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A Research Unit
of The Third
Millennium Project

The Leonardo Project

If you are reading this, it is probably because you have received an e-mail. It no doubt sounded a bit odd to you. Frankly, when we first began to understand the implications of our research, it struck us as odd as well. As strange as it might seem, however, it is firmly grounded in excellent scientific analysis.

Very soon, the Internet e-mail system is going to transform into a neural net. When it does, it will trigger a sequence of events that will change the world. Nation states governed by representative democracies will disappear; corporations will dissolve and large, densely populated metropolitan areas will disperse. The structure of community, neighborhood and family will change. Incomes will dramatically increase. Laws will change. Social and political tensions will ease. The very foundations of our culture and civilization will evolve into something completely new. This will all happen in the next ten years.

Not surprisingly, such a transformation is an extremely complex event. So we will give it to you in pieces.

The first thing to understand are neural nets. An e-mail neural net presents a potential problem, but it also gives us an amazing opportunity. Neural nets are extremely complicated systems that only a few people in the world really understand. However, with a few simple diagrams, we can give you an idea of the nature of the problem and the potential of the opportunity.

The Problem

Look at this diagram of a simple e-mail pyramid.

table 1

Alice finds a joke she thinks is funny. She e-mails it to Bob and Carol. Carol thinks its funny too, so she forwards it to Frank and Gretchen. Gretchen thinks its funny, so she forwards it to Ned and you. Even though you quite possibly don't even know Alice, you receive her joke. An important thing to note about this structure is that Alice, Carol and Gretchen are the only people who can tell you a joke. If Denise finds a joke she thinks is funny and sends it to Hal and Inga, you'll never hear it.

Furthermore, the only jokes of Alice's you will receive are ones that both Carol and Gretchen think are funny. In other words, the system is selective. Remember this. It will be important later. If Carol and Gretchen share your sense of humor, they will automatically select those jokes Alice sends out that you will think are the funniest. Properly constructed, the system is not only selective, it is customized to your sense of humor.

Now we are going to draw the e-mail pyramid again, but this time a couple of interesting things have happened. One, Bob has met Peggy and she is now forwarding him jokes. Two, Bob has met Gretchen and started forwarding her jokes. (We think he may be looking for a new girlfriend.)

table 2

We have highlighted in blue those people in the pyramid who are now getting jokes from both Alice and Peggy. Two things have happened to your e-mail pyramid because of actions Bob (a person you quite possibly don't even know) has taken. One, most of the people in the pyramid, including you, have had their supply of jokes double. All from just one person's name going into a couple of address books. Second, the system has become less selective. Before, if Carol didn't think one of Alice's jokes was funny, Gretchen wouldn't receive it and naturally, neither would you. Now if either Bob or Carol forwards the joke, Gretchen receives it.

There are two possible results to this change in your e-mail pyramid. Either the number of jokes in your inbox will increase and, on average, you won't think they are as funny as before. Or the number of jokes in your inbox will stay the same but they will seem funnier to you. Which result you get depends entirely on how Bob, Carol and Gretchen react to the change in the structure of the pyramid. If they become more selective in what they forward, the number of jokes in your inbox will stay the same, but they will seem funnier to you because the supply has doubled and Gretchen knows your sense of humor. If they don't change their behavior, you'll get flooded with jokes.

This example is a very small, uncomplicated e-mail pyramid. The two actions that Bob took are examples of an e-mail pyramid turning into a neural net. The real e-mail pyramids out there are much bigger and more complicated. Some of them involve thousands of people. We have been asking people to forward us their jokes, stories and 'thoughts for the day' so that we can study what is happening to e-mail pyramids. We are finding people who are getting jokes from more than 25 different sources. We are also finding people who are starting to get flooded with e-mails. In other words, the process has already begun.

The Opportunity

This neural net of Internet E-mail forwarders is going to happen whether anyone does anything or not. Every day more people create e-mail address books. Every day more names are going into address books. And every day more people are becoming e-mail forwarders. Its just a natural process of people on the Internet getting to know one another and getting familiar with the systems. The formation of the neural net does not need to be encouraged and it probably couldn't be stopped even if someone thought it should be.

We have named the neural net, Leonardo after Leonardo da Vinci. We have given it a name because over time, the neural net will 'learn' and begin to behave in an intelligent manner. Its just easier to think of something that acts intelligently as a person, even though we know its not. We have named it after da Vinci, because many people think he was the last person to know everything that was known during his lifetime. Our neural net, Leonardo, will know everything - at least everything that is on the Internet and that is pretty close to everything.

Before we discuss the opportunity and potential of Leonardo, we need to think about something. Right now, because of e-mail pyramids, a joke, inspiring story or 'thought for the day' can fly all around the world, creating millions of copies in millions of inboxes, in just the matter of a few days. Why doesn't anything, well, important get passed around the same way? Simply put, because things of more importance tend to appeal to specific audiences. Nearly all of us are receptive to a good laugh or an inspiring story. Only a few of us are going to be interested in an exciting new development in Cosmology, for example.

Suppose Alice is an avid gardener and so are you. Alice happens upon absolutely the coolest new gardening website. Its something you'd really like to know about. But Alice doesn't forward it to Bob and Carol because she knows they aren't gardeners. Consequently, if Alice hears a joke you want to hear, you'll get it. If Alice has some exciting gardening news you want to know about, you won't get it because the people between Alice and you aren't interested.

If Leonardo comes into existence accidentally, the Internet will become a confusing place until people start rethinking how their address books are structured, whose address books they are in and which e-mails they should be forwarding to whom. If, however, we can assemble a large enough group of volunteers to think about these things ahead of time and to create a scale model of Leonardo, it will come into existence already intelligent and ready to be useful to the people on the Internet.

Leonardo will fundamentally change the Internet. Properly constructed, he will sift through the more than 30 billion web pages and automatically direct them to the people who are interested. He will automatically introduce you to the people on the Internet you most want to meet. How Leonardo will do this is very easy to understand in principle. Right now, Alice's discovery of the coolest new gardening website won't get to you because the people who connect the two of you aren't interested in gardening. All we have to do is create an e-mail pathway between the two of you that is comprised of gardeners!!

In principle, that's pretty easy to understand. In practice its a bit more complicated. If all the gardeners on the internet are connected through a neural net of 'gardening' address book folders, you will simply get flooded with gardening e-mails. MOUNTAINS of them. The system has to be selective. Just like the joke example we told you about. Fortunately there are a simple set of rules to follow that will make the system selective and will customize what you receive to what interests you. These set of rules will make sense to you and once you understand them, they will be rules you will want to follow.

We told you it was important to remember that the only jokes of Alice's you'll receive are the ones that both Carol and Gretchen thought were funny? Here is why we told you to remember it. When the gardening portion of Leonardo is built, literally hundreds of thousands of gardeners and gardening websites are available to you. However, if your Gretchen is someone who shares the specifics of your interest in gardening, she is highly selective in her forwarding and you respect her judgment, she is going to send you the very best of what she receives. If Gretchen exercises the same care in selecting her Carol, you will be sorting just the information you want out of the system.

This is one important element of getting Leonardo to work for you. You need to meet people who share your interests and whose judgment you respect. Then get in each other's address book folders. Isn't this something that would be enjoyable to do even if it didn't serve any larger purpose? That's why we have become so excited about Leonardo. Building him will be fun for the participants!

The Next Step

That's all we're going to give you right now. If you've never heard of a neural net before, we've given you a whole lot to absorb. If you are familiar with them, you're probably getting pretty excited about the potential of Leonardo and we've given you a lot to think about. We can talk about it more later. Right now we want you to decide if you want to volunteer to help build Leonardo.

We want our volunteers to be people with a fair number of interests. There are two reasons for this. First, the more interests and therefore the more address book folders our average volunteer has, the fewer volunteers we are going to require. Under any circumstance, we are going to need a whole lot of them. Our calculations indicate that 100,000 would be best. Second, people with many interests have the most to gain from Leonardo. The more interests one has, it seems, the more time spent slogging through the thousands of web pages a search engine will throw at you. Leonardo is going to save you a WHOLE lot of time.

So if you are interested in being part of Leonardo, just put your e-mail address in the box provided and click on Leonardo. You will get a verification request via e-mail. It will provide you with a link to some web pages that will explain more about Leonardo, the Third Millennium Project and the coming Global Information Age Civilization. This is being made available to you, if you are interested. It is not required reading for volunteers. Once we get about 5,000 volunteers, we will be ready to start getting organized.

First, you will receive an e-mail directing you to a web page that will give you a simple set of instructions on how to organize your address book folder system. Many of you will already be pretty close to the structure, since the structure just makes sense. Next, you will get an e-mail invitation to visit our Main Group. There you will receive instructions on how to find the Special Interest Groups that match your e-mail folders, or how to create a SIG if the proper one doesn't exist. Then you just start meeting people and getting in each other's folders. Leonardo will be on his way to being born!

If you don't think you are appropriate for this project or if you aren't interested, would you still please forward the e-mail you received if you haven't already done so? Someone downline from you may be very grateful that you did. Also, all of us to a greater or lesser degree will benefit from Leonardo. You can do your part to help in his creation by just taking a couple of seconds to click on the forward button.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this,

Michael Ferguson
Executive Director
The American Polymathic Institute


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