Almost a decade ago, Google founder Larry Page said that he hoped his company’s search function would eventually ”be included in people’s brains.” His aspirations have echoed down the ages; from Piers Plowman to Gibson’s Neuromancer to, er, Inception – fiction is littered with references to the control / liberation of our senses along neurological highways.
But today, even in the cold, conscious NOW, no-one in their right mind would bet against Google making that fiction a reality.
When (not if) that happens, connecting the Internet directly to your brain will be as normal as the once fantastical notion of wireless networking, closely followed by downloading books (and all forms of digital content) to and from the frontal cortex in the blink of an eye.
In The Blind Giant, How to Survive in the Digital Age, Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mission statement is condoned by the author Nick Harkaway. I agree with him – Whatever your opinion of Google as corporate entity, its founding principles were forged in a fire of good intentions. Google today isn’t the problem though, as Harkaway points out, the problem might become who owns Google tomorrow – in a neuro-connected world where “to wonder something is to know the answer” then ‘who’ or ‘what’ company decides ‘the answers’ determines what we know, think and ultimately, believe.
Let’s imagine, while we still can, that all the data connected to our brains falls into the hands of someone less likeable than Larry Page. It’s a worrying thought and yet the simple act of reading books may yet save us from would-be dictators of the data-driven universe. As Nick says in The Blind Giant, reading has “created the brain we have”, it is “a path to empathy”, and in being so, both a bridge and a barricade to the best and worst aspects of the digital world.
Unlike downloading a book’s digital code straight to your memory bank, reading demands a constant interplay between experience and introspection and uses parts of the brain that other content, such as watching TV or playing games, simply cannot reach. And by this I don’t mean reading status updates, tweets or directions on your SAT NAV. I mean proper book reading, the kind for which you have no time in your busy life, but which could, in time, save human life as we know it.
Forewarned is forearmed, so here is a brief reading list for those who believe that knowledge is indeed power.
Five (Non-Fiction) Books That Might Just Save Mankind
- *Nick Harkaway : The Blind Giant, How to Survive in the Digital Age
- Susan Greenfield: You and Me: The Neuroscience of Identity
- Ben Hammersley: 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then
- Tom Chatfield: Netymology, From Apps to Zombies, A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World
- Kenneth Neil Kukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger - Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live Work And Think
* I’ll be hosting a Books for Breakfast at Soho House with Nick on Friday May 24th at 0900 – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to join us.