I've seen a bunch of posts bubble up over the past few days that are really sparking my curiousity about what is really going on with Twitter, so I need to do a little brain dump. Bear with me.
An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter was just published today on the Harvard Business Review website, titled On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors. In it, she highlights the fact that there is an organizational trend moving away from the hierarchical networks of the 20th century, and towards complex, distributed, non-hierarchical structures of business organization and leadership. She also points out that success today is based on a person's ability to leverage power and influence within their social networks, to act as "connectors" between people and information, and in turn build social capital. She leaves the evaluation of the significance of Twitter open-ended, but she lays out a few characteristics of Twitter that I found most interesting:
In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.
(just keep those points in mind, I'm going to come back to it)
Pardon my husky voice.It’s dusty here, or I’ve got a Supercold and the future’s all out of throat lozenges; take your pick.
I realize that many of you are thrilled about a possibly-imminent Singularity.I realize this because the young me is among you right now.Anyway, that Singularity sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?Well, it could be, but please heed this warning: If you don’t take certain precautions, your cool Singularity could get damn nasty; and I mean five-stories-tall-robots nasty and scary-robot-motorcycles nasty and ruggedly-handsome-robot-human-hybrids-who-steal-a-movie-right-out-from-under-you nasty.And do I really need to mention the dust problem again, or the Supercolds…
…and the unfortunate lack of throat lozenges around here?
Wondering what all of the Alpha hype is about? Here's a dense 10-minute video snippet of the official Wolfram Alpha "computational knowledge engine" unveiling, presented by the mathematician himself, at Harvard's Berkman Center.
I found notable:
the label "computational knowledge engine" - reinfirces that we're moving from the information age to the knowledge age (and fairly quickly)
Alpha's ability to factor in the location of the user submitting the request into computation results
results that begin with a list of assumptions that essentially present your query back to you in more technical terms (an advanced "did you mean this?" feature) which seems to make a great deal of sense when relating to machine data/knowledge, it's like having a conversation about science and establishing basic consensus before venturing complex and potentially unrelated ideas
the program's seemingly robust ability to mix data from different sources to return logically related results
Conclusions: Upon launch, Wolfram Alpha will be a science researcher's dream if it can perform as effectively - for a wide range of queries - as it did in this demo. It'll also serve as a nice accelerative kick in the ass for Google. I can't wait to try this new quantification assistant.
Astrophysicist Alan Boss believes Nasa's Kepler Mission will turn up "hundreds of Earth-like planets", many of which will probably be "inhabited with something."
Considered a leader in the search for planets outside our solar system, Alan Boss says we are at a turning point in our search for extraterrestrial life. He expects we are on the verge of finding many different Earth-like planets across the universe, and he expects it will be common to find life on those planets. He shares his ideas for how the United States can be on the forefront of the next great discovery: life on another planet.
By helping us to climb the stairs of abstraction, user-friendly immersive data visualization (ie, geospatial data mapping) is poised to become one of the more significant near-term drivers of accelerating human inteligence and economics. Leading the charge is the small but robust company Green Phosphor, core participants in the progressive and under-recognized Second Life DataViz Group, which is laying down the foundations for Matrix-esque search: "I need guns, lots of guns."
Color me impressed by Green Phosphor's newest release, Glasshouse (demo vid below - don't worry, better graphics are on the way), which converts raw binary data into interactive 3d models. As indicated by the hire of a molecular biologist as Chief Scientist, the company is gearing up to monetize by applying this technology to the medical domains such as genomics and drug discovery.
As CEO Ben Lindquist points out, "The immersive 3d environment creates an entirely new paradigm for business intelligence and process modelling." More specifically, I'd argue that it marks a Meta-System Transition, or topsight leap, in our ability to process then interact with a variety of systems.
Google's announcement that they are now openly beta-testing "interest-based advertising" confirms that the near-term future of web advertising will involve tapping into your behavior and interest graph.
To date, we have shown ads based mainly on what your interests are at a specific moment. So if you search for [digital camera] on Google, you'll get ads related to digital cameras. ... We think we can make online advertising even more relevant and useful by using additional information about the websites people visit. Today we are launching "interest-based" advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube. These ads will associate categories of interest — say sports, gardening, cars, pets — with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads.
There is no doubt that this will make for a more interesting and valuable advertising experience, while also boosting Google's bottom line by cutting out advertising inefficiencies. It is also clear that allowing Google to pair your behavioral data with your ad click data will open up a new frontier of behavioral data mining that will further fuel the Google system and lead to additional advances in search, understanding online behavioral modes, and advertising strategies.
Of course, the inexorable move to personal data integration (Facebook and Twitter are hard at work on similar initiatives and will be the next to jump into the data+search game - credit card, shopping club, and survey companies have been doing this for years) into one big-ass socio-behavioral graph pushes to the forefront a host of privacy, transparency, data control, and general social issues/questions that have been mustering force.
One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Stating a lack of social focus as a fundamental problem, I recently joined the ranks of those critiquing the tentative Singularity University (SU) curriculum. I found (and still do) the proposed courses to be too hard-tech centric, which is often a critique I level at singularitarians and transhumanists who often seem to project their current selves into a post-Singularity future, thus impairing the visioning of how we get there.
At the same time, I want to clarify that though I do agree with the crux of Jamais Cascio's argument that, "A useful Singularity University ... would be one that dove deeply into the nature of disruption, how society and technology co-evolve, and how we deal with unintended and unanticipated results of our choices," I believe his suggested curriculum goes too far in that it does amount to a "social studies/liberal arts crash course with a future twist" as Brian Wang pointed out in the discussion thread. It's not the sort of thing that will appeal to economic movers and shakers.
Still, I strongly disagree with Wang's assertion that, "The politics, ethics and social matters do have their place but as part of a TED conference or a conference specifically on the risks and issues. Trying to force feed it in this kind of program will not work." My issue being that I believe politics, ethics and social matters to be part of convergent acceleration.
The emphasis needs to be on the manner in which all of these technologies, trends, and issues fit together. (Please follow below the fold for Proposed Curriculum.)
To scale and dominate as quickly as Google has, a new company will need to generate serious end-user value, monetize effecively, and take a new web-based approach to human resources. One such structure might be an organization specializing in prosumer-based quantification (structured crowd-sourced info mining) that can expand and contract quickly by paying citizen quantifiers for quality content that they input (think adsense, but more structured and directed from the outset). I imagine that this sort of company could catalyze big, fast economic growth and play an important role in generating positive-sum network value as we move further into the acceleration era.
To get the discussion of such a possibility rolling here's a speculative timeline of such a company (2011-2015) that I've cleverly dubbed "Quantification Company":
2011 - Launch: A logical outgrowth of flash mobs, open mapping parties, and steadily rising prosumerism, the Quantification Company (QC) was created in 2011 with the mission of "organizing and accelerating the comprehensive quantification of Earth's most valued systems." The for-profit organization relied on a small core of programmers, salespeople and community managers to catalyze quantification cascades, better known as Data Swarms, for a large variety of clients, but mostly municipalities and large corporations. Early efforts were kept simple and focused mostly on the rapid and/or real-time HD video mapping of U.S. cities, national parks, and other under-quantified areas of interest. Traffic-based fees were paid out to citizen quantifiers who captured and uploaded the best geographic footage and/or commentary. Though they were slightly nervous at the ambition and direction of the QC, competitors like Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia were happy to see traffic and content flow through their systems.
The now-publicized curriculum of Ray Kurzweil's newly launchedSingularity University (SU), a very necessary institution that aims to "assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity's grand challenges", yet again reveals what I have come to call the Transhumanist Ego Bias (TEB), which results in the Hard-Tech Attribution Error (HTAE) that Jamais Cascio so eloquently describes in his Flunking Out SU critique.
Transhumanist Ego Bias: The TEB is a tendency among transhumanists to force their objective vision of the future to fit with their subjective expectation of the future. Many of the futurists and outright transhumanists that I have come to know and respect over the years suffer from this. (I too came down with it for a spell when I first encountered the awesome power of Moore's Law and other hard-tech diffusion curves.) It's as if they 1) expect the future to create a magical utopia into which they project their unchanged present-day personalities, 2) can't or don't want to credit the dumb masses (their detractors) with the ability to perform amazing operations (social computation) critical to acceleration, and/or 3) are so focused on the post-human age / life-extending digitization that they fail to adequately consider what it will take to get there.
Hard-Tech Attribution Error: It's no accident that brainiac, hardware-focused, early-adopter types who formulated their core outlook prior to the explosion of social media structures like Facebook, Wikipedia and Digg tend to focus on the "hard" sciences in lieu of recently blooming areas such as group intelligence, emotional intelligence, coordination, and communication. The social side of the equation is not as obvious to those that haven't studied it closely, lived it or worked in fields that rely on social networks to make a living. The result is that the social component of acceleration (despite a few courtesy nods to Intelligence Amplification [IA] over the years) is seriously undervalued as a driver.
Pipl.com is a new biographical search engine that actually works.
The secret? In addition to doing a good job with the search basics, Pipl also returns results from what it calls "the deep web", "a vast repository of underlying content, such as documents in online databases that general-purpose web crawlers cannot reach."
According to a study conducted by the Journal of Electronic Publishing, "public information on the deep Web is currently 400 to 550 times larger than the commonly defined World Wide Web."
A quick search on Pipl does indeed return results from this new search frontier, making the new product a truly useful tool. Just see for yourself.
This successful application of course prompts a whole set of questions about the future of seach, such as:
How deep does the deep web really go? (Deep - quickly getting much deeper.)
How fast will Pipl grow? (Fast.)
Is Google working on similar projects. (Yes, and also expanding the deep web.)
Who will buy it? (Microsoft, Yahoo.)
Will Pipl change web culture by making personal data more accessible? (Yes. It's already the best free background check online and will make people nervous about their social network profiles and decade-OLD data.)
The Google Blog: Until today, Google Earth displayed only one image of a given place at a given time. With this new feature, you can now move back and forth in time to reveal imagery from years and even decades past, revealing changes over time. Try flying south of San Francisco in Google Earth and turning on the new time slider (click the "clock" icon in the toolbar) to witness the transformation of Silicon Valley from a farming community to the tech capital of the world over the past 50 years or so.
Along with a new 3d Mars feature, the additions have increased the scope and resolution of the largest publicly accessible simulation of our physical system, thus expanding the Google's information scaffolding and future monetization opportunities through an increasingly valuable Mirror World.
The new features also reinforce the notion of a rapidly growing retro-quantification industry rooted in our social desire to achieve topsight over space and time. A resource that quickly allows people to surf physical history is obviously critical to bettering our view of reality and thus improving the efficiency of our economic behavior.