The Noosphere Visualized

FaceBook's corner of the noosphere visualized, by Jack Lindamood

Jack Lindamood, one of the programmers at FaceBook, has produced a demonstration of an incredible tool that displays all activities on FaceBook geolocated on a rendering of the Earth. When he switches to a mode where it draws a line connecting the initiator to the recipient we get a view of something hitherto entirely invisible: a small subset of the noosphere being stitched together in real time.

I love it when he declares this “the Earth as Facebook sees it.” Then he switched to the wireframe view in which the Earth becomes just a grid for the information patterns that arc over its surface. Just as the geosphere becomes the platform for the biosphere and the biosphere becomes a geological force (Chown, Marcus, “Earth’s ‘Mineral Kingdom’ Evolved Hand in Hand with Life,” New Scientist, 19 November 2008), so the Earth is the grid on top of which the noosphere constructs itself, eventually becoming biological.

The Expanse of the Noosphere

Having all those icons stretching out into outer space looks impressive. But both the atmosphere and the crust of the Earth are proportionally thinner than the skin of an apple. And the biosphere is confined to an even narrower band than that. The noosphere’s region of activity is narrower still, with human activity limited to only a few score meters above and below the surface of the Earth. The noosphere has a tiny primary zone of hyperactivity, but tendrils reaching out to more exotic regions. Just as the biosphere is largely confined to the Earth’s surface, but extreme species inhabit the deep fissures of geysers, the bottom of ocean trenches subsisting on exotic metabolisms and at the bottom of mine shafts wherever we drill them and at whatever depth, so the noosphere stretches in tentative wisps far beyond its primary realm. Consider:

  1. Given that we have probes on other planets, in interplanetary space and in the case of the Voyager probes, approaching the heliopause and hence interstellar space, that are all beaming signals back to the Earth, the network of input devices of the noosphere is interplanetary and nearly interstellar. A small portion of the information making up the noosphere and effecting outcomes within it, is cosmic in origin.
  2. The internet has gone interplanetary. (Courtland, Rachel, “‘Interplanetary Internet’ Passes First Test,” New Scientist, 19 November 2008). NASA used to manually initiate direct, batch communication with our space probes, but now has software routers in many probes for an always on packet switched interplanetary space network. This includes orbiters and rovers roaming planetary surfaces. The time may soon come when the various surveillance and communications systems in space will have open APIs like present day Google Maps, FaceBook, Twitter and others.
  3. The first radio broadcasts powerful enough to penetrate the ionosphere were made in the late 1930s, so for the last 70 years an expanding radio sphere or future light cone has been filling with the broadcasts of our civilization, arranged in concentric spheres in reverse-chronological order (from out perspective): every electromagnetic pulse from an atomic explosion, every television broadcast, telephone conversation conducted through satellite, IP packet sent through satellite internet, the complete transcript and telemetry of every space mission and the numerous software patches and whole operating system upgrades broadcast to various space probes. In that sense the noosphere, or at least the informational exhaust wafting off the noosphere, or the electromagnetically petrified version of the noosphere already stretches out to a radius of 70 light years. At that distance it spans nearly 5,000 stars and a similar number of exosolar planetary systems.

Time is out of joint and an epoch has an extremely long tail in both direction. One begins with imperceptible first movements, and similarly only finally passes away long after anyone has noticed. We might say that even while the noosphere is still only in the primitive stages of weaving itself together here on Earth, it has already become interplanetary and arguably also interstellar.

(FaceBook video via Frank Episale)

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FaceBook

S. has recently become very interested in social networking sites and has drug me to get FaceBook and MySpace pages. FaceBook is pretty cool in that it’s like a social networking engine with an API for user application development. Judging by some of the applications, they give developers a lot of access. But the thing that I don’t get is why the people behind FaceBook seem to so lack ambition. First of all, they have yet to completely shed their college-oriented origins, so their network remains entirely too fragmented. But the real oversight is why, with that huge existing user database, they haven’t deployed more core functionality. Right now is seems like FaceBook is just a sort of online business card. Why haven’t they deployed dating, group scheduling and calendaring, blogging, employment, classified advertisements and so on? They could be match.com, meetup.com, livejournal.com, monster.com and craigslist.com all rolled into one. Or if not build the functionality themselves, why not partner and integrate or build some gateways? There are some features like what I am talking about, but they are rudimentary. Why not put them front and center? Seems like a recipe for obsolescence to me. In this environment it’s innovate or wither.