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Monday, December 10, 2018

Microstory 991: Wikipedia

In 2005, shortly after reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I decided to go online and find out whether someone had tried to make an actual version of the all-encompassing tome. I discovered that a website inspired by it did indeed exist, and I even read a few articles on it, but it has ultimately failed to gain traction. By then, Wikipedia had already been created, and I had heard of it, but it wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is today. One thing that seems universally true in all of science fiction is that we’re the only ones who invented an internet. Sure, aliens communicate with each other long-distance all the time, but the breadth of the web has apparently never been replicated. Our internet is potentially accessible to all. Anyone can use it for practically anything they want, as long as it doesn’t break any regional laws, and sometimes even then. It’s full of lies, jokes, and totally conflicting information. It’s been used to bring people together, and tear them apart. For the aliens, they only need a network to share relevant information, and there’s no need to have any fun with it. There are very few things that the internet truly needs to remain sustainable, and good or not, a network like this is probably in our distant future. I wrote about this once as a joke in a tweet, but I’m about fifty percent certain that almost every webpage in the future will be completely wiped out within the next thousand years.

Wikipedia, or some similar service, will serve as the keystone for this new internet. It will be a repository of all human knowledge; our history, our identities, our discoveries, and our mistakes. And there will only be one of these, because in a post-capitalism society, there will be no need for competition. There will also be only one YouTube-like site, and one news source. The latter will be composed by artificial intelligence, and contain exclusively factual content. You may be asking, who would want to live in a world without The Onion, or Twitter, or blogs like this one? We won’t even need Google, because Google operates, not as a search engine—though that is its surface function—but as a web page indexer. The purpose of Google is to find you the best results, but in the future, we’ll only need one result: the answer. This future may sound depressing and unfulfilling, but it will not be without its joy and entertainment. There’s a lot of garbage on the internet, and in fact, I would go so far as to say it’s predominantly garbage. Currently, we live in a three-dimensional world, but unless we interact with each other in real life, we spend most of our time in a two-dimensional setting. The best parts of today’s internet will take one or both of two forms. It will either remain two-dimensional, or become three-dimensional, as virtual reality that’s indistinguishable for base reality is made possible. All the fun things you do on the internet right now; the broadcasting, and chatting, and image sharing, will all be pushed to these virtual realities. You’ll talk with another individual in person, just like you would in the real world. The difference is you’ll be able to teleport to them, and it won’t matter where they are physically. Again, I’m not sure that this is something we should do, but the deeper I go down the rabbit hole of future studies, often while researching on Wikipedia, the more obvious it seems that this is all inevitable. I just hope humanity lasts long enough to see what I am tentatively calling Web 5.0.

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