The fourth cycle of the hive mind (and what to do about it)

The first cycle of computers was good at:

  • arithmetic
  • and storing data

This meant that if you wanted to know how strong a bridge was going to be, or how to schedule a complicated series of truck deliveries, a computer was the very best way to do it. The 1960s and 70s were transformed by these two simple tasks. We were able to send a rocket to the moon, design more efficient engines and compute weighted class rank using centralized, expensive computers.

The second cycle, though, was the dawn of the connection economy. These computers permitted us to bring distant events next to each other. This was the telephone plus the fax machine equals remote coordination.

And so you could use a credit card anywhere in the world, call an 800 number to place an order, and have your insurance updated immediately. It meant that workers and productivity were even more measured, and so were students.

Email and the internet populated large databases. It gave us Wikipedia, a web page for every business, eBay, LinkedIn and Paypal.

We used the powers of the first cycle, sure, but the second cycle added connection.

The third cycle combines the first two and it permits us to shift place and time.

You can watch a twenty-year old movie or participate in a video call with someone halfway around the world. Someone in Bulgaria can retouch your photos. Your phone knows where you are and who has been there before. Each cycle builds on the one before. Google maps is arithmetic plus data plus remote data entry plus location.

And the fourth cycle, which is now arriving, shifts direction from the previous two (which were about connection more than processors) and brings prediction to the table. Call it AI if you want to, but to be specific, it’s a combination of analyzing information and then predicting what we would do if we knew what the computer knew.

The prediction of the fourth cycle isn’t simply done in a centralized location, because the previous cycle put the computer everywhere. So now, we’re connecting all the computers the way we previously connected all the people. Now, we’re giving those computers the ability to make predictions based on what thousands of people before us have done.

If you’re a mediocre lawyer or doctor, your job is now in serious jeopardy. The combination of all four of these cycles means that the hive computer is going to do your job better than you can, soon.

With each cycle,  the old cycles continue to increase. Better databases, better arithmetic. Better connectivity, more people submitting more data, less emphasis on where you are and more on what you’re connected to and what you’re doing.

We’d like to think that this is it, that Facebook plus Apple plus Amazon plus Google is the status quo going forward.

But just as we made a massive leap in just fifteen years, the next leap will take less than ten. Because each cycle supports the next one.

Welcome to the fourth cycle. The hive will see you now.