Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, wrote a short story entitled “The Last Question” in 1956. It begins:
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way …
Considered by many including me to be one of the best science fiction short stories of all time, the story deals with the development of computers called Multivacs and their relationship with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in 2061. In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question. For those of you who have never read the story or can’t remember it in detail, you can read it here or here. I suggest you read his wonderful story now before reading this piece further – it’s quite short and I won’t spoil the ending in this post.
Twitter also begins with a question:
What are you doing?
And Google essentially begins with the question:
What are you looking for?
Eerily, Google now even seems to know what you are searching for before you finish typing a query – or at least what the collective body of Google users are looking for.
In Asimov’s tale, humans evolve past their corporeal forms eventually entering into the great Multivac, i.e., everything and everybody is virtualized. Many people claim they do not “get Twitter”. I contend that Twitter, Google and the like have brought us to the next stage of this evolution. Within a few years, single processors will have more computing power than the human brain. If humanity will eventually evolve into one huge Multivac, what are possible first steps in gathering and storing the collective consciousness of mankind?
I contend Twitter is not asking what you are doing. Rather it is asking what you are thinking. Google seems to already know this. Moreover, Google has begun indexing Twitter searches yielding us the power of two. YouTube is certainly storing a huge portion of humanities activities and I just read of affordable home surveillance systems that store everything you do inside your home – so you can playback your actions in order to find your misplaced car keys. The power of four is forthcoming!
Still don’t get Twitter? Both Asimov and the Borg did!