From Intelligent Networks to the Global Brain

Evolutionary Social Organization through Knowledge Technology

The First Global Brain Workshop (GBrain 0)

July 3-5, 2001
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

Important: the final program with detailed instructions and a map of the location is available at the following URLs (respectively in PDF and in Word versions, for good quality printing):

The present web page was last updated on June 21, and will no longer be updated. The page with abstracts of contributions, though, will continue to be updated.

Submission of Papers
Practical Info

Workshop Theme

The "Global Brain" is a metaphor for the emerging collectively intelligent network formed by the people of this planet together with the computers, knowledge bases, and communication links that connect them together. This network is an immensely complex, self-organizing system that not only processes information, but increasingly can be seen to play the role of a brain: making decisions, solving problems, learning new connections and discovering new ideas. No individual, organization or computer is in control of this system: its knowledge and intelligence are distributed over all its components. They emerge from the collective interactions between all the human and machine subsystems. Such a system may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that have eluded more traditional approaches, but at the same time it will create new technological and social challenges which are still difficult to imagine.

For further info on this theme see: the Global Brain FAQ, Global Brain bibliography

Background and Motivation

Without doubt, the most important technological, economic and social development of the past decade is the emergence of a global computer-based communication network. This network has been growing at an explosive rate, affecting—directly or indirectly—ever more aspects of the daily lives of the people on this planet. Amidst this growing complexity, we need to look ahead, and try to understand where all these changes are leading to.

A general trend is that the information network becomes ever more global, more encompassing, more tightly linked to the individuals and groups that use it, and more intelligent in the way it supports them. The web doesn't just passively provide information, it now also actively alerts and guides people to the best options for them personally. To support this, the web increasingly builds on the knowledge and intelligence of all its users and information providers collectively, thanks to technologies such as collaborative filtering, agents, and online markets. It appears as though the net is turning into a collective nervous system for humanity: a global brain.

Although these developments seem very modern, the underlying vision of society as an organism-like system has deep roots, going back to thinkers such as Aristotle, Spencer, and Teilhard de Chardin. We wish to explore this metaphor of the "global brain" as a guide to understand and steer future developments in science, technology and society, and as a basis for an integrating world view, that uses the insights gathered in different scientific disciplines in order to illuminate the place of us, humans, in the complex, evolving world that encompasses us.

The key goals of the workshop are to:

  • Bring together a small, selected group of researchers involved in Global Brain related theorizing and applications.
  • Have intensive discussions on all aspects of this common theme, and explore the differences and convergences between the different approaches.
  • Try to achieve a consensus on a general definition of "the Global Brain".
  • Start preparing the program for a large-scale conference on the same theme, directed at a much wider audience, to be held in Silicon Valley in summer 2002.

  • Topics

    The concept of the Global Brain touches an almost unlimited variety of topics connected directly or indirectly to information technology and society. However, to maintain a coherent focus, contributions to this workshop should discuss systems that fulfill the following criteria: 1. consist of interacting human and technological components;
    2. exhibit intelligent, "mind-like" or "brain-like" properties (problem-solving, decision-making, learning, thinking, sensing, etc.);
    3. have these properties emerge from, or distributed over, many components, rather than being localized in one or a few components;
    4. have applications or implications that extend potentially to the global level, offering us a unifying vision or worldview that encompasses society and technology.  
    Theory and Technology:

    To turn the web into a truly brain-like system, new technologies and formalisms are being developed. The workshop will look at the most important of these, with an emphasis on methods that create networked, distributed or collective intelligence. These methods may include, but are not limited to:

  • Information retrieval and recommendation systems
  • Web agents and communities of agents
  • Syntactic and semantic knowledge exchange protocols
  • Shared knowledge representation, exchange, and interpretation
  • Human-computer interaction in collective systems
  • Network dynamics and analysis
  • Shared virtual environments (graphical and text-based)
  • Distributed computing and storage
  • Peer-to-peer and other advanced network architectures
  • Knowledge discovery and data mining in networks
  • Groupware and Computer Supported Cooperative Work
  • Complex adaptive and evolutionary systems theory
  • Global collaboratories
  • Ubiquitous computing

  • Wearable computers and augmented reality  

    The global brain is not just about technological systems, but about what emerges from the interplay between technology and humanity. Therefore, the workshop will look at the implications of the emergence of such an intelligent global network at the social, economical, psychological and philosophical levels. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Education (distance learning, electronic universities)
  • Effects on economic and social development and integration
  • Infrastructure stability, robustness, and management
  • Implications for governance (electronic democracy)
  • Implications for human freedom and human rights
  • Fostering of diversity, privacy, and security with social integration
  • Collective knowledge management
  • Conscious-technology
  • Global consciousness
  • Tackling information overload
  • Human-network symbiosis
  • Network economy and its stability
  • Integrating global brain and global ecosystem
  • Society as a superorganism
  • Long-term evolution of humanity

  • Organization

    The workhop is organized by the Global Brain Group, an international association of researchers founded in 1996, in collaboration with the Research Community on the "Construction of Integrating Worldviews", which is coordinated by the Center "Leo Apostel" at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. It is funded by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders.

    Workshop Chair
    Francis Heylighen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

    Workshop Committee
    Stephan Bugaj (Webmind, inc., New York)
    Joël de Rosnay (Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris)
    Bruce Edmonds (Manchester Metropolitan University)
    Ivan Havel (Charles University, Prague)
    Cliff Joslyn (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
    Ben Goertzel (Webmind, inc., New York)
    Luis Rocha (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
    Bryan Thompson (Global Wisdom inc., Washington DC)

    Invited speakers
    Gottfried Mayer-Kress (Pennsylvania State University)
    Ben Houston (Carleton University, Ottawa)

    Local Arrangements Committee
    Michael Pleumeekers
    Alex Riegler
    Didier Durlinger
    Eric Baert
    Margeret Heath
    Bart d'Hooghe
    Corinne Ciechanow


    Tue, July 3

    am: welcome and lectures with questions pm: lectures with questions: Discussion: what is the GB and how does it evolve?

    Wed, July 4

    am: lectures with questions pm: lectures  with questions Discussion: which technologies can support the GB?

    Thu, July 5

    am: lectures with questions pm: lectures with questions Discussion: 1) how should we design a GB?
    2) where do we go from here: GB conference, institutionalization of GB group?

    For more details on the authors and their presentations, check the full list of:

    Abstracts of presentations (sometimes with links to full papers and author biographies)

    Time Schedule

      Tue, July 3 Wed, July 4 Thu, July 5
    10:00 Heylighen de Rosnay  Bugaj 
    10:40 Joslyn  Heylighen  Houston 
    11:20 coffee pause coffee pause coffee pause
    11:50 Rossman  Bollen  Pór
    12:30 Mayer  Thompson  Judge 
    13:10 lunch lunch lunch
    14:10 Hibbard  Goertzel  Mokiy 
    14:50 Edmonds  Kaplan  Turnbull 
    15:30 coffee pause coffee pause coffee pause
    16:00 Goonatilake  Goertzel et al.  discussion 1
    16:40 discussion discussion discussion 2
    19:00 reception workshop dinner  

    Other participants:


    Prospective contributors are invited to submit a 400-500 words abstract of the presentation they would like to make. It should include references, bibliographic or URL, to already existing work on this theme, by the author or by others, along with the author's name, home page URL, postal and email address and affiliations (see the application form). The submission (in text-only or HTML) should be sent by email to the workshop chair, Francis Heylighen <>.

    Although the deadline for papers was closed on May 1, 2001, there is still a possibility for 1 or 2 additional papers that are very focused on the workshop theme to be added to the program, provided they are submitted as soon as possible. All proposals will be refereed by the workshop committee, and selected on the basis of the quality of ideas and presentation, and relevance to the workshop theme. You will be notified about the acceptance of your proposal as soon as possible.

    All workshop papers will be published on the website of the Global Brain Group, and a selection will appear as a special issue of the journal "Foundations of Science". Contributors are encouraged to already make a draft version of their paper available on the web, and send its URL to the chair of the workshop committee, so that a link to it can be made from the workshop website, and other participants can read it before the workshop.

    Practical Information

    In order to intensify discussions, the number of people attending is limited to max. 30. There are still a few places available for participants who don't present a paper, provided they can clearly formulate their special interest in the workshop topic. Contact the workshop chair. Coffee pauses and the reception with drinks and snacks are free for registered participants. Registration is free, but must be accepted by the workshop committee. The workshop dinner is not included, and will cost 1500 BF (about $32) for the participants. It will include several course of very fine food with appropriate wines and other drinks.

    The workshop will take place in room G020 of the Campus "Oefenplein" of the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel - VUB, i.e. the Dutch-speaking university, not the French-speaking university ULB). Room G020 is situated in the central building G, one level above street level, and must be accessed from the "esplanade", the concrete walking area connecting the buildings F & G to the university restaurant.

    The workshop room will have high speed Internet connection, data projection, overhead projection, and Windows and Mac computers, so as to allow live demonstrations. It will be possible to exhibit books, papers, or brochures on a side-table. Coffee and snacks will be served in the entrance hall just outside the workshop room. Breakfasts and lunches can be taken inexpensively at the VUB student restaurant just across the esplanade (about $6 for a full meal, less for sandwiches, fast food, etc.), or at any of a number of nearby restaurants and snackbars. The campus further provides various facilities including a bank, restaurants, cafés, library, fotocopying center, swimming pool, sauna, running track, and various sports fields.

    The Campus, which is surrounded by three large avenues: Pleinlaan, Gen. Jacqueslaan and Triomflaan, is about a 10 minute metro (subway) (station Petillon) drive from the historical city center (station Brussel Centraal).  It can also be reached by train (stations Etterbeek or Delta), bus, or tramway (lines 23 and 90). (see map below)

    Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe, and the surrounding attractions of Belgium provide many occasions for enjoyment and visits. They are certainly worth taking a few additional days for sightseeing. If you have only one day or less, make sure to walk around the "Grand' Place", the magnificent central square with the town hall, and the surrounding tourist area including the restaurants in the Rue des Bouchers. For further practical information on travel, culture, and tourism, see: Things to see in Brussels  and Belgium: Overview.

    Brussels is very easy to reach. It is connected by high speed trains (between 1.5 and 3 hour journeys) to London, Paris, Cologne, and Amsterdam. Brussels Airport at Zaventem has direct flights from all major cities  and indirect connections from virtually anywhere. You may be able to book tickets inexpensively via The airport has a 15 minute train service three times per hour to the city centre, from where you can reach your hotel or the campus via the metro (subway). You can also get from the airport directly to the workshop location by taxi, but this is much more expensive.

    See the Brussels public transport website for calculating the best real-time connection, using subway, tram or bus, from any address in Brussels to the "Vrije Universiteit Brussel" (available only in French and Dutch), or the Brussels subway navigator (English, but only for subway stations), where you should aim for the station "Petillon" that is closest to the campus.

    More directions how to reach the campus, how to reach the CHIS Department (same building G as workshop, but different floor; includes good map of campus), Directions to the VUB campus, travel information (somewhat out of date).

    Detailed maps of the public transport and main streets in PDF: surroundings of the VUB, whole of Brussels

    A small number of university guest rooms ($18-23 per day), in the immediate vicinity of the workshop location (Triomflaan, i.e. the main road surrounding the campus, on the N-E side), have already been allocated to specific workshop participants. These offer a basic apartment, living room, bathroom and kitchen, but not the kind of services that you would find in a hotel. The people who booked such a room will have to collect their keys from the building of the night guards ("bewaking") on campus, just next to the big building G where the workshop takes place. (see map below)

    Other participants will have to book a hotel on their own. There are plenty of hotels in Brussels, with rates starting at about $40 per day, breakfast included. Most of them can be booked over the web, see e.g. Brussel Hotels in the Google directory, Belgium-Hotels, ABA Brussels Hotels, Brussels Hotels search... Please reserve early, as it may be difficult at times to still find rooms when you arrive. Unfortunately, there are no hotels within walking distance of the campus, so it is advisable to choose a hotel in the center of town or in the European district, close to the main metro line that passes near the university (direction Hermann-Debroux). For less expensive accommodation, you can also book a Bed & Breakfast room at Bed&Brussels, or check some Brussels Youth Hostels (and another list). If you need assistance to book a hotel, or with the guest rooms, the secretary of the Center Leo Apostel, Sylvia Stuer, may be able to help you:

    The map belows shows the campus itself with its direct surroundings, including the Metro station Petillon, the Center "Leo Apostel" (CLEA), the workshop location in building G, the university restaurant R, the guest room buildings on the Triomflaan, and the building of the "bewaking", where guest room occupants can collect their keys.