Monday, November 18, 2019

The recipe is not the cake

I was watching people use the internet: three people, sitting in their living room, tapping away, staring at their phones. I was trying to see the world from their perspective, not from mine. I was struggling with the concept of people being with each other but not talking with each other. I was raised in a world where that sort of behavior was considered very rude and unacceptable. But here were three people, friends and family, who found it perfectly normal to be sitting by one another while absorbed in another world.

I imagined that I was on the other end of their internet connection, where my experience of them would be very different: engaged, acknowledged, sharing points of view. It struck me that, if I thought of each node of the internet (a person connected to the internet) was like a single neuron of the brain, I would have exactly the same two perspectives. From the outside looking in, I would watch a neuron, firing from time to time, surrounded by other neurons, but perhaps not connected or interacting with them. While if I looked from the perspective of the signal, into and out of the neuron, there would be an active connection with thousands of other neurons, in a dialogue that was exciting and dynamic, not "three potatoes sitting on a couch."

I was also struck by the internet, the connection of those three people to thousands of other people, exciting and dynamic, lacked a sense of "self-awareness"; like the internet was more animal than human, following its own forces, in its response and evolution to an ever-changing environment. What would self-awareness for the internet look like? Watching itself, its activities, its state? Would self-awareness by the internet generate energy to change? Energy to act? What would THAT look like? Would self-awareness by the internet lead to motivation? Perception of alternate, possible states? And would that lead to efforts to choose an action to inch the internet to a preferred state?

It is interesting, to think of a recipe for chocolate cake, the steps to create a delicious desert. I can taste the cake, and the big glass of milk, or maybe a strong cup of coffee that accompanies my slice. But the steps for creating the cake are not the cake itself, only a recipe. And the algorithm that is the internet is only a program, a process, and not the internet itself.

To try to understand how the internet might change humankind, perhaps I need to understand several perspectives: internal, external, the process, the state. And no doubt I will need to have lots of different people's perspective, each contributing a point of view, each testing my biases, limited as I am by my particular point of view.

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