A blog by George Engel

Rhymes and Reasons: The Internet in the hands of Gutenberg

I wonder if Gutenberg, in the invention of the printing press, realized what he had unleashed into the world. That single invention, even in its simplest incarnation, changed the face of the earth forever. It gave, eventually, even the common man access to information that he or she had never possessed. It gave the common man education, science, mathematics, literature, music, entertainment, and so on, on a level never seen before. Now, that printing press is represented in the internet. The internet has had a similar revolutionary effect on the world that the printing press had in its day. The Internet has not just granted access to information like the printing press, but it has also sped up the delivery of that information and changed the way the information is accessed.

This leads me to the talk that Kevin Kelly gave on the First 5000 days of the Web back in 2007 shown in the video below:

This talk brings up many images of various science fiction themes from the concept of the “Skynet” in the Terminator series to the open access of the Minority Report. I even see shadows of Movies like the Matrix and concepts like Battlestar Galactica in play with Kelly’s discussion of the web becoming a world mind… These are interesting thoughts worth of exploration at another time.

Kelly mentions three basic concepts of the changing Web in the next 5000 days of its existence, embodiment, restructuring, and co-dependency. In a way, though these are separate concepts, they all are linked closely together through the Web. The concept of embodiment focuses on the idea that the Web will be a part of everything, from our cars and phones to the lights in the ceiling and shoes on our feet. Everything will have a piece of Web technology in it. We will be a part of that “everything,” so that not just the machines but also humanity becomes an integral part of the body of the Web. It will measure and record everything that is done.

The restructuring will come from how information is shared on the Web. Until recently, the Web was a collection of pages with links to on another. Now, instead, it is becoming a series of links of data points. Now the Web links ideas and concepts and data instead of the page. This will change how we perceive things and access information.

Finally, the Web is leading us toward co-dependency, not dependency. Co-dependency in that we will depend on the web for every aspect of our lives. It will be the source of travel, diets, and any other need that we have. However, that need is reciprocal because the web will need us to gather and input information into its structures.

I leave this post with one final thought. Will the Web eventually become sentient?


4 responses

  1. Orit


    Great comparison! The Guttenberg Press and the Internet; both ideas opened so many avenues to spread knowledge. It is hard to imagine our lives without books and the Internet.


    January 14, 2011 at 5:23 PM

  2. LOren


    I just read today that all of the books available through the Gutenburg Press are available to Kindle users.

    This is “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    It seems that “format” used to be such a detractor to technology. An innovation would arrive, but if it was not available to some users, the company kept a corner of the market pure (think Apple), if they could survive. Now, an application once available, is readily accessible in multiple formats, or easily converted.

    I just don’t think we will ever arrive at a time when the web itself becomes capable of perception, or feeling. Do you?

    January 15, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    • gbengel

      I think with the work that is being done on AI it is possible. I remember a time when no one thought that bionic limbs were possible, they were dreams fostered by fiction like the “Six Million Dollar Man,” but we see that today. I also remember when people thought that robotic dolls were not possible, but there are some in existence today. When it comes to the future, anything is possible in my mind.

      January 15, 2011 at 1:14 PM

  3. bluejfm

    Really interesting comparison, something I hadn’t thought of. I believe the Internet will be the most significant innovation in our lifetime. It really has put a stamp on most of our everyday lives. I still do not even know what additional impact the Internet will have on the future.

    Personally, to imagine the web becoming sentient is a hard thing for me to fathom. However, seeing how powerful computers are becoming, who knows. Take for instance, this past week’s news that the IBM computer took on past Jeopardy opponents, and WON! That makes me wonder about the future.



    January 15, 2011 at 1:30 PM

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