The Breathtaking Future Of A Connected World

Our planet is growing itself a brain. That process is accelerating, and the project will determine the future of humans and many other species.

The major Internet and space technology corporations, among others, have confirmed multi-billion-dollar investments to bring low-cost broadband Internet to every square meter of Earth's surface within ten years. They are building the railway tracks and freeways of the 21st century—but at global scale, and with breathtaking speed.

Five billion human minds are therefore about to come online, mostly via sub-$50 smartphones. And unlike the two billion who preceded them, their first experience of the Internet may not be clunky text, but high-resolution video and a fast connection to whatever grabs their imagination.

This is a social experiment without historical precedent. Most of us built our Internet habits on top of years of exposure to newspapers, books, radio and TV. Many of those soon to come online are currently illiterate. Who is going to win their attention and to what consequence? Local language versions of social media, wikipedia, Porn? Video games? Marketing come-ons? Government propaganda? Addictive distractions? Free education? Conversations with mentors in other countries empowered by real-time machine translation?

It's certainly possible to imagine a beautiful scenario in which: For the first time in history every human can have free access to the world's greatest teachers in their own language; people discover the tools and ideas to escape poverty and bigotry; growing transparency forces better behavior from governments and corporations; the world starts to gain the benefit of billions of new minds able to contribute to our shared future; global interconnection begins to trump tribal thinking.

But for that to have even a chance of happening, we need to get ready to engage in the mother of all attention wars. Every global company, every government and every ideology has skin in this game. It could play out in many different ways, some of them ugly.

What's unique and significant is that we have a roadmap. It's now clear that we will not need to physically wire the planet. Satellites, possibly aided by drones and balloons, are about to get the job done a lot faster. We can therefore be certain that a massive transformation is about to hit. We better get ready.