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.
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?
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.
Futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute has posted a thought-provoking avatar roadmap detailing an increasingly critical and symbiotic relationship between man and this progeny of ours. Frey argues that this increasing reliance on avatar extensions will change our fundamental values, eventually leading to a great blur of humans and avatars.
Frey: With each generation of avatar, they will become more life-like, growing in realism, pressing the limits of autonomy as we become more and more reliant on them for experiencing the world. The avatar will become an extension of ourselves. The pain that we feel is the same pain that they feel, and vice versa. Like symbiotic twins separated only by a dimension or two, we are destined to become one with our avatars.
Is that a fair frame and likely prediction, or are we already indistinguishable from our technology and environment? Are we destined to merge with our avatars? Are we already avatars generated by Gaiia or the Great Simulator(s)?
With a pair of feature films due for release in 2009, Ray Kurzweil is poised to shotgun the Singularity mega-meme to the mainstrean.
But how will the message and messenger be received? And what effect will Kurzweil's rising star have on associated memes such as accelerating change, transhumanism, extropianism, futurism, AGI and other less extreme Singularity definitions?
If recent Newsweek ("is this the next great leap in human evolution, or just one man's midlife crisis writ large?") and slanted io9 ("the famous futurist's meat brain has made some ludicrously inaccurate predictions") coverage is any indicator, the seeds of a Kurzweil backlash are beginning to sprout -- a social dynamic that probably also extends to technology in general.
Though I'm no proponent of Kurzweil's Strong Singularity school of thought, relegating it to a low-probability event, I do think the man has contributed a great deal to the study of accelerating change and the human condition. I find the aforementioned criticism, and especially the voluminous associated comment threads, superficial and incendiary, not productive. And though I'm not all that surprised about the reaction, I'm a bit worried now that I'm actually witnessing the number of Singularity haters rise, especially because the mentality is likely to extend to the notion of the clearly palpable and verifiable accelerating change occuring in many human-related domains.
Now, if you're going to criticize Kurzweil -- and I think more people should do just that -- it makes more sense to carefully take a go at the definition of the Singularity itself rather than his, frankly, rather safe hardware and computing predictions. But that takes time, commitment to simulating multiple futures, and careful consideration, which means there will be many millions of emotionally anti-tech eager to pan Kurzweil's brand of techno-utopianism and accelerating change rather than engage in rigorous debate.
Like I said, it's not surprising, just scary.
Hopefully the story will end more positively than, say, the tale of Giordano Bruno, advocate of heliocentrism, one of my all-time faves. But alas, if things do turn nasty and all apocalyptic, neo-luddite versus transhuman, then perhaps we'll need Skynet to save us from ourselves after all, thus making Kurzweil's Singularity a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.
Say it won't be so Ray. Some of us will believe you!
The results could achieve the catalytic performance seen in rare and expensive metals such as platinum, and further humankind's ability to use nanostructured systems to elegantly manipulate the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, electrons, photons and metals to enable new forms of energy production, storage and conversion.
“Nature relies on a very elaborate architecture to support its own ‘hydrogen economy,’ ” said Chemistry Professor Thomas Rauchfuss, a professor of and corresponding author of the paper. “We cracked that design by generating mock-ups of the catalytic site to include the substrate hydrogen atom.”
Manipulating Natural Molecular Building Blocks Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions via catalysis. Today, human beings know very little about the molecular magic of hydrogen producing enzymes (known as 'hydrogenase') and the complex reactions that occur inside the core reaction sites.
Developing accurate models of these activation sites is the first step towards developing low cost synthetic catalysts that can break the bonds of oxygen and hydrogen or carbon and hydrogen. The Illinois team is the first to model a nickel-iron structure with the use of a key link or bridge (hydrideligand).
Hydrogen's Hype vs Profitable Role of Chemical Storage & Distributed Power Generation
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.
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
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.