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Cyperpunk Authors Gone Wild: Bruce Sterling Stutters Over Web 2.0

By February 26, 2009

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One of the more interesting aspects of fame is how people become interested in a famous person's opinion, even if the person has no real expertise in the area. I'd bet if you looked hard enough, you could find Paris Hilton being asked all about her thoughts on Obama's stimulus package and whether or not she believed high spending and job creation strategies were the way to kickstart the economy out of its current slump.

And while no one expects Paris Hilton to spill out interesting rhetoric on the ideal of Keynesian economics, you might think that an author known for helping pioneer the cyberpunk genre would have some interesting things to say on Web 2.0.

Perhaps Bruce Sterling's comments on Web 2.0 at Webstock were interesting -- in a train wreck sort of way.

Here's a snip of what he had to say about Google and collective intelligence:

"Google is not a hive mind. It doesn't even have a being. Plus the users aren't a community or collective - they aren't aware of each other's existence and have no influence on what Google chooses to do with their clicks."

Seriously, I don't even know where to begin. I guess the beginning is that when people say "collective intelligence" they are referring to something like Wikipedia, not the Google search engine. (In fact, the entire article needs a strong injection of Google-is-not-synonymous-with-Web-2.0.)

I'm also pretty sure that most of us understand that other people also use Google and that they actually "exist." A two-year-old might not understand this, but there is a stage in a child's psychological evolution where they begin to understand that other people actually do exist and aren't created for their own sole amusement. (I was personally pretty put out when I made that realization.)

As for having no influence over what Google chooses to do with my clicks, well, I choose what I click on so I tend to have some influence, but maybe other people use Google in a totally different and much more random-clicky way.

Here's another fun snippet:

"The original sin of geekdom is to think that just because you can think algorithmically and impose it on a machine that this is disembodied intelligence. That is just rules-based machine behavior. Just code being executed. Sure it's an art and science. Calling it intelligence is dehumanizing."

Again, this shows a major misunderstanding of 'collective intelligence' and really shows a certain naivety about computers and the Internet as a whole.

Let's take the wiki for a ride. Wikis are the center of the 'collective intelligence' movement with Wikipedia being the flagship product. But the crazy part is that you really don't need a computer for a wiki.

Yep, that's right, computers are optional. The Internet is optional.

If you have a spiral notebook and a box pencils, you have all the makings of a wiki. All you need to do is plop those materials down in the office break room and announce to everyone that the staff will begin working on an encyclopedia of jargon used around the company. Anyone is free to add jargon with its associated definition and, because everything is written in pencil, anyone is free to edit existing definitions to either correct them or to make them a bit more easy to understand.

Boom. That's wiki 80's style.

Simply put, you don't need a computer or a worldwide network for collective intelligence. It just makes things a lot easier.

The moral of the story? I guess its that a cyberpunk author is just as likely to pull a Joaquin Phoenix as anyone.(Oh, and I'm accepting million dollar investment offers for my spiral notebook and box of pencils wiki idea!)

Read all abut how Bruce Sterling hates Web 2.0.

February 26, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(1) Martyn P says:

Nice article. You make some really nice points. I contribute a lot to wikiHow, and collective intelligence is right at the centre there.

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