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Eric Schmidt on Net Culture and Collective Intelligence

The future of the net has barely been tapped, but one of it's greatest players likes to consider it.

Eric Schmidt is a superstar, on par with Rafael Nadal, Michael Jordon, George Clooney, or Stephen Hawking. However, you may have never heard of him. The billionaire former Apple board member and programmer is completing his 10-year tour of duty as CEO of Google, and has been one of the most influential forces of the internet age. Bringing that influence to bear, he has some choice words on the importance and future of one of the most important developments in human history: Collective Intelligence.

Collective Intelligence (not to be confused with the Universal Unconscious), is the inconceivably vast amount of freely shared and interconnected information and public content that is created by people on the internet every day. There are entire companies designed to simply record, analyze, and make sense of this information, and whole branches of research and development devoted to figuring out how to do it better. In fact, the FBI recently put out feelers in the IT industry to create an app that will help mine data from social networking sites for law enforcement purposes.

Schmidt, in a recent article from Singularity Hub, says that this kind of global knowledge web is, “as important, if not more important, as the development of electricity,” and that, “in God we trust, but all others bring data”. These kinds of grandiose statements are not common fare for programmers and the “linearly inclined”, which just shows how truly transformative the world wide web will continue to be for humanity going forward. In his lecture, “The Future of the Global Mind”, Schmidt touches on everything from politics and human rights to virtual reality and the humanity’s future in collective intelligence.

To politicians he makes a particular plea, and it’s something that may have easily gone unsaid: our leaders need to follow facts, not opinions. Legislate and mandate using the best information available (and there’s a lot of it), not following ideology and unsubstantiated assumptions. As information becomes more readily available, citizens of every democracy around the world are accessing real data and educating themselves on the “truth of the matter”. It will become less viable as a campaign strategy, and certainly as a legislative platform, to play to party ideologies, loose associations, and sound-bite assumptions. Schmidt articulated this idea by saying, “the last gasp of an autocrat is turning off the internet.”

Lastly, Eric Schmidt expounded on his belief that the real and the virtual worlds will only continue to mesh together. Although there is a danger in this, there is also great opportunity. Crowd-sourcing projects like Wikipedia and Linux are enabling people to inform one another as well as themselves, and as mobile technology continues to advance, it will open up our ability to actively integrate the real world into the virtual, and access either from anywhere.