Francis Heylighen

Francis Heylighen
Vrije Universiteit Brussel | VUB · Center Leo Apostel (CLEA)

PhD in theoretical physics

About

157
Publications
187,882
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5,721
Citations
Citations since 2016
20 Research Items
2255 Citations
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Introduction
My general interest is the self-organization of complex, intelligent systems, and in particular the "global brain", the distributed intelligence emerging from the Internet. I approach this topic starting from an action ontology. If you want to follow my publications, best use my Google Scholar page (more complete and up-to-date than this): http://scholar.google.com/citations?sortby=pubdate&hl=en&user=jt7BHBUAAAAJ&pagesize=100&view_op=list_works
Additional affiliations
January 1996 - present
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Position
  • Professor

Publications

Publications (157)
Article
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Recently a number of techniques have been developed that stimulate people to act towards specific objectives. These include persuasive technologies, gamification, user experiences, and various methods and tools used in open-source and other communities to encourage and organize participation. After surveying various examples of such applications, w...
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Aging is analyzed as the spontaneous loss of adaptivity and increase in fragility that characterizes dynamic systems. Cybernetics defines the general regulatory mechanisms that a system can use to prevent or repair the damage produced by disturbances. According to the law of requisite variety, disturbances can be held in check by maximizing bufferi...
Article
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The organismic view of society is updated by incorporating concepts from cybernetics, evolutionary theory, and complex adaptive systems. Global society can be seen as an autopoietic network of self-producing components, and therefore as a living system or superorganism. Millers living systems theory suggests a list of functional components for soci...
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Evolution is presented as a trial-and-error process that produces a progressive accumulation of knowledge. At the level of technology, this leads to ephemeralization, i.e. ever increasing productivity, or decreasing of the friction that normally dissipates resources. As a result, flows of matter, energy and information circulate ever more easily ac...
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This paper attempts to clarify the notion of goal-directedness, which is often misunderstood as being inconsistent with standard causal mechanisms. We first note that goal-directedness does not presuppose any mysterious forces, such as intelligent design, vitalism, conscious intention or backward causation. We then review attempts at defining goal-...
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We characterize living systems as resilient “chemical organizations”, i.e. self-maintaining networks of reactions that are able to resist a wide range of perturbations. Dissipative structures, such as flames or convection cells, are also self-maintaining, but much less resilient. We try to understand how life could have originated from such self-or...
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Reaction network is a promising framework for representing complex systems of diverse and even interdisciplinary types. In this approach, complex systems appear as self-maintaining structures emerging from a multitude of interactions, similar to proposed scenarios for the origin of life out of autocatalytic networks. The formalism of chemical organ...
Chapter
While their focus is on guiding and assessing human behaviour, traditional ethical frameworks remain entrenched in the absolutist and deterministic Newtonian worldview. On the other hand, the more recent theories of relativity, quantum mechanics and chaos have inspired relativist or nihilistic perspectives that merely highlight uncertainty; as a re...
Chapter
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We define the noosphere as the conscious level of the web, where global conversations are being held about collective challenges. To understand its dynamics, we review three neuroscientific theories of consciousness: information integration, adaptive resonance, and global workspace. These suggest that conscious thoughts are characterized by a “reso...
Article
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In this article, we attempt at developing a scenario for the self-organization of goal-directed systems out of networks of (chemical) reactions. Related scenarios have been proposed to explain the origin of life starting from autocatalytic sets, but these sets tend to be too unstable and dependent on their environment to maintain. We apply instead...
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While art and science still functioned side-by-side during the Renaissance, their methods and perspectives diverged during the nineteenth century, creating a still enduring separation between the "two cultures". Recently, artists and scientists again collaborate more frequently, as promoted most radically by the ArtScience movement. This approach a...
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Quantum phenomena are notoriously difficult to grasp. The present paper first reviews the most important quantum concepts in a non-technical manner: superposition, uncertainty, collapse of the wave function, entanglement and non-locality. It then tries to clarify these concepts by examining their analogues in complex, self-organizing systems. These...
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We show that TTOM has a lot to offer for the study of the evolution of cultures, but that this also brings to the fore the dark implications of TTOM, unexposed in Veissière et al. Those implications lead us to move beyond meme-centered or an organism-centered concepts of fitness based on free energy minimization, towards a social systems-centered v...
Preprint
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Quantum phenomena are notoriously difficult to grasp. The present paper first reviews the most important quantum concepts in a non-technical matter: superposition, uncertainty, collapse of the wave function, entanglement and non-locality. It then tries to clarify these concepts by examining their analogues in complex, self-organizing systems. These...
Article
We propose a venture into an existential opportunity for establishing a world 'good enough' for humans to live in. Defining an existential opportunity as the converse of an existential risk-i.e. a development that promises to dramatically improve the future of humanity-we argue that one such opportunity is available and should be explored now. The...
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The world is confronted with a variety of interdependent problems, including scarcity, unsustainability, inequality, pollution and poor governance. Tackling such complex challenges requires coordinated action. The present paper proposes the development of a self-organizing system for coordination, called an “offer network”, that would use the distr...
Data
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We aproach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or feeling. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as as...
Article
We analyze the role of the Global Brain in the sharing economy, by synthesizing the notion of distributed intelligence with Goertzel's concept of an offer network. An offer network is an architecture for a future economic system based on the matching of offers and demands without the intermediate of money. Intelligence requires a network of conditi...
Article
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The concept of stigmergy, a mechanism for the coordination of actions via the trace they leave in a medium, can explain self-organizing activities in a broad range of domains, including social insects, collaborative websites, and human institutions. The present paper attempts to bring some order to these diverse applications by classifying varietie...
Technical Report
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The concept of stigmergy has been used to analyze self-organizing activities in an ever-widening range of domains, including social insects, robotics, social media, and human society. Yet, it is still poorly understood, and as such its full power remains underappreciated. The present paper clarifies the issue by defining stigmergy as a mechanism of...
Chapter
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The present chapter wishes to investigate the wider context of human computation, viewing it as merely one approach within the broad domain of distributed human-computer symbiosis. The multifarious developments in the “social” Internet have shown the great potential of large-scale collaborative systems that involve both people and the various infor...
Article
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Complex adaptive systems consist of a large number of interacting agents. Agents are goal-directed, cognitive individuals capable of perception, information processing and action. However, agents are intrinsically “bounded” in their rational understanding of the system they belong to, and its global organization tends to emerge from local interacti...
Article
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The present paper criticizes Chalmers's discussion of the Singularity, viewed as the emergence of a superhuman intelligence via the self-amplifying development of artificial intelligence. The situated and embodied view of cognition rejects the notion that intelligence could arise in a closed 'brain-in-a-vat' system, because intelligence is rooted i...
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this paper reviews the general philosophy underlying the transdisciplinary research in the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition (ECCO) group. The ECCO conceptual framework is based on an ontology of action: the fundamental constituents of reality are seen as actions and the agents that produce them. More complex phenomena are conceived as selforgani...
Article
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The conceptual and formal structure of quantum mechanics is analyzed from the point of view of the dynamics of distinctions, occurring during the observation process. The Hilbert space formalism is simplified with the help of the concept of closure: Closure of an eigenstate under an operator is generalized to the linear closure of a subset of slate...
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The worldview of science is based on laws, which are supposed to be certain, time-independent, objective and context-independent. The worldview found in literature, myth and religion, on the other hand, is based on stories, which relate the events experienced by a subject in a particular context with an uncertain outcome. This paper argues that the...
Article
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This short comment confirms Longo’s observation about the importance of symmetries for understanding space and time, but raises the additional issue of the transition from reversible to irreversible transformations. KeywordsSymmetry–Potentiality–Reversibility
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Possibly the most fundamental scientific problem is the origin of time and causality. The inherent difficulty is that all scientific theories of origins and evolution consider the existence of time and causality as given. We tackle this problem by starting from the concept of self-organization, which is seen as the spontaneous emergence of order ou...
Article
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This document is the Special Issue of the First International Conference on the Evolution and Development of the Universe (EDU 2008). Please refer to the preface and introduction for more details on the contributions. Keywords: acceleration, artificial cosmogenesis, artificial life, Big Bang, Big History, biological evolution, biological universe,...
Article
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The role of utopias Utopias seem to be out of fashion these days. The old ideologies, such as communism, have shown their inadequacies, and the “laissez-faire ” liberalism that has replaced them is coming under more and more criticism. Instead, the intellectual climate has turned to either gloom and doom, or an “anything goes ” postmodernist relati...
Article
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In 2001 David Allen proposed ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) as a method for enhancing personal productivity and reducing the stress caused by information overload. This paper argues that recent insights in psychology and cognitive science support and extend GTD's recommendations. We first summarize GTD with the help of a flowchart, and then review the...
Article
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this article introduces some of the main concepts and methods of the science studying complex, self-organizing systems and networks, in a non-technical manner. Complexity cannot be strictly defined, only situated in between order and disorder. A complex system is typically modeled as a collection of interacting agents, representing components as di...
Article
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Despite the intrinsic complexity of integrating individual, social and technologically supported intelligence, the paper proposes a relatively simple ‘connectionist’ framework for conceptualizing distributed cognitive systems. Shared information sources (documents) are represented as nodes connected by links of variable strength, which increases a...
Article
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This introductory paper is structured in the form of an "interview", where the author answers the following questions: Why did you begin working with complex systems? How would you define complexity? What is your favourite aspect/concept of complexity? In your opinion, what is the most problematic aspect/concept of complexity? How do you see the fu...
Article
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The explosive development of "free" or "open source" information goods contravenes the conventional wisdom that markets and commercial organizations are necessary to efficiently supply products. This paper proposes a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon, using concepts from economics and theories of self-organization. Once available on the I...
Article
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A multiagent connectionist model is proposed that consists of a collection of individual recurrent networks that communicate with each other and, as such, is a network of networks. The individual recurrent networks simulate the process of information uptake, integration, and memorization within individual agents, and the communication of beliefs an...
Article
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The science of complexity is based on a new way of thinking that stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy underlying Newtonian science, which is based on reductionism, determinism, and objective knowledge. This paper reviews the historical development of this new world view, focusing on its philosophical foundations. Determinism was challenged by...
Conference Paper
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The distributed cognition approach, and by extension the domain of social intelligence design, attempts to integrate three until recently separate realms: mind, society, and matter. The field offers a heterogeneous collection of ideas, observations, and case studies, yet lacks a coherent theoretical framework for building models of concrete systems...
Conference Paper
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This paper reviews a number of recent approaches to put memetics to the test of quantitative meas-urability. The focus is on the selection criteria for the spreading of memes put forward by Heylighen (1997), which include utility, novelty, simplicity, coherence, authority and proselytism. The general hypothesis is that memes scoring higher on these...
Article
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The "global brain" is a metaphor for the intelligent network formed by the people of this planet together with the knowledge and communication technologies that connect them together. The different approaches leading up to this conception, by authors such as Spencer, Otlet, Wells, Teilhard, Russell and Turchin, are reviewed in their historical orde...
Conference Paper
The distributed cognition approach, and by extension the domain of social intelligence design, attempts to integrate three until recently separate realms: mind, society, and matter. The field offers a heterogeneous collection of ideas, observations, and case studies, yet lacks a solid, coherent theoretical framework for building models of concrete...
Article
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We discuss which properties common-use artifacts should have to collaborate without human intervention. We conceive how devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs, and home appliances, could be seamlessly integrated to provide an "ambient intelligence" that responds to the user's desires without requiring explicit programming or commands. While the hardw...
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This chapter does not deal with specific tools and techniques for managing complex systems, but proposes some basic concepts that help us to think and speak about complexity. We review classical thinking and its intrinsic drawbacks when dealing with complexity. We then show how complexity forces us to build models with indeterminacy and unpredictab...
Article
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We propose a first step in the development,of an integrated theory,of the ,emergence ,of distributed ,cognition/extended mind. Distributed cognition is seen as the confluence of collective intelligence and “situatedness”, or the extension of cognitive processes into the physical environment. The framework ,is based ,on five ,fundamental assumptions...
Article
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Principles of self-organisation are presented and are applied to the fields of the Web, which has developed its form from the bottom up; e-science, in which a grid of intelligent components interacted towards a greater understanding of the science concerned; peer-to-peer systems, that lend themselves to information systems that do not work with cen...
Conference Paper
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We do not attempt to provide yet another definition of selforganization, but explore the conditions under which we can model a system as self-organizing. These involve the dynamics of entropy, and the purpose, aspects, and description level chosen by an observer. We show how, changing the level or "graining" of description, the same system can appe...
Article
ases at a much slower rate, thus lagging further and further behind. This means that large projects, such as the Semantic Web, either will get endlessly delayed, or end up with unworkable products. We need a radically different approach to overcome this bottleneck. One step forward is IBM's "autonomic computing" (http://www.research.ibm.com/autonom...
Article
The term cybernetics was coined by Norbert Wiener (1948). Derived from the Greek "kybernetes," or "steersman," it was defined as "the study of control and communication in the animal and machine." Over time, its meaning has broadened substantially, and while many specific senses persist, cybernetics is the study of the abstract principles of organi...
Conference Paper
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ases at a much slower rate, thus lagging further and furtherbehind. This means that large projects, such as the Semantic Web, either will getendlessly delayed, or end up with unworkable products.We need a radically different approach to overcome this bottleneck. One stepforward is IBM's "autonomic computing" (
Article
Full-text available
The context of a linguistic expression is defined as everything outside the expression itself that is necessary for unambiguous interpretation of the expression. As meaning can be conveyed either by the implicit, shared context or by the explicit form of the expression, the degree of context-dependence or “contextuality” of communication will vary,...
Conference Paper
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This paper proposes a set of algorithms to extract metadata about the documents in a digital library from the way these documents are used. Inspired by the learning of connections in the brain, the system assumes that documents develop stronger associations as they are more frequently co-activated. Co-activation corresponds to consultation by the s...
Article
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It is argued that social and technological evolution is characterized by ephemeralizat ion, an accelerating increase in the efficiency of all material, energetic and informational processes. This leads to the practical disappearance of the constraints of space, time, matter and energy, and thus spectaculary increases our power to physically solve p...
Article
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The perceptual control theory of Powers is used to analyse the market mechanism as a negative feedback loop which controls the deviation between demand (goal) and supply (perception) by adjusting the amount of effort invested in the production process (action), through the the setting of the price. The interconnection of distributed control loops f...
Article
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In spite of these similarities, the WWW lacks some important functional attributes typical for biological and artificial neural networks. First, neural networks are normally not intended to merely store information, but to control and guide goal-directed behaviour. The WWW, however, does not perform any tasks except information storage. Second, mos...
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nd in the 19th century with Ampre, who both saw it as the science of effective government. The concept was revived and elaborated by the mathematician Norbert Wiener in his seminal 1948 book, whose title defined it as "Cybernetics, or the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine". Inspired by wartime and pre-war results in m...
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. Progress could in principle be measured through the change
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Contents I. Historical Development of Cybernetics.......................................................1 A. Origins.....................................................................................1 B. Second Order Cybernetics............................................................2 C. Cybernetics Today.........................................
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: A set of fundamental principles for the cybernetics domain is sketched, based on the spontaneous emergence of systems through variation and selection. The (mostly self-evident) principles are: selective retention, autocatalytic growth, asymmetric transitions, blind variation, recursive systems construction, selective variety, requisite knowledge...
Article
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. A general problem in all systems to process language (parsing, translating, etc.) is ambiguity: words have many, fuzzily defined meanings, and meanings shift with the context. This may be tackled by quantifying the connotative or associative meaning, which can be represented as a matrix of mutual association strengths. With many thousands of word...
Article
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. It is argued that the acceptance of knowledge in a community depends on several, approximately independent selection "criteria". The objective criteria are distinctiveness, invariance and controllability, the subjective ones are individual utility, coherence, simplicity and novelty, and the intersubjective ones are publicity, expressivity, formal...
Article
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Introduction One of the essential issues of the Principia Cybernetica Project, which aims at the development of an evolutionary-cybernetic philosophy (Turchin, 1991; Heylighen, 1991ab), is epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. When we look at the history of epistemology, we can discern a clear trend, in spite of the confusion of many seemingly...
Article
The symbol-based, correspondence epistemology used in AI is contrasted with the constructivist, coherence epistemology promoted by cybernetics.
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understandable, since the emergence of hierarchical levels is a pre-eminently multidisciplinary issue, involving at least physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. Another reason for the lack of coherent results is that the problem is intrinsically difficult, involving a host of phenomena (e.g. the origin of life) about which we know very little,...
Article
This paper provides a survey on studies that analyze the macroeconomic effects of intellectual property rights (IPR). The first part of this paper introduces different patent policy instruments and reviews their effects on R&D and economic growth. This part also discusses the distortionary effects and distributional consequences of IPR protection a...
Article
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. It is argued that the problems of emergence and the architecture of complexity can be solved by analysing the self-organizing evolution of complex systems. A generalized, distributed variationselection model is proposed, in which internal and external aspects of selection and variation are contrasted. "Relational closure" is introduced as an inte...
Article
Margaret Mead. Hosted by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, these became known as the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics [11]. Through the 1950s, Cybernetic thinkers came to cohere with the school of General Systems Theory (GST), founded at about the same time by Ludwig von Bertalanffy [12, 33], as an attempt to build a unified science by uncovering the...
Article
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This paper argues that both the relativist and the pessimist critiques of the idea of progress are inadequate. Progress is defined as increase in global quality of life (QOL). Such QOL is intrinsically subjective, but not relative. It can be reliably measured through “life satisfaction”-type questions. The “World Database of Happiness” provides ext...
Article
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The Principia Cybernetica Project was created to develop an integrated philosophy or world view, based on the theories of evolution, self-organization, systems and cybernetics. Its conceptual network has been implemented as an extensive website. The present paper reviews the assumptions behind the project, focusing on its rationale, its philosophic...
Article
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. The symbol-based, correspondence epistemology used in AI is contrasted with the constructivist, coherence epistemology promoted by cybernetics. The latter leads to bootstrapping knowledge representations, in which different parts of the cognitive system mutually support each other. Gordon Pask's entailment meshes and their implementation in the T...
Article
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. Collective intelligence is defined as the ability of a group to solve more problems than its individual members. It is argued that the obstacles created by individual cognitive limits and the difficulty of coordination can be overcome by using a collective mental map (CMM). A CMM is defined as an external memory with shared read/write access, tha...
Article
The principle of natural selection is taken as a starting point for an analysis of evolutionary levels. Knowledge and values are conceived as vicarious selectors of actions from a repertoire. The concept of metasystem transition is derived from the law of requisite variety and the principle of hierarchy. It is defined as the increase of variety at...
Article
This paper examines in how far Turchin's concept of metasystem transition, as the evolutionary integration and control of individual systems, can be applied to the development of social systems. Principles of collective evolution are reviewed, and different types of competitive or synergetic configurations are distinguished. Similar systems tend to...
Article
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Given that knowledge consists of finite models of an infinitely complex reality, how can we explain that it is still most of the time reliable? Survival in a variable environment requires an internal model whose complexity (variety) matches the complexity of the environment that is to be controlled. The reduction of the infinite complexity of the s...
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INTRODUCTION: THE FOUNDATIONS OF PHYSICS AS A LANGUAGE PROBLEM With the renewed interest in the foundations of physics, it has become clear that the problems encountered in this domain are more than just questions of choosing an appropriate "philosophy" or "interpretation" concerning the fundamental theories. The traditional approach advocated a pr...
Article
It is argued that in order to solve complex problems we need a new approach, which is neither reductionistic nor holistic, but based on the entanglement of distinction and connection, of disorder and order, thus defining a science of complexity. A model of complex evolution is proposed, based on distributed variation through recombination and mutat...
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Dynamical representations used in physics are analysed from a "second order" viewpoint, as distinction systems constructed by an observer in interaction with an object.
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Equal causes have equal effects" is reformulated by defining causality as a distinction-conserving relation. Unpredictable, respectively irreversible, processes are analysed as processes in which distinctions are created, respectively are destroyed. Different types of partially causal and pseudo-causal relations are examined. Time order is derived...
Article
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Although the growth of complexity during evolution seems obvious to most observers, it has recently been questioned whether such increase objectively exists. The present paper tries to clarify the issue by analysing the concept of complexity as a combination of variety and dependency. It is argued that variation and selection automatically produce...
Article
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Testing the validity of knowledge requires formal expression of that knowledge. Formality of an expression is defined as the invariance, under changes of context, of the expression's meaning, i.e. the distinction which the expression represents. This encompasses both mathematical formalism and operational determination. The main advantages of forma...
Article
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We have implemented an experimental system that automatically restructures hypertext networks according to their users' browsing behavior. The system applies link weights to the hyperlinks in the networks and updates these link weights according to three learning rules. The learning rules are based on how often a particular hyperlink is being trave...
Article
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A list of the most relevant publications on complex, evolving systems is produced by counting the number of times each publication is cited in a collection of texts on the domain. The importance of these books and papers is summarized by noting the main contribution to the field of their authors, categorized by the research tradition they originate...
Article
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This paper examines in how far Turchin's concept of metasystem transition, as the evolutionary integration and control of individual systems, can be applied to the development of social systems. Principles of collective evolution are reviewed, and different types of competitive or synergetic configurations are distinguished. Similar systems tend to...
Article
Full-text available
This paper examines the proposition that covariation information guides judgments about the dimensionality of attributions on the basis of causal principles of contrast and invariance, which are derived from Mill's methods of difference and agreement respectively. It is argued that the standard attribution categories specified in earlier research (...

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In its first five years, the Global Brain Institute has investigated how the Internet could develop into a distributed intelligence that would coordinate human and technological activities at the planetary scale. For this, we developed a conceptual and mathematical theory of the self-organization of distributed intelligence, and compared its implications with present technological and social developments. This provided us with a long-term scenario for the emergence of a Global Brain that would be able to tackle all our major problems, but also with some concrete strategies for supporting this evolution. Building on these results, we now propose a roadmap towards the actual development of a Global Brain. The strategy is similar to the one that led to the creation of the World-Wide Web: specify a universal, open protocol that would allow all people and machines to intelligently coordinate their actions, independently of platforms, languages, or governance structures. We have already formulated the conceptual foundations of that protocol in our mathematical models (Challenge Propagation, COT, and Offer Networks). But its concrete elaboration requires much further analysis, modelling, implementation, and testing in real-world situations. The protocol will consist of several application layers, which each add further intelligence and functionality to the whole, and which can be developed relatively independently. Thus, the Global Brain network can be built up step-by-step according to our proposed roadmap, assimilating increasingly advanced technologies as they become available. These technologies include the Semantic Web, Internet of Things, reputation systems, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, and ecosystem modeling. The main requirement for realizing it at the world level is that the protocol would prove its usefulness clearly enough, so that an increasing number of people start using it, until it encompasses all Internet connected systems. This is similar to how Tim Berners-Lee's HTML/URL protocol eventually integrated all computers and documents into the World-Wide Web. We propose a further integration that would allow the network to match the needs, resources and actions of human and technological agents at all scales. The resulting gains in synergy, efficiency and coordinated action could in principle solve the major economic, social, ecological and organizational problems that the world is confronted with-including inequality, poverty, unsustainable growth, waste, and poor governance. We see our mission as guiding the emergence of the Global Brain-in contrast to merely forecasting its likely properties. As socio-political confusion and turmoil spread across the globe, our society is approaching a transition towards a fundamentally new social, economic and technological regime. We believe that the time is ripe for promoting a rational, feasible, and genuinely optimistic vision of the future of humanity, in which an increasingly intelligent Internet mediates human and machine interactions towards the common good. Our theoretical research has prepared us for the elaboration, prototyping and testing of a protocol that would practically support such intelligent mediation.