The idea of an encyclopedia that anyone could change at any time may seem to be a non-starter, a hopeless romantic idea with no chance of working. It goes against our general understanding of human nature and group interaction. Today we use Wikipedia almost daily, some of use much more.
Twenty years ago if we had to convince an audience of reasonable, educated people that in 20 years time we'd have street and satellite maps for the entire world on our personal hand held devices -- for free -- and with street views for many cities -- it would have been impossible to do it. No economic case for how this could come about "for free" could be made. It was starkly impossible back then.
These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency. Everyone "knew" that people don't work for free, and if they did, they could not make something useful without a boss. But today entire sections of our economy run on software instruments created by volunteers working without pay or bosses. Everyone knew humans were innately private beings, yet the impossibility of total open round-the-clock sharing still occurred. Everyone knew that humans are basically lazy, and they would rather watch than create, and they would never get off their sofas to create their own TV. It would be impossible that millions of amateurs would produce billions of hours of video, or that anyone would watch any of it. Like Wikipedia, or Linux, YouTube is theoretically impossible. But here this impossibility is real in practice.
This list goes on, old impossibilities appearing as new possibilities daily. But why now? What is happening to disrupt the ancient impossible/possible boundary?
In a word: emergence. As far as I can tell, the impossible things that happen now are in every case manifestations of a new, bigger level of organization. They are the result of large-scale collaboration, or immense collections of information, or global structures, or gigantic real-time social interactions. Just as a tissue is a new, bigger level of organization for a bunch of individual cells, and organs are a bigger level of organization for a number of tissues -- these new social structures are a new bigger level for individual humans.
And in both cases the new level breeds emergence. New behaviors emerge from the new level that were impossible at the lower level. Tissue can do things that cells can't. The collectivist organizations of wikipedia, Linux, the web can do things that industrialized humans could not, with or without a boss. For a long time, web search-engines were human powered. But thousands of people, payed by financially motivated corporations (Yahoo, Alta Vista, etc) could not compete with the billions of users who, without knowing, populate the automated search-engines algorithms Google uses.
Humans have long invented new social organizations, from law, courts, irrigation systems, schools, governments, libraries, and at the largest scale, civilization itself. These social instruments are what makes us human -- and what makes our behavior "impossible" from the vantage of animals. For instance when we invented writing, written records and laws enabled a type of egalitarianism not possible in our cousins the primates, and and not present in oral cultures. The cooperation and coordination bred by irrigation and agriculture produced yet more impossible behaviors of anticipation and preparation, and sensitivity to the future. Human society unleashed all kinds of previously impossible human behaviors into the biosphere.
The technium is accelerating the creation of new impossibilities by continuing to invent new social organizations based on previous inventions. It is called bottom-up evolution, and is at work for billions of years.
The genius of eBay was its invention of cheap, easy, and quick reputation status. Strangers could sell to strangers at a great distance because we now had a technology to quickly assign persistent reputations to those beyond our circle. That lowly innovation opened up a new kind of higher level coordination that permitted a new kind of exchange (remote purchasing among strangers) that was impossible before. The "revert log" button on Wikipedia, which made it easier to restore a vandalized passage than to vandalize it, unleashed a new higher organization of trust, emphasizing one facet of human behavior not enabled at a large scale before.
We have just begun to fiddle with social communications. Hypertext, wi-fi, GPS location services are just the beginning. The majority of the most amazing communication inventions that are possible have not been invented yet. We are also just in the infancy of turning on at a truly global scale. When we are woven together into a global real-time society, the impossibilities will really start to erupt. It is not necessary that we invent some kind of autonomous global consciousness. It is only necessary that we connect everyone to everyone else. Hundreds of miracles that seem impossible today will be possible with this shared human awareness.
We'll be surprised by how many things we assumed were "natural" for humans are not really natural for humans-as-an-organism, and how many impossible ideas are possible.
"Everyone knows" that humans are warlike, and like war, but I would guess organized war will become less and less attractive over time as new means of social conflict and social conflict resolution arise at a global level. Because one man will sometimes choose to press the proverbial red button; a billion people, aware of the rest of humanity, will choose more wisely.
Others have named this emergence the Noosphere, or MetaMan, or Hive Mind. We don't have a good name for it yet.
'Collectively we behave differently than individuals. 'Much more importantly, as individuals we behave differently in collectives.
One could exhaustively study a honey bee for centuries and never see in the lone individual any of the behavior of a bee hive. it is just not there, and can not emerge until there are a mass of bees. A single bee lives 6 weeks, so a memory of several years is impossible, but that's how long a hive of individual bees can remember. Humanity is migrating towards its hive mind. We have been, since the invention of writing. Most of what "everybody knows" about us is based on the human individual. Collectively, connected humans will be capable of things we cannot imagine right now. These future phenomena will rightly seem impossible. What's coming is so unimaginable that the impossibility of wikipedia will recede into outright obviousness.
Connected, at an increasingly global scale, in matters large and small, with our permission, we will operate at a new level, and we won't cease surprising ourselves with impossible achievements.
That is why in the coming years we have to build some new methods of large scale social interactions. We have been scratching the surface, and we have to take it to the next level. We don't have any other chance but to evolve, because we cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking and people that created them.