Global Brain

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Global Brain, concept, but also the title of a book by Howard Bloom.

The Concept

= "The Global Brain can be defined as the distributed intelligence emerging from all human and technological agents as interacting via the Internet. It plays the role of a nervous system for the social superorganism". [1]


From the Global Brain FAQ of the Principia Cybernetica Project:

"The global brain is the name given to the emerging intelligent network formed by all people on this planet, together with the computers and communication links that connect them together. Like a real brain, this network is an immensely complex, self-organizing system, that processes information, makes decisions, solves problems, learns new connections and discovers new ideas. It plays the role of a collective nervous system for the whole of humanity. No person, organization or computer is in control of this system: its "thought" processes are distributed over all its components."


Description of the Global Brain

From Francis Heylighen:

"There is little doubt that the most important technological, economic and social development of the past decades is the emergence of a global, computer-based communication network. This network has been growing at an explosive rate, affecting—directly or indirectly—ever more aspects of the daily lives of the people on this planet. A general trend is that the information network becomes ever more global, more encompassing, more tightly linked to the individuals and groups that use it, and more intelligent in the way it supports them. The web doesn't just passively provide information, it now also actively alerts and guides people to the best options for them personally, while stimulating them to share their experience. To support this, the web increasingly builds on the knowledge and intelligence of all its users collectively, thanks to technologies such as blogs, wikis, ontologies, collaborative filtering, software agents, and online markets. It appears as though the net is turning into a nervous system for humanity.

The “Global Brain” is a metaphor for this emerging, collectively intelligent network that is formed by the people of this planet together with the computers, knowledge bases, and communication links that connect them together. This network is an immensely complex, self-organizing system. It not only processes information, but increasingly can be seen to play the role of a brain: making decisions, solving problems, learning new connections, and discovering new ideas. No individual, organization or computer is in control of this system: its knowledge and intelligence are distributed over all its components. They emerge from the collective interactions between all the human and machine subsystems. Such a system may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that have eluded more traditional approaches. Yet, at the same time it will create new technological and social challenges that are still difficult to imagine."


History of the Global Brain vision

From Francis Heylighen:

"Although these developments seem very modern, the underlying visions of knowledge and society have deep roots, going back to Antiquity, and developed in particular during the 19th and 20th centuries. This concept of a cognitive system at the planetary level has been proposed by many different authors under different names: planetary brain, world brain, global mind, noosphere, social brain, Metaman [Stock, 1993], super-organism [Heylighen, 2007c], super-being [Turchin, 1977], and collective consciousness are some of the roughly equivalent synonyms. The evolutionary theologian Teilhard de Chardin [1969, first published 1947 but written earlier] was probably the first to focus on the mental organization of this social organism, which he called the “noosphere”. Around the same time, the science fiction writer H. G. Wells [1938] proposed the concept of a “world brain” as a unified system of knowledge, accessible to all. The term “global brain” seems to have been first used by Russell [1995]. The first people to have made the connection between this concept and the emerging Internet may well be Mayer-Kress [1995] and de Rosnay [2000]. Heylighen and Bollen [1996], and Goertzel [2001] appear to be the first researchers to have proposed concrete technologies that might turn the Internet into an intelligent, brain-like network.

The global brain vision draws part of its inspiration from a number of related approaches. Collective intelligence [Lévy, 1997; Heylighen, 1999] is the idea that a group can be more intelligent than its members. The best-known examples are social insects, such as ants, termites or bees, which are individually dumb, but capable of surprisingly intelligent behavior when functioning as a group. The intelligence of the global brain will be collective, as it arises from the interactions between millions of individuals. Symbiotic intelligence is the idea that intelligence can also emerge from the interactions between essentially different components, such as people and computers. As de Rosnay [2000] proposes, people will live in symbiosis with this surrounding network of technological systems, and out of this symbiosis, a higher-level intelligence will emerge.

Although most researchers have addressed the global brain idea from a scientific or technological point of view, authors like Teilhard de Chardin [1969] and Russell [1995] have explored some of its spiritual aspects. Similar to many mystical traditions, the global brain idea holds the promise of a much-enhanced level of consciousness and a state of deep synergy or union that encompasses humanity as a whole. Theists might view this state of holistic consciousness as a union with God. Humanists might see it as the creation, by humanity itself, of an entity with God-like powers. Followers of the Gaia hypothesis have suggested that the “living Earth” of which we are all part deserves awe and worship; it therefore could form the basis of a secular, ecologically inspired religion. The Global Brain vision may offer a similar sense of belonging to a larger whole and of an encompassing purpose."


Technologies for a Global Brain

From Francis Heylighen:

"The web is the hypermedia interface to the information residing on the Internet. It makes it possible to seamlessly integrate documents that are distributed over the entire planet, and created by people who may not even be aware of each others' existence. What holds these documents together is not their geographic location, but their associations: links connecting mutually relevant pages. This hypermedia architecture is analogous to the one of our brain, where concepts are connected by associations, and the corresponding assemblies of neurons by synapses. The web thus functions like a huge associative memory for society.

However, the brain is more than a static memory: it can learn and think. Learning takes place by the strengthening of associations that are used often, and the weakening of rarely used associations. Through learning, the brain constantly enhances its organization and increases its store of knowledge. Thinking happens by the activation of concepts and the “spreading” of this activation to related concepts, in proportion to the strength of association. Thinking allows the brain to solve problems, to make decisions, and to be creative, that is, discover combinations of concepts never encountered before. By making simple changes to its static architecture, we can implement similar processes on the web.

In the brain, learning follows the rule of Hebb: if two neurons are activated in close succession, the strength of their connection is increased. I have proposed to apply a similar procedure to the web [Heylighen and Bollen, 1996, 2002]: if two web pages are consulted by the same user within a short interval, either the existing hyperlink between the pages gets a higher weight, or a new link is created. On any given page, only the links with a minimum weight are shown. Thus, links that are not sufficiently reinforced may eventually disappear. The result is that such a learning web constantly adapts to the way it is used, reorganizing its pattern of links to best reflect the preferences of its users. In practice, this creates direct links between the pages that are most strongly related, bypassing less interesting detours, and clustering pages together according to their mutual relevance. As such, the web becomes much more efficient to use, by assimilating the collective knowledge and desires of its users.

The simplest way to implement web “thinking” is to create a specialized software agent. This is a program that works as a “delegate” of its user, autonomously collecting information that is likely to be interesting to its user. The agent can learn the user's preferences simply by observing which pages the user actively uses, or it can receive specific instructions (e.g. keywords) from the user. Given that preference profile, the agent can locate pages that satisfy the profile, and then use “spreading activation” to find further, related documents. It does this by “activating” pages in proportion to their degree of interestingness, and then propagating that activation according to the hyperlinks and their weights as learned from other users. Thus, it can discover new documents, that may not contain any of the initially given keywords, but that are still highly relevant to the query. This is especially useful when the user cannot clearly formulate the query, but only has an intuitive feel for it.

With such technologies, the web would become a giant, collective brain, which you could consult at any moment to get an answer to your questions, however unusual or vaguely formulated they may be. Its thought processes would always be ready to enhance and extend your own thinking. To fully harness the power of this global brain, it should be constantly available. The rapid spread of mobile communication already offers universal access to the web, wherever you are. Further miniaturization will lead to wearable computers, incorporated in your clothing, with images projected on your glasses. Automatic recognition of speech, gestures and even emotions will make communication with the web much easier and more intuitive. In the longer term, we can foresee direct connections between computer and brain, through neural interfaces. This would allow you to communicate with the global brain simply by thinking, having your thoughts immediately sensed, understood, and enhanced. Your thoughts could also be directly turned into actions, as when you use the global brain to order a pizza, get a taxi, or switch on the heating, so that it would be nice and warm by the time you come home."



By Shima Beigi and Francis Heylighen:

"A recurrent metaphor used to understand the long-term development of the World-Wide Web is that of a global brain [8, 12, 18], i.e. a collective central nervous system for humankind.

There are several aspects to this analogy.

First, the web, and more generally the Internet, is a network of communication links that transfer signals between the different elements of the global superorganism — the system formed by individuals, organizations and machines collectively — thus helping them to function in a coordinated manner. Second, the web is a repository for nearly the whole of human knowledge, thus acting like a collective memory for the species.

Third, the knowledge in the web is structured like an associative network of documents connected by hyperlinks. This is similar to the associative structure of semantic memory in the brain. Fourth, additional links are created either manually or through recommendation systems that learn from the way documents are being used in the same context in order to suggest related documents. This is similar to the mechanism of Hebbian learning in the brain, which can be summarized as “neurons (documents) that fire (are used) together, wire (become linked) together”.

Finally, when the knowledge in the web is structured according to a consensual ontology, as proposed for the Semantic Web [2], its links can be used to perform automatic inferences and thus answer queries across distributed memory elements.

The theories of distributed cognition and of the extended mind have shown that these brain-like functions are not just metaphorical: the information stored, processed and propagated across the web effectively extends our individual and collective mental capabilities. Thus, they are becoming increasingly integrated with the processes inside our brains—a development that may reach its apogee with direct brain-computer interfaces, as envisaged e.g. by Neuralink, the company recently founded by Elon Musk."


The Book


Book: Howard Bloom. Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century.


"Howard Bloom's first book, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces of History, was a shock to those who believe that the greed of genes turns us into selfish loners. But Bloom's second volume, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, will come as an even bigger surprise. Says Elizabeth Loftus, past president of the American Psychological Society: "Howard Bloom's Global Brain is filled with scientific firsts. It is the first book to make a strong, solidly backed, and theoretically original case that we do not live the lonely lives of selfish beings driven by selfish genes, but are parts of a larger whole. It is the first to propose that sociality was implicit in the start of the universe--the Big Bang. Global Brain is the first book to present strong evidence that evolutionary, biological, perceptual, and emotional mechanisms have made us parts of a social learning machine--a mass mind which includes all species of life, not just humankind. It is the first to take this idea out of the realm of mysticism and into the sphere of hard-nosed, data-derived reality. And it is one of the few books which carry off such grand visions with energy, excitement, and keen insight."

Global Brain says that a world-wide web has been with us since the first moments of life, and that global connectivity isn't a product of our technology, it's built into our biology. It's in our cells, our bodies, and our brains."


Special Journal Issue

* The Global Brain as a model of the future information society: An introduction to the special issue. Francis Heylighen, Marta Lenartowicz. Technological Forecasting & Social Change 114 (2017) 1–6


"A brief history of this idea is sketched, with a focus on the developments leading to the creation of the Global Brain Group, and the Global Brain Institute."

More Information

  1. The Global Brain FAQ is very comprehensive, at
  2. The Wikipedia entry is at
  3. The Global Brain Institute