Web Life is a concept, that proposes that the World Wide Web (Web) has, or could, evolve into an entity worthy of consideration as a life form in its own right; a new posthuman species consisting of just one isolated member.
The web life concept considers the Web not as a connected network of computers, as in common interpretations of the Internet, but rather as a sociotechnical machine capable of fusing together individuals and organisations into larger coordinated groups. It argues that unlike the technologies that have come before it, the Web is different in that its phenomenal growth and complexity are starting to outstrip our capability to control it directly, making it impossible for us to grasp its completeness in one go. A set of emergent characteristics and behaviours are now starting to appear, it suggests, that we have not programmed individually. These are apparently starting to increase in number and strength.
Many writers, like Arthur C. Clark and Gregory Stock, have contemplated an “emergent property” such as life arising from the mass of humanity and computers. Some also refer to this using terminology like “metaman”, “superorganism” or “global brain” but until recently few have chosen to take its potential seriously from a purely Web perspective. In fact, in 2005, when Sir Tim Berners-Lee first discussed the thinking behind Web Life he light heartedly referred to it as a conspiracy in the spirit of Dan Brown’s best selling novel The Da Vinci Code.
Building on the concepts outlined by Fritjof Capra in his theory of living systems, the argument for the likely emergence of Web Life draws upon ideas from diverse areas such as Web science, swarm intelligence, technology lock-in, scale-free networks, memes, artificial life, quantum Darwinism, autocatalytic sets and the Semantic Web. The concept was first rigorously outlined in the book The Web’s Awake by Philip D. Tetlow.
At its heart, Web Life advocates contemporary definitions of life which ask if it is relevant to differentiate between an individual organism and the entire biosphere. It is argued that a bacterium could easily mistake a person for a huge colony of one-celled organisms working in symbiosis, and therefore in the same way, a person could quite easily perceive the Web as a huge virtual colony of purposeful information-based technology.
- Tetlow, P.,D., (2007). The Web's Awake, IEEE Press
- Nijholt, A. (2009) Socio-Technical Implementation: Socio-technical Systems in the Context of Ubiquitous Computing, Ambient Intelligence, Embodied Virtuality, and the Internet of Things. In: Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems. IGI Global Book
- Capra, F., (1997). The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems