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Mark Pesce: The Age of Hyperintelligence

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th February 2011


In a thoroughly hyperconnected environment, behaviors are pervasively observed. If these behaviors are successful, they will be copied by others, who are also pervasively observed. The behavior itself hyperdistributes throughout the network. This is a behavioral analog to hyperintelligence: hypermimesis. The development of ‘SMS language’ is one example of hypermimesis; as terms are added to the language (which may be specific to a subculture), they are propagated pervasively, and are adopted almost immediately.

Excerpted from Mark Pesce:

“As far back as we can look into prehistory, concentrated acts of knowledge sharing within a specific domain have been framed by ritual practices. Indigenous Australians continue the Paleolithic traditions of “women’s business” and “men’s business”, which refer to ritually-constrained bodies of knowledge, intended to be shared only within the context of a specific community of ritually purified (and thereby connected) individuals. These domains characteristically reflect gender-specific cultural practices: typically, women communicate knowledge of plants and gathering practices, while men invest themselves in the specifics of navigation and the hunt. These two knowledge domains are strongly defended by taboo; ‘secret women’s business’ is forbidden to men (or ritually impure women), and vice versa.

The association between domain knowledge and ritual has persisted through to the present day. From at least the Late Antique period, a system of guilds carefully guarded access to specific knowledge domains. Venetian glassblowers, Japanese bladesmiths, and Chinese silk weavers all protected their knowledge domains – and consequent monopolies – with a combination of legal and ritual practices, law and custom. In pre-urban cultures, knowledge creates capability; in urban cultures, that capability is multiplied. Those who possess knowledge also hold power. The desire to conserve that power led the guilds to become increasingly zealous in the defense of their knowledge domains, their ‘secrets of the craft’.

The advent of Gutenberg’s moveable-type printing press made it effectively impossible to keep secrets in perpetuity. One individual could pen a single, revealing text, and within a few months all of Europe would learn what they knew. Secrets were no longer enough to preserve the sanctity of various knowledge domains. Ritual cast a longer shadow, and in this guise, as the modern protector of the mysteries, the university becomes the companion to the professional association, indoctrinating then licensing candidates for entry into the professions. The professions of medicine, law, engineering, architecture, etc., emerged from this transition from the guilds into modernity. These professional associations exist for one reason: they assign place, either within the boundaries of the organization, or outside of it. An unlicensed doctor, a lawyer who has not ‘passed the bar’, an uncredentialed architect all represent modern instances of violations of ritual structures that have been with us for at least fifty thousand years.

Hyperconnectivity does not acknowledge the presence of these ritual structures; humans connect directly, immediately and pervasively, without respect to any of the cultural barriers to contact. There is neither inside nor outside. The entire space of human connection collapses to a point, as everyone connects directly to everyone else, without mediation. This hyperconnectivity leads to hyperdistributed sharing, first at random, then with ever-increasing levels of salience.

This condition tends to produce a series of feedbacks: hyperdistribution of salient information increases the potential and actual effectiveness of any individual within the network of hyperdistribution, which increases their reliance on these networks. These networks of hyperdistributed knowledge-sharing tend to reify as a given network’s constituents put these hyperdistributed materials to work. Both Kenyan farmers and Kerala fishermen9 quickly became irrevocable devotees of the mobile handset that provided them accurate and timely information about competing market prices for their goods. Once hyperdistribution acquires a focal point, and becomes synonymous with a knowledge domain, it crosses over into hyperintelligence: the dedicated, hyperconnected hyperdistribution of domain-specific knowledge.

In a thoroughly hyperconnected environment, behaviors are pervasively observed. If these behaviors are successful, they will be copied by others, who are also pervasively observed. The behavior itself hyperdistributes throughout the network. This is a behavioral analog to hyperintelligence: hypermimesis. The development of ‘SMS language’ is one example of hypermimesis; as terms are added to the language (which may be specific to a subculture), they are propagated pervasively, and are adopted almost immediately.”

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