Scalability Perspectives is a series of posts that highlights the ideas that will shape the next decade of IT architecture. Each post is dedicated to a thought leader of the information age and his vision of the future. Be warned though – the journey into the minds and perspectives of these people requires an open mind. Warning #2: this post is wild.

Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He helped launch Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor until January 1999. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy

and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control

One Machine

There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

You and I are alive at this moment.

Is this global web of computers, servers and trunk lines a mere mechanical circuit, a very large tool, or does it reach a threshold where something, well, different happens?

Kevin Kelly's hypothesis is this: The rapidly increasing sum of all computational devices in the world connected online, including wirelessly, forms a superorganism of computation with its own emergent behaviors.

I define the One Machine as the emerging superorganism of computers. It is a megasupercomputer composed of billions of sub computers. The sub computers can compute individually on their own, and from most perspectives these units are distinct complete pieces of gear. But there is an emerging smartness in their collective that is smarter than any individual computer. We could say learning (or smartness) occurs at the level of the superorganism.

The Next 6500 Days of the Web

Kevin Kelly recently gave a short talk on the upcoming Web 10.0 at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. It is like an update to his previous TED talk on Predicting the next 5000 days of the web. He makes us realize that the Web is only around 6500 days old and argues that the next 6500 days will be something entirely different.

Dimensions of the One Machine

Kevin Kelly's post on his blog The Technium back from 2007 shows us the dimensions of the One Machine:

The next stage in human technological evolution is a single thinking/web/computer that is planetary in dimensions. This planetary computer will be the largest, most complex and most dependable machine we have ever built. It will also be the platform that most business and culture will run on.

Today it contains approximately 1.2 billion personal computers,  2.7 billion cell phones, 1.3 billion land phones, 27 million data servers, and 80 million wireless PDAs. The processor chips of all these parts are feeding the computation of the internet/web/telecommunications system. A very rough estimate of the computing power of this Machine then is that it contains a billion times a billion, or one quintillion (10 ^ 18) transistors.

There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Today the Machine has as 5 orders more transistors than you have neurons in your head. And the Machine, unlike your brain, is doubling in power every couple of years at the minimum.

If the Machine has 100 quadrillion transistors, how fast is it running? If we include spam, there are 196 billion emails sent every day. That's 2.2 million per second, or 2 megahertz. Every year 1trillion text messages are sent. That works out to 31,000 per second, or 31 kilohertz. Each day 14 billion instant messages are sent, at 162 kilohertz. The number of searches runs at 14 kilohertz. Links are clicked at the rate of 520,000 per second, or .5 megahertz.

There are 20 billion visible, searchable web pages and another 900 billion dark, unsearchable, or deep web pages. The average number of links found on each searchable web page is 62. Assuming the same count for dynamic pages that means there's 55 trillion links in the full web. We could think of each link as a synapse -- a potential connection waiting to me made. There is roughly between 100 billion and 100 trillion synapses in the human brain, which puts the Machine in the same neighborhood as our brains.

We could start by saying the Machine currently has 1 HB (Human Brain) equivalent. That measure might hold up for a decade or so, but after it gets to 100 HB, or 10,000 HB, it begins to feel like using inches to measure galactic space.

Check out Kevin Kelly's blog for the conclusions and more (wild?) ideas.
How do You see the future of the Web?

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