Lose the Ego, Embrace the Hive

Recent decades have seen a rise in the pace of technological advancement. Once the personal computer went mainstream, networking technology evolved and before we knew it we could communicate over online bulletin boards. The more brains that logged on, the more powerful the global hive-mind became. All sorts of innovations emerged, from reliable email to chat rooms, from keyword search tools to faster and more accurate page ranking. Then we saw the rise of social media, with Facebook and Twitter taking centre stage. Bandwidth and compression improved and we now have Youtube and Netflix. The emergence of cheap, widely available, and highly capable smartphones put the internet in our pockets, and the number of people who could access the internet, even in developing nations, skyrocketed. This had the effect of connecting even more brains to this global biological supercomputer, adding further voices, ideas and skills to the mix, further accelerating technological advancement.

With all the silicon and wiring involved, it is easy to forget that the internet is about lots of people, who are connected together, talking about, planning and creating things. It is a communication tool — a glorified pen and paper — that links thoughts and ideas together, enabling them to be realised with less friction. The internet is not the creation of any one great figurehead or small group of figureheads, but a global supercomputer made up of all the brains that interact with it.

Now try to comprehend just how big that is. As of 2016, there were 3.3 billion internet users according to the International Telecommunications Union, up by over 1.3 billion compared to 2010. That’s almost half the world’s population and rising. You will soon be part of a biological supercomputer made up of most of the brains on the planet, exchanging news, ideas, creativity, innovations and eventually cryptocurrencies. The internet is now not just an invention or a technology, but part of all of a network that is part human, part machine. A cyborg that spans the entire world. A cyborg that is bigger than any individual or government, and beyond any kind of centralised policy or regulation.

As the connectivity created by the internet drives virtually every modern technological innovation, I often wonder what the invisible force directing modern technology is. Where is the CEO, CTO or treasurer of the internet? How is the Bitcoin network still running smoothly after 10 years and handling 3 transactions per second at the time of writing without leaders or titles, but simply an autonomous codebase and passionate programmers contributing to an open source project? Perhaps the leader in these large-scale global networks is an invisible force bigger than any one of us, with intelligence beyond our comprehension. Perhaps the leader is all of us collectively, like a group of nerve cells making up a brain.

Maybe it’s time to lose the titles, ditch the ego and accept that innovation can be crowd sourced, and it is perhaps better than when you put a project under the control of one comparatively narrow-minded, biased, and corruptible group of leaders. Imagine if we could crowdsource any engineering project on demand: You want an aircraft? Toss the request out there and watch millions of people think, plan, experiment and develop one. It sounds crazy, but the only missing ingredient is the coordination, which, with the right protocol, might emerge from the hive mind itself.