Thanks to JT @ TannerVision for pointing me to Kevin Kelly‘s intriguing TED Talk tracing our trajectory through its first 5,000 and into the next 5,000 days of the Web. Kelly’s statistics of trace the growth of the One Machine of the World Wide Web rapidly assimilating all others:

  • 5% of global electricity usage
  • 240 exabytes storage
  • 7 terabytes/second data transfer (equivalent Library of Congress transferred every 3 seconds)
  • 55 trillion Weblinks (equivalent to the number of synapses in a human brain)
  • 1 billion computer processors composed of 1 quintillion transistors (equivalent to the number of neurons in a human brain)
  • doubling every 2 years

Kelly argues that the combination of Web 3.0 (the semantic Web which allows us to take the granularity of the Web from hyperlinked pages down to the level of interconnected concepts through such technologies as XML & Web Ontology Language) and, a bit further down the road, the coming ubiquity of Web-enabled devices (via RFID & embedded wireless Internet), will soon give us an embodied Web, an Internet of things. Even now, Kelly shows that many of our separate devices are converging in this direction, with computers, cell phones, PDAs, digital TVs, Webcams, all acting as portals into and/or sense organs of “the cloud”, the One Machine of the Web-enabled Internet.

Kelly’s prognostications strike me as a likely first implementation of Gregory Stock’s concept of Metaman, the global superorganism that we as a species are evolving, wired together through electronic nervous system of the Internet. As a single cell likely to be assimilated into Metaman, I sincerely hope its global brain develops apace with the physical construction of its body in such a way that protects my individual autonomy. It is certainly not hard to imagine an Orwellian version of an Internet of Things, with spying eyes and ears in every 3G GPS PDA camera phone tied back into the One Machine in an inescapable system of monitoring and control.

I am hopeful that we will avoid 1984. I think adoption of Web-enabled technologies will continue to be voluntary, not coercive, done for the advantages they bring, not foisted upon us by those in power. However, once in place, such technologies can still be co-opted by governments or other elites, highlighting the need for enforceable transparency and accountability and vigilance in protecting civil liberties. Those are the memes about our future relationship as part of the One Machine that I will seek to spread on the nascent noosphere of Web 2.0 even while version 3.0 and the Internet of Things are being built.