MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

What would a global brain look like?

Guest post contributed by Dr. Trent Salvaggio, Executive Director of the IoT Talent Consortium (IOTTC), an industry-wide initiative focused on building and growing IoT talent. MIT Sloan Executive Education’s Associate Dean, Dr. Peter Hirst, is a member of the IOTTC board.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with renowned futurist and Special Advisor to the IoT Talent Consortium Gerd Leonhard. For those of you familiar with his work it will come as no surprise that our conversation quickly became one centered on technology and its various intersections with humanity. As our conversation progressed I noticed a single word repeating over and over: “connected."

As a social scientist, I have long studied “connections,” the dyadic bonds between co-workers, leaders and followers, managers and employees, etc., and the more complex system of connections that exist between multiple individuals on a team or the interconnectedness of entire organizations.

Through my work with the IoTTC, I have witnessed an entirely other kind of connectedness—the hard-wired linkages of computer to computer, the wireless connection of a sensor to the cloud, and the precise linkage of data streams to a unique source. But after a few minutes it became clear to me that those were not the simple type of connections that Gerd was thinking about.

Indeed, we live in a highly connected world, and one that is quickly becoming even more connected. I’m reminded of this every time I visit my brother and we inevitably end up at a grocery store using an app on his cell phone to see exactly what he has at home in his refrigerator (thanks a lot, technology!). But these are what I would call “passive” connections; those that quietly await user engagement. Then we have more active connections, those that are constantly working behind the scenes even when the user may not be engaged with them. Then Gerd made me think about a possible third type of connection, one where technology was able to supplement (or perhaps even replace) a normal human function and to do so at scale. Welcome to the idea of what Gerd calls “The Global Brain.”

Think about the nearly countless amount of data feeds powered by, for example, IoT technologies and the constantly increasing amount of computing power being created to analyze that data in ways that were not even possible just five years ago. Now imagine all of these systems of data feeds and computing power connecting with each other in an ever increasingly complex “system of systems.” The sheer scope and magnitude of this system of systems is difficult to comprehend at first, let alone trying to understand the possibilities that would come along with it.

Technology vs Humanity

As he often does, later in our conversation Gerd challenged me to think about this idea of the “Global Brain” a bit differently, not just as a near-infinite source of new knowledge, but as a potential influencer of humanity. What would a global brain look like? How could it work? Who would be responsible for its health?

Gerd recently recorded a series of short videos addressing this topic, and many others, exclusively for the IoT Talent Consortium. I’m pleased to be able to share the first of these series of videos with you today, and more in the coming weeks. I also invite you to help advance the conversation around them by sharing your thoughts with the IoTTC LinkedIn Group.

Gerd Leonhard’s latest book is Technology Vs Humanity.

You can learn more about the human side of IoT in our new online course, Internet of Things: Business Implications and Opportunities. You may also be interested in the related online program, Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy.

This entry was posted in on Mon Apr 09, 2018 by


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