Thursday, January 08, 2004

Buzz Blogyear

In December 2003, Steven den Beste described the workings of the hive-mind. It is now on display in the blogosphere. Den Beste's observation grew out of the behavior of colonies of insects, which, taken collectively, processed information as if they were a single organism.

The behavior of a human tribe can be considered to be the result of something like a hive mind, and the reason humans are so much better at it than any other species is language. The communications channel between individual humans contributing to the hive mind has much more bandwidth and incomparably more sophisticated encoding than for any other species which engages in collective behavior. ... In nature, no hive mind exhibits intelligence at a level that approaches the actual intelligence of the individual units which are part of it. ... With the development of the internet it becomes possible for arbitrarily large groups of people who are geographically distributed to spontaneously form hive-minds and to communicate with one another at speeds and latencies approaching those which previously only had been possible in direct teamwork. The internet largely solves the scaling problem involved in direct teamwork, and totally eliminates the effects of geographic distribution of participants. In the "global village" of the internet, everything is right next door.

Enter Glenn Reynolds and the Iraqi blogger Zayed. Zayed reported the story of abusive behavior by American soldiers perpetrated upon a man called Zaydun, which Reynolds linked to and which soon became a meme across the blogosphere, touching upon people like Darren Kaplan, Roger Simon and probably a host of others that the link-spiders haven't found yet. Zayed soon found himself in touch with Chief Wiggles, who is both a blogger and a man of some authority in Iraq. Although I must say that Zaydun's complaint doesn't seem very convincing on its face, it is now going to be investigated and should be investigated in the interests of simple justice. Zayed reports that the complaint was initially laughed off by an unnamed American official but the whole situation turned around once the blogosphere got cranked up. All in the space of 24 hours. This is a classic demonstration of Den Beste's description of a hive-mind to which I will add but one thing.

The hive-mind, which never "exhibits intelligence at a level that approaches the actual intelligence of the individual units which are part of it" can seamlessly segue into single man's efforts. The matter left the hive-mind and entered Chief Wiggle's at some point where it regained the full power of a human being's intelligence. At some point the matter may re-enter the blogosphere as news: whether the soldiers were guilty or not; what really happened that night; as commentary: people will draw all kinds of encouraging or dire conclusions from this; or as experience: something that will lurk in the recollections of the 100,000 odd people who read Reynolds, Kaplan, Simon, Wiggles and Zayed everyday. And the world will never be the same again.