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)
Check out this stunning video of inventor JoAnn Kuchera-Morinis demonstrating the Allosphere at the last TED conference. The Allosphere is a 3 story high chamber that allows researchers to stand in the middle of incredible visual and sonic representations of their data. Complex algorithms are powered by a super-computer to bring data to life in breakthrough fashion.
A comprehensive report asserts that web-mediated learning has been found to be more effective than face-to-face learning.
New York Times: Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.
My initial reaction is that both learning settings are critical and that students empowered with laptops in a classroom setting, such as in Maine, would probably outperform both groups. That said, it certainly does open the doors wider to distance learning and, hopefully, sweeping educational reform.
Recently appointed Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) President Michael Vassar, a hardcore proponent of science and reason, emphasizes the importance of "human rationality" when discussing the future, making clear that SIAI is an "analytical think tank and research organization, not an advocacy group". Vassar says he's apprehensive about a "possible decrease in the quality of debate as the [Singularity] goes mainstream" and that he would find a public backlash against intelligent debate of a Singularity "odd".
Enjoy the candid and insightful interview.
FB: What are your main near-term goals at SIAI?
Put on a 2009 summit and establish a regular schedule of summits on alternating coasts and with a regular format.
Develop a body of technical and popular position papers and analysis that reflect our current views.
Develop software to help interested people to explore the future forecasting consequences of a range of assumptions.
Organize, probably with the Future of Humanity Institute, an essay contest in order to identify novel global catastrophic risks deserving of more serious analysis and drawing attention to the idea of rational treatment of catastrophic possibilities.
Reinvent Enlightenment values by building a better forum than currently exists for rational deliberation and cooperative analysis and decision making.
Most critically, as always, identify and train potential friendly AI researchers.
FB: Has the organization undergone any significant strategic or tactical shifts since you assumed the Executive Director position?
MV: Our efforts to develop a rigorous theory of Friendly Artificial Intelligence will continue, but our public outreach efforts will focus less narrowly on AI and more on the Singularity more generally and on promoting human rationality.
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.
Is IBM gearing up to compete with Wolfram Alpha in the computational search game? Maybe. Is IBM gearing to take on the top minds on popular TV game show Jeopardy? Definitely. Check out this video from Big Blue:
Developments such as this have got me thinking about not just the computational search just over the horizon, but also the rise of qualitative search that futurist Paul Saffo mysteriously alluded to in this MemeBox interview.
We've already seen thought-controlled avatars, so it comes as no surprise that robotics represents a new frontier for brain computer interfaces (BCIs). Still, the following video of a human controlling Honda's Asimo via BCI marks a profound socio-technological development, offering a glimpse into the future of work, entertainment and security:
Isn't it interesting that this didn't make its way through national media channels? Just a few years ago human-BCI-controlled robotics would have been perceived as revolutionary.
It's rare that a broadly disruptive, industry shattering/accelerating technology sneaks up on you, much less everyone else all at the same time. But according to Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat, a Gaming as a Service (GaaS) company called OnLive appears poised to launch services that will enable much more robust applications (the current focus is on video games) to be retrieved from the cloud in real-time.
The secret? A new form of robust digital compression that requires just one megabyte of additional software on the web client end.
For years, decades, data compression has formed a frustrating bottleneck for the development and diffusion of not only rich video games, but also more broadly important communication technologies such as virtual worlds (Second Life, Multiverse, VastPark), mirror worlds (Google Earth, Open Street Map) and high definition streaming Web TV (You Tube HD, Hulu) - just to name a few. A breakthrough in compresssion of this magnitutude (which Takahashi says owes its thanks to the discovery of smarter algorithms) is tantamount to throwing more broadband piping at the web and could result in 1) massive acceleration of VW, MW and WebTV adoption, 2) increases in the resolution of these Cloud-based systems.
Iow, it's a big freaking deal.
DISRUPTIVE POTENTIAL: Stated super-compression could/will quickly put a damper on industries such as thin client web browser development, used video game sales, and non-rich virtual worlds. It could/will quickly enbolden virtual video editing, online collaborative Photoshop, robust distance meetings/conferences/lectures, online video game sales (the main thrust of OnLive's efforts), graphically richer websites, and cloud computing efforts in general.
New cognitive research may help explain why human social systems prefer to push the envelope, creating critical "perfect storm" situations, instead of settling into equilibrium.
If the global social brain is really just a scaled-up version of the individual brain, which in turn can also be viewed as an accelerator of existing bio-computional processes, then we should expect to uncover increasingly more parallels between individual and social cognition. One such candidate is the phenomenon called Self-Organized Criticality, a form of inherent "brinkmanship" routinely found in advancing systems, particularly as they approach phase transitions.
Here's the more robust Wikipedia definition and links:
A new U.K. study confirms that human brains do in fact rely on self-organized criticality for behaviors that may range from perception to action, reports World Science:
The researchers used brain imaging techniques to measure dynamic changes in the synchronization of activity between different regions of the functional network in the human brain. They also investigated the synchronization of activity in computational models, and found that the “dynamic profile” they had identified in the brain was exactly reflected in the models.
Computational networks showing these characteristics have also been shown to have the best memory and information-processing capacity, researchers say: critical systems can respond quickly and extensively to small changes in their inputs.
President Barack Obama's video/web overture to the Iranian people marks not only a strategic shift in U.S. policy toward the country, but also a fundamental change in tactics better-suited for an increasingly connected world.
Now let's see how Iranian leaders Mahmoud Ahmanadinejad and the Ayotollah respond.
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.
Edging out the forthcoming Singularity Movie (not to be confused with this web version), here comes Transcendent Man, a new documentary film that portrays Ray Kurzweil and his vision of a, well, transcendent future for mankind. The film appears to be packed with star-power and will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC this April. The trailer below indicates 1) a focus on universal human transcension (a positive expansion of human perspective, imho), and 2) an attempt at objective framing by allowing in some critical voices, but none of the heavy hitters - appears to be mostly straw men. While I am optimistic the film will represent a socially necessary forward push of philosophical futurism, many futurists and I will ultimately judge this work on its analytical and objective qualities. That said, I'm hoping it delivers and eagerly await its broader release (probably via a cable network).
Some choice excerpts from the producer's press release: