Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Big is the Global One-Mind Machine?

I've swooned for Wired "Senior Maverick" Kevin Kelly in the past, when he wrote his eloquent paean to the Web's first decade, We Are the Web. Kelly's latest mind-blower is Dimensions of the One Machine, which outlines the contours of our current cyberspace and posits the future rate of growth. Among the startling specs:

There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Today the Machine has as 5 orders more transistors than you have neurons in your head. And the Machine, unlike your brain, is doubling in power every couple of years at the minimum.

I was recently blown away when I realized my $40 4 gigabyte thumb drive, about a third the size of a pencil, contains storage equal to 3 thousand of those old hard plastic 3 1/4" floppy discs we all used until a few years ago. You can now buy a terabyte (1000 gigabytes) hard drive for around $400. To discuss the One Machine, Kelly talks in exabytes (1 billion gigabytes) and zetabytes (1000 exabytes):

One of the problems we have discussing this Machine is that its dimensions so far exceeds the ordinary units we are accustomed to, so we don't have a way to reckon its scale. For instance, the total international bandwidth of the global machine is approximately 7 teratbytes per second. We used to talk about one Library-of Congress-worth of information (10 terabytes), but that volume seems absolutely puny now. In ten years terabytes will fit on your iPod. Keeping that metric for the moment, one Library-of Congress-worth of information is zipped around on the Machine every second. These are very deep cycles of processing. What will we use to measure traffic in another 15 years?

We could start by saying the Machine currently has 1 HB (Human Brain) equivalent . That measure might hold up for a decade or so, but after it gets to 100 HB, or 10,000 HB, it begins to feel like using inches to measure galactic space.


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