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Innovation

This is your brain on the Internet. Or is that vice versa?

Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

OK, I actually quite like the idea of pervasive computing -- which suggests that all manner of devices will ultimately be interconnected via the Internet -- but the subject of a new business book I just received is downright scary. At least to simple little me. But it's also enormously appealing to this particular information-overloaded individual.

It's called "Wired for Thought: How the Brain is Shaping the Future of the Internet," and it's published by the venerable Harvard Business Publishing. The preface to the book deals with a project called BrainGate, a scientific research project that builds on the idea that electrical impulses from the brain can be used to control other devices. Essentially, your brain becomes a remote control. With the help of an implant. BrainGate trials have focused on enabling the disabled or physically handicapped to regain some mobility.

The author, 30-something brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeffrey Stibel, has flipped the philosophy behind this research on its head (no pun intended). He believes that technologies and behaviors are emerging that are making the Internet make like a brain. That is an organism that is capable of thinking.

He writes:

The Internet is a brain. By this, I mean that the Internet is more than a reflection of intelligence; it actually manifests intelligence. This is because the Internet (unlike computers) has evolved with many of the same basic structures and abilities as a brain. You may argue that "is a brain" and "is like a brain" are merely a matter of semantics, but subscribing to either version will help you better understand the Internet.

And:

The Internet may never be "conscious" in the human sense (and who needs it?), but it will be (and already is) capable of creating a collective consciousness. This to a great extent, accounts for the success of the Internet.

So where is all this going? Stibel suggests that any entrepreneur or business executive hoping to use the Internet as the foundation for a new business model (he cites Google frequently as a proof point for many of his ideas) needs to better understand how the Internet will evolve.

Consider this:

Eventually, Internet algorithms will mature and, like the brain, start discounting, discarding and penalizing links that are irrelevant, unnatural or fake.

I just want to say that from my standpoint, that day can't come quick enough. But what does this mean for business models?

Stibel predicts:

Looking ahead, new Web sites will be created that pull together clusters of information that are tightly linked. The network of networks that we find on Facebook will be applied to the Web. No longer will you need to go to a dozen car sites or an aggregator like Autobytel or even Google to find information about the best hybrid SUV. Instead, the Internet will create a page with only the most interesting and relevant information across the Net.

An example of what Stibel means is start-up called Kosmix.com, which touts the idea of "dynamic portals."

Again, I find myself simultaneously cheering and cringing and thinking that the Internet is beginning to sound a lot like George Orwell's infamous Big Brother concept.

Boy, oh boy, are things going to start getting really interesting.

Here's a place where you can order the book.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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