There has been kind of a disconnect for me in former Web.com head Jeff Stibel’s twin identities as a top local executive, and as a brain scientist. Not anymore. In a provocative and valuable new book, “Wired for Thought,” Stibel lays out a solid case that the development of the Internet parallels the development of the human brain — only the Internet doesn’t suffer from poor memory and slow processing speeds.
Things have moved quickly since the early 1980s, when I learned in a psychology class that the development of computers was based on human thought patterns — behaviorism. That’s too limiting for Stibel, who looks to the Internet and its free flow of billions of connections as the correct analogy for brain development.
But what is it about the brain science that excites Web entrepreneurs like Stibel and former Microsoft research head Nathan Myhrvold? On the outer stretches, Stibel has developed technology that enables paraplegics and others to use implanted brain devices to turn on lights and manipulate TVs and computers.
But more practically for us, Stibel looks to social networks and search as direct beneficiaries of brain science. Yahoo’s hiring of hundreds of librarians in the 1990s to catalog the Web just wouldn’t make any sense today, he says. Indeed, linguistics is the more appropriate field of research to really understand how search will eventually climb the frontiers of “artificial intelligence” — a phrase that Stibel disparages.