalize our connections, creating a cordon sanitaire for ourselves and our children, places beyond the reach of these socially-transmitted diseases. This reaction – typified in the growing number of gated communities – only moves the threat, but never removes it. When you pick your friends, your colleagues, and your neighbors, you adopt their minds.

Humans have always been a colony organism, moving in sync together. The closer our connections, the closer our minds. Half a billion seconds ago, those connections, limited by speed and proximity, gave infections-of-the-mind a natural range. They could not spread quickly, nor very widely. Hyperconnected and disseminated at lightspeed, behaviors now go from unknown to ubiquitous in a few days. Half a billion seconds from now, it will all happen in a matter of seconds: hypermimesis.

Some behaviors – such as missed-call signalling – become immediately pervasive because they offer an improvement in connectivity, spreading through hypermimesis. Demonstration of a behavior over the network allows billions to observe and imitate that behavior. Every improvement in our connectivity (text messaging and missed-call signalling are but two among many) also improves our ability to imitate one another, via the network. Showing is doing, and doing, showing.

20 – #LEGION

The world encompasses more than fishermen and limousine drivers, but these stories set the tone for our entire species: being connected means being more successful, and the more connected you are, the more successful you can be. Charles the limousine driver needed to double his connectivity to improve his earning capability. If the situation demanded a dozen smartphones, spread out against his dashboard, he’d do that, because each additional connection would add to his earning potential. The devices would pay for themselves, and Charles would be fat with connectivity and profits.

That’s exactly what the fishermen in Kerala realized. One fisherman with a mobile is omniscient – a seeing man in the land of the blind. A thousand fisherman, each with their own mobile, become a single, emergent, efficient market supply. The space between these two states – the single fisherman and the mobile as fisherman’s essential tool – is incredibly brief. Everyone within the market simultaneously recognizes that in order to realize their greatest profits, they must connect.

In villages and cities throughout the developing world, one scene has played out in endless repetitions over the last half billion seconds: an individual with a bit of money purchases a mobile. That mobile connects this individual to the marketplace, opening them to a range of economic opportunities, some of which the individual takes advantage of, improving their economic position. This individual is connected – in the flesh – to family and friends and colleagues, each of whom observe how the mobile has created new-found wealth for that individual.

Poorly educated people are not stupid; we are all born knowing how to imitate the behaviors of others, especially when that behavior confers tangible success. People save or borrow to acquire a mobile, and put that mobile to work for them, increasing their economic success. As a significant percentage of the population get mobiles, the advantages become more and more obvious, until everyone understands the relationship between the market and the mobile, and everyone migrates into mobile ownership.

This process of observation and imitation on a mass scale – hypermimesis – explains the unprecedented growth in the number of individuals owning mobiles. Barely sixty million owned a mobile in 1995; the end of 2012 will see us closing in on nearly five billion with at least one mobile device, a growth of nearly ten thousand percent in half a billion seconds. While many assumed adoption rates would slow after most of the world’s affluent bought a mobile, the adoption rate actually shot skyward, buoyed by the growing realization that future success depends upon connectivity.

In February 2012 China surpassed a billion mobile subscriptions, with nearly eight hundred million Chinese – greater than half the population – using a mobile. India, far poorer than newly-industrialized China, has nearly six hundred million subscribers. Africa – with less wealth than either Asian giant – has well over half a billion. Everywhere we look we see the mobile making inroads, but particularly in the poorest corners of the planet. People who barely have money for food will find the money to buy a mobile, because it represents the best opportunity they have ever had to increase their earning power.

Connectivity equals success. This has been demonstrated beyond any doubt. We sit in an in-between time, with the billion seconds following this discovery, but before it becomes the baseline behavior for our species. At the end of this billion seconds, being connected and being human will be seen as synonymous.

We are the species whose success relies upon our ability to communicate what we know to others around us. We put what others communicate to work. Some of what we communicate concerns how we communicate. When someone learns something about how to improve the connectivity between individuals, that information is shared. If it proves successful, those with whom this information was shared will share it again, radiating it through their own connections until the entire network – all five billion of us – act from this new understanding.

This new knowing expands the scope of our capabilities. We find that we can do more. We treasure these new powers, guarding them jealously, and mourning their loss in those situations – with a lost phone or a lost signal – where we can not put them into play. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to see our capabilities as us. As our capacities evolve, so our understanding of and expectations for ourselves change. We are locked into a loop of knowing and doing, with each of us directly connected to five billion others, every one of us intent on growing our own capabilities.

We hear the voices of others telling us things we need to know, sometimes whispered, sometimes repeated at deafening volumes. We whisper or shout, as need and opportunity allow. With everything we hear, we learn, and we do. This is all of us now, everywhere. We are all getting smarter, learning to do more, and as we learn and do, we learn better and do better, and learn to do better. We have plugged ourselves into an amplifier, turned to 11.

The most remarkable quality of the current moment is the pervasive whine of feedback, coursing through every human institution. Homo Nexus, locked within this amplifier, orients itself to the rising rush of power, so heady and seductive that it has already colored and now begins to drown out every other experience.

We are in too deep to turn back, swept up into a vortex of connection and empowerment, but past is merely prologue. Now inside the amplifier, each of us focuses on how to make it work for us, and with every thing we learn, our capabilities increase. It is ripping us away from what we were, half a billion seconds ago, thrusting us – collectively, connectively – into an entirely inescapable future.

19 – #LOOP

Charles pulls up to the curb in a brand-new Lincoln Towncar, black and sleek, radiating wealth and privilege, and stops before me. His car is mine, and Charles is my driver — temporarily. I have magicked him up from my mobile, firing off a text message with my address to a service called Uber. I receive confirmation of receipt of my request, then, just a few seconds later, confirmation that Charles would be with me in three minutes.

If I had been using a smartphone, the process would have been slicker and more visual. I would have launched an app that would locate me – using GPS – then place me on a map, showing all of the nearby available limousines. After I my pickup request had been received and accepted, all of those limousines would disappear from the map, except the one coming to fulfil my request. As the car drew closer to me, I’d see it approach, allowing me to meet it precisely as it arrived. Seamless coordination, courtesy of the mobile.

Even though it costs a fair bit more than a taxi, with this kind of convenience Uber has been blessed with raging success. People like the feeling of control – real or perceived – that comes from watching their driver approach. While they stare down into the screen, Uber gives its users a sense of ominpresence. They know, if not everything, much more than ever before. That knowledge allows them to do more, giving them a small taste of the freedoms enjoyed by the very wealthiest.

Limousine drivers like Charles love Uber, too. Before the service launched, those drivers would spend half their time doing nothing, idling their hours while waiting for the next pickup call to come in. Drivers now add Uber jobs to their regularly scheduled pickups, nearly doubling their earning power within the same eight-hour shift. Mobiles have given limousine drivers the same economic acceleration that mobiles gave the fishermen of Kerala fifteen years ago – creating a highly efficient market which satisfies an increased demand, dramatically improving the earning potential of everyone connected.

Economists recognize that when a sudden change in market dynamics produces a burst of new wealth it encourages people to enter the marketplace. A ‘gold rush’ begins, as everyone looks for a way to vacuum up some of the new-found fortune. Most markets have ‘barriers to entry’ – to be a fisherman, you need a boat and rigging and nets and a crew; to be a driver you need a rather pricey limousine. These barriers make it difficult for the market to become immediately overcrowded, but the lack of competition increases the incentive for everyone already participating in the market to maximize their productive behavior. The more productive you can be within a closed but growing market, the more you will earn.

For Uber drivers, this means putting their limousines where they’re most needed. But they’re not alone in this, so the busiest parts of the city are also those with the greatest supply of drivers, which means drivers still have to wait for jobs. Even closed markets can be locally oversupplied – particularly where participants within a market can smell all the money to be made.

Uber drivers run a companion version of the smartphone app that Uber customers use. This app allows them to bid on pickups, but does not reveal the location of any of the limousines around them, competing for the same business. Uber’s drivers have less information than Uber’s customers. As a consequence, limousines tend to cluster, because drivers don’t know that they’re all converging on the same small – and presumably lucrative – area.

My driver Charles has a solution for this dilemma: he owns two mobiles, and runs both Uber apps. The driver app delivers pickup requests, while the customer app reveals the locations of any limousines nearby. “One evening I came into the city,” Charles reports, “and there were four limousines within a block.” Knowing this, Charles moved on, finding another, under-served area of the city, and got plenty of work.

Uber may not want its drivers to know about the location of other drivers, but it wants to reveal that information to its customers, so drivers simply poke holes in the wall that separate the two sides, peering through, and learning where to position themselves for greatest profit. The drivers use all information on offer – from every source – to give themselves the greatest advantage.

Charles says he’s one of the few Uber drivers using his smartphone to give him the inside track with a degree of omnipresence. It’s a technique new to him, and he doesn’t say whether he thought it up himself, or if he copied it from another driver. Either way, as Charles’ success becomes more visible, his peers, watching what he does, will copy his keys to success. What he knows will be replicated throughout the fleet of drivers until this exceptional behavior becomes pervasive and normal.

Soon, Uber will either need to provide drivers with all of the information drivers provide to Uber, or every Uber driver will use two mobiles, one for orders, and another for omnipresence. As drivers learn more about one another, they learn how to avoid economically damaging behaviors, such as clusters. The drivers self-organize, spacing themselves throughout an area in a way which generates the greatest economic advantage for each individual. They will act as a unit – as if they all answered to a common mind – although they have no central command, accept no controlling influence, and simply work to maximize their own financial interests. This emergent behavior – seen first along the Kerala coast – is the inevitable consequence of connectivity.

The information flows of connectivity move back and forth, never just in one direction, looping through us, out into the world, and back again. At every step, this information, transformed by the individuals it passes through, also transforms those individuals. “All knowing is doing, and all doing, knowing.” To connect is to know, to know is to do, and doing carries with it the opportunity to connect.

This never stops, nor ever slows.