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Beyond Imagination: Real Virtuality (2)
By JoŽl de Rosnay
Director of Forecasting and Assessment
City of Science and Industry, Paris

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Before the dawn of humanity, the "inventions" of life were the result of the interaction of DNA, living organisms metabolizing energy, and the environment. In biological evolution, every "idea" has to be tested full-scale in the form of a mutant species, one with new characteristics that might give it a competitive advantage. Through natural selection, the environment acts as a filter, eliminating the least fit "ideas" or "inventions." The transmission of the useful ones is linear and occurs only with the transition from one generation to another. This is why the overall process of biological evolution is so slow.

In intellectual evolution, where an invention is equivalent to a mutation, symbionomic evolution is considerably faster. Human beings can invent things without having to wait for the birth of a new generation to judge the results. Thanks to the relationship between the real world and the imaginary world, we can construct hypotheses and models and test them by reasoning or simulation, without necessarily having to translate them immediately into reality. We can think using symbols, analogies, metaphors, inductive reasoning. Imagination acts as a random variety generator. DNA, once confined in the biological organism that ensures its survival, is now externalized in the form of plans, projects, diagrams, blueprints, patents, prototypes, guides, and electronic memory, making it easy to introduce changes, comparisons, or recombinations. Reality and imagination are the two complementary faces of invention and creativity. Hence there has been an extraordinary acceleration of technical and social evolution as compared with biological evolution.

With the introsphere and its connection to virtual reality, a new world has been created between reality and imagination:

We can imagine complex objects and systems and their operation, build them, and test our hypotheses in the dematerialized world of the virtual. The introscope is an extraordinary catalyst for creativity. In addition, virtual space is accessible to other symbiotic intelligences that can select and eliminate or consolidate inventions, models, and constructions. The virtual world introduces a new dimension in the play of ideas, as money does in the economy. The unwieldiness of barter, as we saw, inhibited the flow of exchanges. Money acts as a lubricant in the economy, making time and space irrelevant. Dematerialized electronic money makes transactions and exchanges even more fluid and makes possible real-time management of economic and financial complexity. In the same way, the virtual world now complements the imaginary world and the real world, giving rise to an additional level of collective consciousness.

But there is another crucial step to be taken in the relationship between the real, the imaginary, and the virtual world, an extraordinary threshold to be crossed: the direct connection of the brains of symbiotic humanity with the brain of the cybiont through a biotic interface.

Biotics is the marriage of biology and computer technology. Biosensors and transducers connected to the brain or other parts of the body relay to computers information that can trigger actions. A biotic interface between the brain and the virtual world will mark a new stage in the emergence of a collective consciousness, a metaconsciousness capable of outliving the individual consciousnesses that make it up. With the biotic interface, a true symbiosis will be established between humanity and planetary macro-organisms, of which the cybiont is a "thought model." Voice recognition, voice synthesis, and recognition of handwriting, facial expressions, and gestures are intermediate stages on the way to the ultimate interface between the human brain and the brain of the cybiont. The global neural hypernetwork will function and think using a new type of organization; it will be a hybrid planetary brain, both biological and biotic.

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