Postmodern humans swim in a third transparent medium now
materializing. Every fact that can be digitized, is. Every measurement
of collective human activity that can be ported over a network, is.
Every trace of an individual's life that can be transmuted into a number
and sent over a wire, is. This wired planet becomes a torrent of bits
circulating in a clear shell of glass fibers, databases, and input
Once moving, data creates transparency. Once wired, a society can see
itself. The reason the rocket scientists at the Prediction Company can
fare better than the chartists of old is that they work in a more
transparent medium. The billion computerized bits sloughed off by
networked financial institutions clot into a transparent air through
which the Company can detect unfolding patterns. The cloud of data
flowing through their workstations forms a clear digital globe for them
to peer into. In certain patches of the new air they can see ahead.
At the same time, industrial factories mass-produce video cameras, tape
recorders, hard disks, text scanners, spreadsheets, modems, and
satellite dishes. Each of these is an eye, an ear, or a neuron.
Connected together they form a billion-lobed sense organ floating in the
clear medium of whizzing digits. This tissue serves to feed-forward
information from distant limbs into the body electric. The U.S. Command
Center wargamers can use the digitized land-terrain of Kuwait,
just-in-time satellite images, and the relayed reports of hand-held
transmitters anchored by global positioning information (accurate to
within 50 feet anywhere on Earth) to anticipate -- to see in the collective
mind's eye -- the course of an approaching battle.
Telling the future, when it comes right down to it, is not solely a
human yearning. It is the fundamental nature of any organism, and
perhaps any complex system. Telling the future is what organisms are
My working definition of a complex system is a "thing which talks to
itself." One might ask, then: What is the story that complex systems
tell themselves? The answer is that they tell themselves stories of the
future. Stories of what might come next -- whether next is reckoned in
nanoseconds or years.