55 – #TOMORROW

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.

 

50 – #FOCUS


The state reserves for itself the monopoly on force. Only the state has the right to restrain you, to strike you, to detain you, or kill you. When citizens restrain, strike, detain or kill one another, the state steps in, lest its monopoly become meaningless. The thin blue line separating us from mere anarchy, state power delimits the outer boundaries for personal behavior.

What happens, then, when the state can not be trusted to act in your best interest? When the monopoly on violence has been colonized by interests incongruous with the public, because of corruption (it is always, inevitably, corruption) what recourse do citizens possess? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Atomized individuals can not withstand the unified and focused efforts of state power. Divide and conquer. The Stasi, the quintessence of a modern security state, had a full third of the population spying on the other two-thirds, an infiltration so profound it left East German culture incapable of anything more organized than collapse.

Rarely do people willingly assent to their dehumanization and final atomization. Resistance, continuous and pervasive, accompanies any closure in the gaps which interrupt the smooth functioning of power. The state has an arsenal of its own technologies to smooth its way: fear first, then the gentle seductions of material comfort. You will obey, or else. Do as you’re told – and be richly rewarded.

Unable to reach out in solidarity to others similarly threatened by a powerful state, the individual nearly always succumbs, with the remainder – the zealots – easy to contain, control and sterilize. Every state has its prisoners of conscience, refusing both the admonishments and blandishments of power. The smartest states have marginalized this final few; the worst made martyrs of them, sowing the seeds of revolution.

The state has lost its power to atomize its citizens.

All state power, however constituted, has come under threat from hyperconnectivity. Individuals feeling the pressure of state power no longer think of themselves as alone, any more than anyone thinks of themselves as alone in any situation (provided sufficient connectivity). We instinctively turn to one another to connect and share, to learn and do. We do this in every situation, but when we do this in response to state power, the result inevitably takes on a hyperpolitical dimension.

The fine citizens of New York City, growing tired of the ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy of New York’s finest – which disproportionately targets minorities – use hyperconnectivity to reframe the relationship between police power and themselves. Using a smartphone app, citizens are invited to record every stop-and-frisk event they see on the city’s streets. The reported information is immediately hyperdistributed to everyone else running the smartphone app; people within a particular neighborhood instantly know when that noxious police activity is taking place, and precisely where it’s happening.

A stop-and-frisk action, which might once have been witnessed by just a few, can now quickly gather a crowd of hundreds, or thousands, a hyperochlocracy facilitated by hyperconnectivity. The state requires a degree of secrecy for its smooth operation. Exposed, the police lose much of their power, not simply because others can avoid these frisky cops, but because the attention they attract in the performance of their duty directly subtracts from their effectiveness.

This app takes the hyperconnected population of New York City – well over half of whom carry a smartphone – and creates a platform for sharing a very specific type of information, leading to a detailed situational awareness around a particular type of police activity. The app is the focusing agent, concentrating the attention of the mob, amplifying something mostly invisible into salience. A technology of hyperpolitics, the app supports the coherence necessary for a moment of hyperempowerment to extend indefinitely. In that extension, the momentary attention of hyperochlocracy becomes the pushback and renegotiation of power that typifies hyperpolitics.

Across the next billion seconds, all relations between the hyperconnected and state power will echo this form. The singular and atomized individual has been obsolesced by the hyperconnected and hyperpolitical, a process of natural selection that has seen the state finally breed a form of power entirely beyond its own ability to control, manage, or even understand.

State power serves to protect the corrupt, even where this conflicts directly with the interests of the state as the preserver of the lives of its citizens. The Chinese know from repeated scandals involving the tainting of the country’s food supply (infant formula contaminated with melamine, pork with beef flavouring sold as beef, etc.) that they need to have a healthy distrust of any official inspections or protections proffered by the state.

In the absence of state protection, the hyperconnected turn to themselves, connecting, sharing, learning and doing. One smartphone app, the China Survival Guide, tracks all of the ongoing food scandals, while a website, “Throw It Out The Window”, recently succumbed in the face of overwhelming traffic. Chinese find or create these tools, put them to work, and if they succeed, share them around, hyperdistributing their expertise, converting that into hyperintelligence – individuals pooling their experiences to amplify the experience of everyone everywhere – putting that knowledge to work to save themselves from poisoning.

Hyperpolitics neatly fills all gaps where state power has proven itself fundamentally ineffective. The Chinese can not trust the government on food safety, but eating clean food is very important to the Chinese, so this salience becomes an organizing principle that drives people to connect, share, learn and do persistently. Connecting is the necessary and wholly sufficient first act; all else follows naturally from it, driven at first by self-preservation, quickly amplified into hyperempowerment through the efforts of a billion hyperconnected Chinese.

The fertile ground for the emergence of hyperpolitics can be found anywhere the state meets its citizens. Where the state fails or oversteps, that emergence, amplified by salience, happens nearly instantly. The state has been contained, constrained as never before, hemmed in at every point, measured, observed, recorded, reported, analyzed and assessed.

No state is smart enough, strong enough, or fast enough to counter this force. Every time we focus, the state becomes a little less potent.

49 – #FORCE

Someone jumps the turnstiles at the train station. It’s upsetting: no one likes to see such a flagrant violation of the law performed to so publicly. A moment of dissonance and powerlessness: You really ought to do something. Something ought to be done. Then the gate-jumper disappears, lost in the crowd.

The act has been witnessed, of course. Scores of closed-circuit TV cameras cover every area and every angle, but with so much to see, is anyone watching? Every Panopticon requires its Argus, studded with eyes, eternally vigilant. The concentration of observation in surveillance requires a center greater than the sum of its inputs. Crumbling under the Burden of Omniscience, power gives out that it sees all while actually observing very little.

This gap between the recorded and the observed exists only in the hierarchies of top-down power. I see the queue-jumper, for he makes his leap right in front of me. Yet except on the very rare occasion when I might be called upon as an eyewitness in a criminal investigation, my observations mean nothing to power. That does not make them meaningless.

Power is not the arbiter of salience. Had I my camera to hand (instead of in my pocket) and snapped a photo of the offender, then shared it, the image would have achieved a momentary ‘caught in the act’ notoriety, seen by everyone connected to everyone who cared enough to send it along. If that snap had been of something more provocative – such as an assault – the image would have traveled far and wide, likely getting picked up by the broadcast media, instantly amplifying its reach a hundred fold. If it bleeds, it leads.

Hyperconnected, we now each confront a succession of hyperdistributed images: some funny, others sad, a few nonsensical, a small number clawing at the heart. When a 68 year-old grandmother gets bullied to tears by a squadron of 13 year-old boys, that’s a tragedy. When one of those boys posts the video to YouTube, the tragedy (via hyperstupidity) becomes an instant sensation. Empathy is a flavour of salience; we feel its importance to us. When someone gets hurt, we understand the pain in our souls.

A few people joined in pain would be unremarkable, but a planet, hyperconnected, sharing and feeling, foment hyperochlocracy, the new mob rule. The mob has no center. Things just happen, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively. The boys received thousands of death threats; the grandmother, over half a million dollars in donations. The separate actions of the mob constitute the death of a thousand cuts, while its collective actions have a force beyond any expectation.

Hyperochlocracy is not personal, nor can it be called up and put down like a legion of loyal troops. It can not be invoked or appealed to, because there is no there there. It has no it. It is substantial without substance. Yet it possesses an undeniable reality that becomes visible only just as it rises into being.

A nine-year old girl in Scotland, tracking her school dinners for a class project – which she photographed, rated, and posted to her blog – catapulted to fame when a local newspaper discovered her blog, and wrote it up. After many thousands of visits, the local government council banned the child from taking any photos of her meals, claiming the cafeteria staff feared for their jobs (some of the less appetizing meals had been shared around widely).

Given the attention already focused on the child’s blog, the ban produced a ‘Streisand Effect’ (named after the singer, who tried to have aerial shots of her beachfront home removed from a public survey, which only directed millions more to the imagery, an early example of hyperdistribution and hyperochlocracy working hand-in-hand), the blog’s visitor count jumped by another few million, and – under the full glare of the national press – the head of the local council rescinded the ban.

Where mob rule tips over into organized public action, hyperochlocracy becomes hyperpolitics, the precise and enduring application of hyperconnectivity and its sequelae to achieve a goal in the public sphere. Over the next billion seconds, hyperpolitics will become the dominant form of collective action, replacing democratic processes that provide the ‘reassurance ritual’ (as Alvin Toffler aptly named it in The Third Wave) of voting, but leave the voter disconnected from the actual mechanism of power.

Hyperconnectivity leads to hyperpolitics: connecting, sharing, learning and doing inevitably culminate in a specific coherence, salience extending beyond a specific moment or current outrage, something that outlasts a media firestorm or a meme du jour. When the mob stops to think, and does not simply decompose into its constituent relations, but remains, receptive and ready, hyperempowerment has become hyperpolitics.

The moments of hyperempowerment grow more frequent. The emergence of hyperpolitical forces – persisting for hours or weeks – no longer delivers the same thrilling shock of the new that it did a hundred million seconds ago, but we still know next to nothing of this newest human organizational form.

We do know that the more it happens, the more it tends to happen. Every experience of hyperempowerment teaches us more about hyperempowerment: techniques and tools, learned, tried and shared, which become part of the next moment of hyperpowerment. Each experience of hyperpolitics teaches us more about what leads to permanence and coherence, the specifics of salience.

As the longest-running experiment in hyperpolitics, ANONYMOUS has thousands of constituent members constantly engaging in a search for the salient, looking for something to ‘rally the troops’ around a specific action, campaign, prank or attitude. If ANONYMOUS decided that turnstile-jumpers represented a grave threat to freedom (or, perhaps, simply for the lulz), the organization could quickly deploy individuals to monitor barriers in stations throughout the world, and gate-jumpers would be caught in the act.

This represents police force perfected beyond the wildest dreams of any dictator, because it comes from the people, connected. But antipathy to control is the price of hyperconnectivity. We can do anything we want, but only so long as no one tells us we must.

48 – #FABLE

You are abducted by aliens.

A flash of light, an instant of discontinuity, and suddenly you find yourself somewhere else: An alien spaceship. It’s mostly dark, except for the very bright lights shining in your eyes. You see movement, and glimpse a grey, furred arm, your eyes following that limb to a head looking like a bad cross between an Ewok and one of those strangely childlike creatures who come down to Earth at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Several heads, actually, all wide-eyed and blinking in wonderment.

The aliens seem confused by this state of affairs, and back away from you, creating a little hemi-circle a meter away, gesturing to one another with their forepaws, and making some odd clucking noises which presumably pass for speech where they come from. Things have not gone as planned, apparently, and you are not entirely expected. Or wanted.

Lovely. Well, at least you’re not dead, and the air seems breathable – though a bit close, and has the tang of ozone mixed in it – but now what? For a moment, no one moves at all. Then, in a flurry of activity, they gently hustle you over to a far corner, where there’s a large black disc on the floor. They back away again, and – at just the last moment – one of the aliens reaches out and pushes something into your hand.

Another discontinuity – and you’re somewhere else. But there’s obviously been a mistake: this is not where you were. It doesn’t look like home, its verdant, pleasant woods and bubbling streams. This looks – well, it could be Mars, or the surface of the Moon. You see only rock, sand and dust, stretching from beneath your feet to the low hills in the distance.

You are so screwed.

Well, maybe things aren’t so bad. You’re still alive and breathing. That’s something. The atmosphere – wherever you are – is Earthlike. Though a bit dry. You can feel some irritation in your nose, and a scratch at the back of your throat. You’re getting a bit thirsty. Wherever this is, it has a humidity of about five percent. You can sense that in your eyeballs.

You’re going to need some water soon. But where? There’s no sign of anything liquid as far as the eye can see. No clouds in the sky. What can you do? You could die without water, in this far-away place.

This is when you remember that you’re holding something. You raise it to your eyes, and turn it over, slowly. Thin and rectangular, black as night on both sides, one side matte and the other side mirrored. You can see your image in that mirror, as you frown in confusion. They gave you a polished rock?

Yet it looks vaguely familiar, like some weird gadget you might see one of your geekier friends caressing. It has no buttons, no obvious ‘On’ switch, but as you trace a fingertip across the mirrored surface, it comes to life, all colour and pattern, with a swirl of alien script and the stuttered whisper of a language you heard back on the ship.

After a few moments the light show ends, and the screen becomes a single image. It looks a lot like the scene before you. This gadget apparently has a camera rendering a live view of whatever it gets pointed at. Cute.

After a few moments you realize that the image isn’t a perfectly faithful representation. Just barely visible in one corner, a tiny blue arrow – little more than a point – blinks slowly. You set off in that direction – it’s better than standing still and doing nothing.

As you move toward the location of the blue arrow, the image becomes more dynamic. Meaningless alien glyphs scroll by, but the blue arrow grows bigger, until it indicates an area just ahead, where – to your delight – you find a pool of water.

Parched, you drink deep, enjoying the rejuvenation of hydration. Then you notice the low shrubs crowded against one side of the pool. They all have berries, big and ripe. But before you reach out, you take a peek through the gadget. Some of those berries have comfortable green outlines, while others get angry red blinking frames. Clearly, the gadget has an opinion about which of these berries can be safely eaten. The ‘safe’ berries taste good (perhaps a touch bitter), and the other berries, though inviting, you leave alone.

Thirst and appetite sated, you begin to wonder how you will ever get back home. Can you call someone with this gadget, and ask them for a ride?

*

You find yourself in a strange city. You have never been here before. You do not speak the language. You can not read the signs. The taxi driver, exasperated or distracted, has deposited you on the curb, without an intelligible word, and without any indication this is your intended destination.

You have no idea where you are.

Ok, you think, what to do? Taking your mobile from your pocket you’re surprised when the map application comes up blank – perhaps there aren’t enough GPS satellites visible from wherever you are to get signal lock. But you do still have mobile coverage, five full bars happily glowing away in one corner of the display.

Well, if you don’t know where you are, maybe someone else does. You snap a high-resolution photo of the street with your mobile, and post it to Twitter: “I’M LOST. CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHERE I AM?”

That message goes out to your followers, with the photo attached. None of them have any clue where you are, or what that strange writing is. Given the seriousness of your plea, they pass your tweet along to their followers. You’ve gone from a hundred people to ten thousand in an instant. One of them recognizes the script – it’s Thai – but not the street. Fortunately, that person has connections to quite a few Thai, so when they pass your message along, it get to someone who knows that Bangkok street quite well – their office sits just a few doors away from where you stand. That person helpfully responds directly to you, and you engage in rapid-fire conversation, as you orient yourself, and learn how to get to your hotel. (Which was just down a nearby soi, not that your taxi driver told you.)

*

These two fables speak to our lives today. While not strangers in a strange land, we rely on one another to avoid the bad and seek out the good, turning to one another because we can, and because we employ hyperconnectivity, finding exactly what we need just when we need it. Every one of us, in every moment, uses hyperconnectivity to bring us into hyperintelligence.

We are smarter than we once were because we have so many others informing us. Individually we have not become very much brighter during the last half billion seconds, but our actions no longer reflect the depth of our ignorance – unless we willingly turn away from the knowledge on offer. That turning away constitutes the new ignorance.

Hyperempowerment of the individual has an immediate, practical dimension. Each of us makes better decisions every time we put hyperintelligence to work. With each decision, we become more convinced of the value of hyperconnected hyperintelligence. Success breeds success: We repeat anything that has worked in the past to bring us success in the moment. A series of successes craft a pattern of behavior which soon becomes almost instinctual. We learn how to do better, and as that lesson works its way under our skin, we identify with our new capability to make the best possible decision in any situation. We become our hyperempowerment.

43 – #MUNTED

Dicit ei Pilatus: “Quid est veritas?”

Vaccines cause autism.

Man never landed on the Moon.

Obama is a Muslim.

Everything is true. Even false things. We know this, because whatever we believe, we can find confirmation. Provide any assertion (however outrageous) to a search engine, and find the others: Flat Earthers and Birthers, Lizard Rulers and Orgone Believers. Where we once confronted the Horrible Truth alone, we now band together. We act as balm for each other’s wounds, soothing the pains of a World That Will Not Listen, blind to the truth.

What is truth? Is it simply what we believe, or is there something outside ourselves which must serve as reference point? Can something become true simply because enough people believe it? We frequently act as though belief magically transmutes into truth. But if this were true, there would be no truth, consistency, nor logic. The world would be a patchwork of assertions inside each of our own heads, with each of us the creators of our own peculiar universes, each running according to their own rules. More than mere solipsism, this amounts to a psychotic separation from the real.

What is real? Reality is that which will kill you if ignored long enough. It takes the form of a polio virus, transmitted in the wake of a collapse in herd immunity, because too many children went unvaccinated; or a lethal bacteria, which evolved resistance to all antibiotics because people have a poor understanding of natural selection, and reject evolutionary theory; or an asteroid impact, unavoidable because the crystal sphere of heavens is fixed and unchanging. Reasonable to ridiculous, flimsy to fatal, one truth remains unchanging and undiluted: “It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just ain’t so!”

We have constructed the perfect amplifier of knowledge. Only now do we see its shadow, ignorance at the speed of light: hyperstupidity. We can feed at the tree of knowledge, but this is both good and evil. We come not in innocence, but in ignorance, and that ignorance shapes our taste in fruit. Blinded by what we do not know, clinging to what we believe, we seek reassurance, not anxiety, a self-reinforcing loop of choices which leave us increasingly imprisoned by our own prejudices.

How delightful, then, when someone else comes along to reify us, praising us for holding to our peculiar truths. We return the favor, sharing around our shared interest in this truth, and that moment of connection becomes a bond. One bond, replicated in other moments of connection, becomes a community, defined not by what it believes, but rather, by what it rejects. Heresy is the boundary of all community: to be free one must be shunned.

Sharing does not create truth. There is no generative epistemology within hyperintelligence. Connection, sharing and learning can lead to wisdom, but may also produce a greater darkness. Until the moment when an entire structure collapses – a bridge of fantasy undone by the real – we can continue believing. If that moment never comes, if our beliefs never engender life-or-death emergencies, we can carry them throughout the course of our lives, acting on them as if they were true, even though they are not. This produces a wake of small errors, decisions which flow from a larger but unrevealed flaw.

We have always believed more than we know, and acted from those beliefs. Though we should know everything now, perversely we believe more than before, a rejection of the Age of Omniscience for a false sense of security. More than false, dangerous: since ‘all knowing is doing, and all doing knowing’, we act from the lies we tell ourselves, and these lies have consequence.

We find ourselves moving with inertia into the substance of our lies. As we move deeper into the lie, it becomes harder to repent, and change direction. Assumptions become beliefs become prejudices, fixed psychic objects which we defend as if identical to ourselves. (That lie is the mother to many others.)

Lies accumulate. We make a decision based on our own misapprehension of the truth; this becomes the basis for someone else’s decision, the foundation of fact they must draw upon, and the whole thing becomes more error-ridden as time passes, patched repeatedly until a moment of catastrophic failure. The real asserts its prerogative, bringing everything down.

At this moment, we could ‘endure the unendurable’, changing our beliefs to more closely model reality, or we could turn away more completely, shutting ourselves off from any connection to the real, until that moment when it can no longer be ignored, forestalled, or thwarted.

As the flow of information accelerates in the age of hyperconnectivity, the pressure on all beliefs correspondingly increases. It is harder to assert anything unchallenged, but it is also more difficult to be shouted down. We search through all the noise for any signal that confirms what we believe, seizing upon it, sharing it with all who share our belief, and strengthening that belief for the entire community. We do this with increasing speed and ever-improving effectiveness.

Trapped as never before, creatures of our peculiar truths, even if we could look beyond ourselves, we would only see other menageries of other creatures, mirrors of ourselves and our condition. We consider knowledge liberation, but it is also a straightjacket, enabling and disabling in equal proportion. This is the paradox of hyperintelligence: all of our knowing constrains us, even as it gives us wings to fly.

We can not simply keep our heads empty. They will inevitably fill up with something. We need not be ignorant about our ignorance. But in this moment, in our ignorance, we are munted.

Munted – adj. refers to the property of an object (or person) as broken, ruined, significantly damaged, disfigured or deformed, often to the extent that it is not reversible or repairable.

42 – #MEDIC

The objection always comes, always sounding the same notes of incredulity and fear. “But”, it always begins, “you can’t honestly believe this. Things don’t really work this way.”

Always framed around expertise, this objection asserts the primacy of the individual, their training and experience inherently superior to anything that might be derived from hyperconnected, hyperdistributed hyperintelligence. Their learning, over years, at the feet of masters, must always trump anything learned just about anywhere else from anyone else.

They refute the new, arguing for the tradition of education, and the transmission of mysteries: these count, but nothing else. New mechanisms of knowledge formation must be inherently suspect because they lie beyond the time-honored systems which have always fostered expertise. They have no history, no substance. Insubstantial, these new practices are meaningless, even dangerous.

For the coup de gras, they conjure an image of a surgeon, poised over an anaesthetized body, and ask the question: “Medical school… or Wikipedia?”

We are not used to the discontinuous growth in empowerment wrought by hyperintelligence. We can not imagine ourselves suddenly transformed and equipped with new capabilities. Conditioned by the way things have always worked, we expect everything to remain the same even after everything has changed completely.

Confronted by this ridiculous demand to cleave to the old and trusted over the new and raw, we seek the safety of the known, even as it exposes itself not in wisdom, but rather, its opposite.

Doctors become less accurate over the course of their careers, yet ever more sure of their diagnoses. Their guesses concretize into opinions and ossify into facts, tight and tidy, personal and specific. No one is perfect, but we have the knack of reinforcing our imperfections, buttressing our ignorance with willful stupidity.

Doctors are by no means singular or exceptional; we all do this, and we all do this all the time. We all think we know more than we actually do, and we act on that knowledge. As Twain once wrote, ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble — it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so!’

By ourselves, we know less than we believe. Hyperconnected, we know more than we realize, far more than we give ourselves credit for. One mind can wallow in ignorance undisturbed, but a group of minds will see beyond the mind-forg’d manacles that blind anyone one of them.

We all now bring all of us into every situation, every decision. Never alone, we can refer back to what others have written, or in the moment ask what others think. We can take this advice or ignore it, as suits the situation and our temperament, but we will never again be free from it. These voices in our heads seek to help us into more perfect action.

If we are not perfect in the application of hyperintelligence, we are continuously improving. Hyperintelligence focuses upon itself, seeking to improve itself. As we grow in hyperintelligence, we become more refined both in our technique and application of hyperintelligence. It becomes a fundamental feature of our being, an ontological leap across the abyss of unknowing. In mid-air, we feel the propulsion that will land us safely on the other side, but we also sense much we once believed solid suddenly slip away, dropping into the nameless depths below.

Respect for authority; respect for tradition; respect for those who command respect. All of this has become increasingly provisional, all of it less and less necessary to the smooth functioning of culture, as the systems which preserved and protected us obsolesce before rising hyperintelligence. The auteur, supplanted by the hyperconnected amateur, struggles to find footing in an environment which privileges the connected over the singular.

“Medical school… or Wikipedia?” Increasingly, the answer will be ‘Wikipedia’, as we learn how to construct systems which take the best of what it is known and bring it into focus for those who have the greatest need to know it. Doctors will not disappear – nor any other profession – but their specifics now grow diffuse. They will not be able to function by themselves, any more than any of us can. The doctor is a cloud of connections: to peers, patients, and knowledge. This is already true, this has always been true, and is now growing more true.

We want the surgeon who can not simply operate from prejudice, but must, at every moment, sharpen themselves against the whetstone of hyperintelligence. We want the close collaboration wrought by hyperconnectivity to act both as correction and critique, showing us the way into a continuous improvement of our capabilities. We want this, we need this, and we now have this.

But it is painful. No one likes to be reminded of their ignorance, all of the blocks which we fill with assumptions that mirror our unspoken and unconscious beliefs. We would rather retreat into a fantasy reinforced through selectivity, cutting off more and more of the obvious truth where it lies at variance with our desire. We would be islands, self-sufficient and secure, ignorant of the sea which touches all. But the ocean rises, and all lands soon will disappear beneath the waves.

In that sudden continuous sea, expertise supplants profession, and knowledge brought to hand carries greater weight than anything laboriously learned, simply because the collection of billions of minds immediately outweighs any specific genius of any single person. Genius drowns beneath the rising tide of hyperconnectivity, unless that gift, shared with others, becomes part of the broadly known. It has always been like this, but it has never been this clear.

People will be known for knowing what they know. Masters will continue. It is the process of mastery that has changed beyond all recognition. The medical school is Wikipedia, and all of us as well, connected, sharing and learning, all looking on, as the scalpel goes in.

39 – #MYSTERY

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.

38 – #MASTERY

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.

36 – #MIND

Everyone is an expert. Our presence in the world means that we will encounter a range of experiences, some of which, resonant, we will move toward, investing ourselves completely. Our passions drive us toward the goal, and our thirst for knowledge – inherent and unending – absorbs everything we encounter as we move from ignorance into expertise.

To repeat: everyone is an expert. The dimensions of individual expertise vary widely. Some love sport, others cars, food, politics, soap operas, film, dogs, aircraft, videogames – the list goes on, more or less endlessly. There is no limit to the number of things that interest us, at least none we have found. There is no line that will not be crossed in the drive to know; even the most transgressive topics have their aficionados, keeping their fetishes to themselves except when surrounded by others who share their predilections.

Experts revel in their expertise, wishing for the whole world to share their passion and depth of knowledge. A certain pedantry comes with that expertise; we have all been the recipient of a long monologue from someone declaiming the breadth of their expertise on some topic which barely interests us but which entirely consumes them. And if we should share the same passion – something we quickly discover – each plumbs the depths of the other’s expertise, greedily adding to our own knowledge.

Groups self-identify so they can proselytize, spreading the love of their football team or religion or favorite musician as naturally and automatically as breathing. Standing on street corners, handing out tracts, or in front of the stadium, wearing team colours, they point to themselves in order to find the others, attracting everyone who shares their interest. Together they share, teach and learn, explore and enjoy, and occasionally they capture some stories, so that other people, beyond their reach, might learn something of what they know.

Except in these moments of sharing captured, our expertise has mostly remained locked within our heads. It comes out as needed or when invited, but after the conversation ends, the expertise vanishes. Useful but evanescent, we can connect and share around our expertise, but could preserve it only with great difficulty. Every beginner has had to find the others, learning from them, every single time. For this reason, expertise has always been slow and hard-won.

That barrier has come down.

Every expert can now express their knowledge permanently, sharing their jewels in a form that lets everyone – from absolute beginner to guru – find and benefit from it. As soon as it became possible to share in this indelible, digital, hyperconnected, hyperdistributed form, it became utterly irresistible to all experts everywhere.

Over the last half billion seconds we have witnessed a momentous transfer of knowledge: The insides of each of our heads vacuumed out, contents replicated and transferred to vast libraries, broad and deep, reflecting everything known to any one of us, on every conceivable subject. The topic could be quotidian or impossibly obscure – it makes no difference. As soon as someone shares what they know, it is available to every one of us. We all know what they know.

Everything known is now widely known. There are no secrets anywhere, nor any knowledge hidden because of obscurity or intentional efforts to evade capture and replication. The age of omniscience allows us to know not just where we all are, but what we all know. If our heads could stretch wide enough, we could know everything known to everyone everywhere. Something recently impossibly fanciful is, if properly stage-managed, within the realm of possibility.

When a question arises outside our expertise, we instinctively consult the device in our palm, connected to all the other devices everywhere which have collected, collated and made all of this knowledge instantly searchable. We quickly locate the answer we need, and move on until the next question arises. We have grown entirely used to this pervasive ability to answer any questions, finding ourselves surprised – and at a bit of a loss – when we stumble upon some corner too obscure to admit an answer. Or perhaps we do not know how to frame the question? We know the truth is out there, but we have not learned how to find all of it.

Everything is known, has been shared, and, now available instantly to all of us, this guides our actions. We can check the truth of something before we make a decision concerning it. We can always work from the best available information at every given moment. There is no need for any of us ever to make a guess, drawn from our own imagination and prejudices. The facts are known and are immediately at hand.

We now have the benefit of the most expert information on every subject. We can walk in knowing nothing, reach out to the device in our hand, and learn everything we need to know at that moment to make the best possible decision. We can maximize our knowledge in every situation, and the continuous application of that knowledge improves our lives. This improvement is both gradual and general: the next billion seconds will see human decision-making become progressively less error-prone, more and more perfect, because of this steady injection of everything known by everyone about every topic under the sun.

In those moments when we remember that we have nearly perfect knowledge to fall back upon, we become smarter. As that moment, continuously repeated, becomes automatic and instinctive, we acquire a second mind, outside our own, vast beyond comprehension, containing everything, sitting alongside our own, smarter and wiser and faster, continuously informing us of how to maximize every moment.

Welcome to the hive.