of all, Elfnet starts with what everybody has right now. That’s basically telephone communications. From the beginning, I thought it has to be something that is completely accessible through acoustic communication-the telephone. By using the telephone, you don’t need anything that isn’t in every home in America. Everyone knows how to use it, so the technological hurdle–both in terms of personal expertise and in terms of the burden of buying equipment–is very minimal. So what else do we have today? Well, we obviously have telephone and television, and the television is verging toward what the telephone is, in the sense of being a two-way interactive medium. So everything I say about the telephone today applies to interactive television in the future.
Once the paradigm is worked out, you just have to understand that it becomes a little bit sensorially richer to do this through an interactive television. You have visual images, and you can point at things with your finger or some remote control, which is a little easier than just being on the phone. But it’s the same model–interactive two-way communication-and it applies universally.
The other aspect of this communication process is how the information is organized. I put this in the broader context of how the communication is organized, because information is thought to be some kind of substance, but it really isn’t. Information is really a kind of accounting that’s applied to communications. If you look at any respectable academic theory of information, you find that it ultimately comes down to that, that it’s not the static representation of bits and bytes, or a checkerboard with checkers on and off. That’s just the physical vehicle for it. The information is really a measure of communication. If you go back to the original mathematical theory of communication that engineers use, from around 1948, it said very explicitly what information is–a measure of communication, and communication is basically between minds, and it’s about questions and answers. Questions and answers implies that there’s a mind that has those questions and to whom the answers are relevant. In The Mind of the Dolphin, John Lilly said very succinctly, “Communication is between minds.”
David So Elfnet is a way of linking up more minds.
Francis: Yeah. It’s not really about the information, the data, or anything like that. It’s about the communication patterns. So the paradigm is very different from that of an industry based on the idea that you have information, which is a commodity, a quantity that you’re going to sell. CompuServe and similar services now will send you a CD-ROM that has half a gigabyte of images on it, and if you happen to have a computer that can log onto CompuServe and has a ROM reading capability, as some of them now do, you can plug this in, and you can get the same thing with more bells and whistles, much greater sensory richness. So instead of having a little Macintosh window-like icon you click on your screen, it’ll give you a frog, a 747, or a door that opens up onto a magical kingdom. All that is embellishment, to the extent that it’s entertaining. It’s a crutch for people to interface and doesn’t do anything for the basic issue, which is interaction, which-is about communication between minds. So this is where the paradigm takes off.
David Okay, so let’s create a scenario. Let’s say that I want to find out more about diabetes, and we have Elfnet set up. How would we go about doing that? I’d pick up the phone and dial into a central number–describe to me what would then happen.
Francis: First of all, we don’t want to make you put in your whole life history every time you interact with this thing. Whether you’re punching buttons on a touch-tone telephone, whether you’re pointing and clicking, typing away furiously at a keyboard, or blabbing, there’s an enormous burden of data input, which is a context. So what you want to have is an enduring context that is represented in this system, in which you own it as your private property. We’re not talking about these credit bureaus that sell information about you for potential marketing and so forth. There’s an enduring context in which you own an information action condominium. See, you own a condo in this information sphere, and that represents you. This has very interesting extensions that are related to what I was telling you earlier about the idea of giving dolphins and whales individual civil rights and legal status. Today there are five or six billion humans on this planet, but very few of them have very much in the way of individual standing or stature. Recognizing whales raises consciousness about recognizing ourselves.
As far as the economic systems that govern the planet are concerned, they’re numbers. You’re a statistic. For this reason it’s very hard to protect even human rights. I try to protect dolphin rights, but I also support organizations like Amnesty International, which is one of the very best at trying to protect and define human rights. It’s hard to get these government bureaucracies and multinational corporations to even accept standards of human rights that are being evolved by global supergovernmental bodies, such as the United Nations. It’s very difficult. So if you can give every individual public access, I think that you’re going a long way toward having a global society that, in a profound sense, recognizes each individual. That raises the possibility of caring for each individual in a specific way, and all that comes from the idea of having your personal, private information condo, your cellular-awareness domain, integrated into this kind of system.
So to return to your first question, about what sort of interaction there is, there are two poles to this interaction. One of them is that you can take charge, direct the interaction, and anything goes. You can be completely free of your whole interactive history. The other pole is that you can let it be based on what you’ve built up in the system already. You can let it make for you the associations that are most likely to connect you with the new information, as well as the enduring information that’s most relevant to your concerns.
David You were working on something years ago called Computer Copilot. Is that related to this in any way?
Francis: It shares a common technology. There’s a little revolutionary software technology at the heart of this, which I believe is a key to making it economical, at the present time, to do these sort of grandiose things I’ve described. This is another distinct application. The idea of a computer co-pilot, of course, relates to the idea that you have this personal entity. There’s this enduring image of you, which is, again, your private property, your holding in this global communication condominium. And you could also have this entity completely under your own control. You could have this cellular presence on the Elfnet, the global brain, then you could have it interacting with your personal one that’s completely under your own control, which you can expand using your own equipment and facilities. That was the idea of the Computer Go-pilot. It becomes an active thing, an agent that can do all kinds of work for you, because it represents you, your priorities, expectations, and so forth.
David Almost as though it becomes your unconscious.
Francis: Oh yeah, I guess you could say that, to the extent that your unconscious is this whole backload of priorities and expectations, things that go on in the background, automatic activities. You can maybe off-load or download much of your unconscious functioning to your personal computer, if it’s set up this way. That project is in the background, to be developed as a product that I’m going to call Angel, because we thought it’s not so much like your unconscious as like your guardian angel.
It’s your electronic guardian and messenger, which is the idea of an angel, if you look at classical association It can help you manage your messaging, because as the world becomes more complicated, more communication-based, your load of messaging work becomes greater and greater, and, of course with Angel, you can handle this more efficiently. So what YOU can do, in the context of having this co-pilot or this agent, is you can organically automate a lot o these tasks that you have to perform, and you can achieve much greater efficiency. It gives you the ability to handle more and more information competently. You can integrate a lot of things you do now using communication devices and computers in a single model, and have it run all that stuff for you, rather than you having to master every new program that comes out. That’s about it· So we’re developing this now under the brand name trademark Angel.
There’s a funny story to this. I filed this trademark protection about two years ago. As soon as it was published in the official gazette of the patent office, an objection was raised by–of all people–the Angels base-ball team. (laughter) So we had to negotiate a stipulated demarcation of rights with the team. That was the first real outside business negotiation of this enterprise, with this huge multibillion dollar corporation that manages the Angels baseball team. And little us with our far-out ideas.
In the Elfnet, the technology base is the same. In your own private communication condominium domain in Elfnet, you have a little mini co-pilot, or guardian angel. The difference is, in that context, that it’s immersed in an associative network relationship with the guardian angels of all the other participants, which obviously could be millions or billions of