Accelerating Socio-Technological Evolution – from ephemeralization and stigmergy to the global brain
Evolution is presented as a trial-and-error process that produces a progressive accumulation of knowledge. At the level of technology, this leads to ephemeralization, i.e. ever increasing productivity, or decreasing of the friction that normally dissipates resources. As a result, flows of matter, energy and information circulate ever more easily across the planet. This global connectivity increases the interactions between agents, and thus the possibilities for conflict. However, evolutionary progress also reduces social friction, via the creation of institutions. The emergence of such “mediators” is facilitated by stigmergy: the unintended collaboration between agents resulting from their actions on a shared environment. The Internet is a near ideal medium for stigmergic interaction. Quantitative stigmergy allows the web to learn from the activities of its users, thus becoming ever better at helping them to answer their queries. Qualitative stigmergy stimulates agents to collectively develop novel knowledge. Both mechanisms have direct analogues in the functioning of the human brain. This leads us to envision the future, super-intelligent web as a “global brain” for humanity. The feedback between social and technological advances leads to an extreme acceleration of innovation. An extrapolation of the corresponding hyperbolic growth model would forecast a singularity around 2040. This can be interpreted as the evolutionary transition to the Global Brain regime.