It’s time to face facts. Where it was once just another, albeit ubiquitous, feature of the Internet, Facebook is rapidly becoming essential infrastructure. I’ve been signing up for some more obscure social media and entertainment sites (Digg, Tumblr, Stumble Upon) lately, gearing up for promotion for the book come the new year. Every single one of them allows you to sign up not through a contact form but through Facebook, where you have to do nothing but click a banner and allow the site access your FB profile. Since I’m essentially lazy I usually go that route (though I never allow them to post to my friends “on my behalf.”) Facebook has essentially become a platform upon which many of the other systems rest, a kind of world-wide intranet sharing information within the social media cabal. You can bypass it of course and fill out the usual contact form with your email and other info. And you can still go anywhere you want without a Facebook account. But Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin: the writing is on the wall. The Persians will eventually sack the city, and Babylon will fall.
No-one knows what waits for us just around the corner with this technology thing. There are many people beating drums and “prophesying doom”. Others, like Ray Kurzweil, say a machine-made Valhalla is just around the corner, when the Singularity (the fact that we all capitalize it says a lot, doesn’t it?) will come and, as I heard one snarky commenter on the ‘net put it, we will all be sucked up into the “giant galactic Google brain” and live happily every after for a thousand years or so each, if not longer; once in a while replacing a synthetic heart or topping up the silicon fluids in our platinum veins. But let’s face it: I think we all know on some fundamental level that making predictions in such uncertain times is useless. Like throwing a crystal ball into rush hour traffic and trying to read it as you dodge impending steel grills.
The thing I both love and hate about Facebook is its banality. If Reddit is a permanent meta record of our intellectual insecurities and emotional vitriol, then Facebook contains a record of our humdrum-ness. I’m guilty of it too. I find myself posting what I had for dinner, what books I’m reading, the tiniest most inconsequential observations of my day-to-day life. I don’t have any children, but I bet if did I’d be posting cutesy pictures of them, Baby Darren taking his first step, Baby Darren with pureed squash all over his pudgy little cheeks. Occasionally I post a link to something “serious” I’ve written on my blog, but get little enthusiasm. Sometimes I go to Reddit for heavier action, but they have a different kind of problem: type ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’ (a common orthological mistake of mine that I have to reread to catch) and they tear you a virtual new one. Reddit is all brain, and if they can’t beat your argument they attack your grammar or your world-view or your mother. What is heart-warming on Facebook is blood-curdling on Reddit. What is respectable on Reddit (meaning they rip it apart-the best you can hope for is indifference) is practically ignored on Facebook. I wonder if we should start a new site combining the best, or the worst, of the two. Redbook? FaceIt?
One of the common precepts of The Singularity theory is that we will develop a “seed AI”–an intelligence that emerges by accident (I heard one man opine it might happen when a Japanese house-cleaning bot plugs accidentally into cloud computing) or on purpose and this being can modify it’s (I did that on purpose–to get up Reddit’s nose) own intelligence as it will be mechanically and/or computing based and instantly become a thousand times smarter than we. The robot revolution has begun. One of the first things this being will do is plug into the Internet and absorb the entire database of human knowledge (I read last year that equals about 24 exabytes per month in 2007 — an exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes and five of them stored on cds would laid against each other reach to the moon and back.) So it would be scary smart. But along with the Cambrian explosion and the definitions of dark matter and Fermat’s theorem it would also know I like Lo Mein noodles, that I’m in recovery, and I think toilet paper is the most important social invention of mankind (seriously — if it wasn’t for toilet paper I would be a complete loner.) What on earth could a superior machine intelligence do with this information?
On Reddit it would fare no better. It might learn more about philosophy and trans-humanism and math but it would also get a quick lesson on the vile, inhospitable, incomprehensible planet of “Flame.” For as violent as the world can be in reality, the flame is the closest thing we have to an outrage on the spirit of another human being in our virtual existence. It is senseless, pointless, hurtful and malignant, made all the worse as you know those who deliver them would piss their pants with fear if confronted in reality.
I love the Internet. Always had since I started surfing tel-nets in ’96 on a 286 processor. No graphics in those days. Just blocks after blocks of green text on black screens, and the undernet to chat in MIRC. Those of you too young to remember these things don’t worry about it. The Internet today is glorious, and so much is available to you. But then we had information (the first thing I ever looked up on the telnet was The Illuminati–I was interested for some reason and I later was so amazed I wrote a poem about it.) My friends and I would spend hours just thinking of topics we could research. Gradually the seas of the ‘net began to fill up, not only with our collective knowledge, but with the flotsam and jetsam of our occasionally dissolute minds. I mean, we have to empty the buckets of shit somewhere right? This is not a call to action, or a cry for prudence. I really don’t care what people write. I’m not really contributing to the datasphere with the galactic Google brain in mind. And if and when the God machines do come I hope they keep this in mind: intelligence and passion have a byproduct as surely as any other valuable commodity. Being human is messy. One must practice discernment, which is the ballast for our little ship. And any intelligence, be it human or nay, who absorbs it all without being able to separate what matters and what does not will likely be paralyzed by it all. Or, without experience of its own, will decide the most important thing on this planet is alcohol and sex and turn the whole goddamn spinning rock into a porn studio/distillery with us as slaves on screen or mixing hops.
As usual with me, this started out as a simple entry about Facebook as Infrastructure and ended up as an article about the end of the world. Gotta read more L.M Montgomery. Speaking of that: I wonder what a seed AI would think of Anne of Green Gables? It would be a kick if it was the Japanese bot first out of the machine-as-sapient gate, and was programmed initially (perhaps for the sake of children) to be as charmed with her as its creators, and starting churning out factory after factory of super-genius robots with red hair and in wincey dresses, running around sighing and exclaiming over the beauty of nature while building star ships to colonize other systems with an army of cloyingly annoying Annes. Isn’t contemplation of the future wonderful?