Power of the Crowd

Humanity wastes 550,000 hours a day typing in the annoying Captcha (200,000,000 Captchas per day * 10s per instance). Luis Von Ahn, inventor of the Captcha, explains why this is a good thing. And if you’ve ever been frustrated by the poor quality of Google Translation, please take 16 minutes and watch his brilliant TED Talk on Massive-Scale Online Collaboration. While you’re hearing about the historically unprecedented power of 100 million people working towards a common goal, be dreaming up your own ways of helping the planet while using your  

This Present Future

My friend Richard Thieme gives the closing keynote address at the 2011 ECOMM conference in San Francisco. In this talk, he artfully summarizes and integrates the “meta-themes” presented during the prior three days of the show. ECOMM, a 400-person invite-only conference, explores the dissolving boundaries of Telecom, IT and media industries. The balance of power between producers and consumers is shifting and the economics of “value creation” is being transformed. These shifts are being enabled by the “communications industry” itself, accelerating myriad new forms of dynamic interaction and defining a new epoch. The result is that new uncontested spaces for innovation are emerging. How we relate to the world around us, and the connectedness of humanity are all at stake. Richard, a former Episcopal priest, global security authority, and one of the deepest multi-disciplinary thinkers I know, masterfully summarizes a larger picture of emerging interactivity, modularity, and fluidity. His juxtaposition of techno-fascism vs. human empathy is stunning (29:15 – 33:00). “People often describe me as a futurist. But I’m not a futurist. The future is an artificial construct local to individual cultures. What I try to do is describe the present. But so many people live in the past that, to them, I sound like a futurist.” – Richard  

Consent of the Networked

Excellent TEDTalk by Rebecca MacKinnon on keeping the Internet free from corporate and political sub-interests. MacKinnon argues that the Magna Carta was a breakthrough in limiting the power of kings, followed by a radical experiment called “consent of the governed” in America’s founding. She argues convincingly that it’s time for a third paradigm shift she calls Consent of the Networked. She shows how no country is immune from using its policing powers to stifle speech it considers inappropriate to its “national interests.” She extends her arguments to U.S. corporations which effectively gate-keep today’s Internet (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.). Without certain essential unalienable virtual freedoms, the Internet becomes a tool of control rather than a tool of liberation from control. MacKinnon has given a powerful, prophetic TEDTalk. Humanity moving forward will be shaped largely by our degree of freedom in  

Watson vs. Jennings

The best game show contestant on the best game show ever (Ken Jennings on Jeopardy) will soon compete against IBM’s Watson-class computer. Watson is favored to win. Today’s Watson technology requires a large room full of hardware. In 15 years, this same computing power will sit on a desktop. As we approach Turing-class computing (2050?), the power of today’s Watson computer will seem as quaint as the Sperry-Univac is today. I can envision a day when we no longer define religion in terms of having the “right knowledge.” I’m thinking David Hayward could do a cartoon showing three of the world’s leading religious thinkers as Jeopardy panelists – a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist – while Watson provides far deeper and more nuanced answers – even what we would call wisdom. And why not? With the entire written history of world religions (and every other branch of knowledge) in its memory (think Internet 2050), and thousands of increasingly nuanced processing algorithms at its disposal, it’s only a matter of time (perhaps 2 or 3 generations) before “epistebots” and “theobots” surpass the best human experts in their ability to parse and disseminate specific knowledge and even wisdom. Consider that this “entire body of human knowledge and wisdom” will one day be on every global desktop, in every language, in every home and mobile device, instantly accessible in deeply interactive and immersive ways we cannot imagine today. This is good news for religion, and humanity in general. As we are released from the need to define ourselves by tribal knowledge, we begin to define ourselves more relationally, more collectively, more empathically, more humanly. Even the perception of “enemy” must change as we begin to see ourselves as part of a larger global family. As we relax our desire and need for intellectual power, we can focus more on what makes us uniquely human:  our childlike awe and wonder at the universe and our ability to feel and act with greater compassion, empathy, and love towards other people, and all creation. “You have to understand all the nuances, all the regionalisms, slang and shorthand to play the game, to get the clues.” – Harry Friedman, Executive Producer,  

Information Ecology

William Gibson (who gave us the term “cyberspace”),  interviewed in TIME Magazine “My guess has always been that the thing our great-grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we made the distinction between here and the Internet… Here [is being] colonized by what used to be the other place.” New and emerging technologies are allowing historically repressed creatives to rise and collaborate. While these voices have always been present, pre-virtual “information ecology” kept them marginalized and suppressed. But yesterday’s social platforms are now appearing as structural relics, allowing (for the first time in human history) the latent creative population to flourish. Many said Rousseau’s dream of a true city-state “peoples’ republic” became less plausible as populations grew. They could not have conceived of a global connective network that, when allowed to remain free of state or corporate control, opened new doors of unprecedented global empathy and equality. “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”  – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754 Our “social contract” is being rewritten by the new voices of a virtual world. As Gibson notes, what used to be the “other place” is being transformed into “here and now.” What was once “them” is now us. This seismic shift in social identity will take longer to impact strongly embedded patterns, such as religion. But fundamental global change is moving forward and inevitable. The TED phenomenon is a prime example of this global flattening. TED’s curator Chris Anderson gave a talk this year at TED Global adding yet another voice to this growing awareness that we are not meant to be separated into ideological ghettos, but forged together in a grand creative enterprise. It’s a good talk and I encourage you to watch it. Imagine a global communications pool in which all persons can share their thoughts, dreams, faith, best ideas, etc.. in the spirit of Rousseau, the protocol intelligently prioritizes experiences and brings the collective mind into view of all participants. But it’s more than a “view” from a distance. Fundamental inequalities, suffering, and marginalization is brought forward as if experienced in our own household, in our own family. The plight of others becomes our plight. Global horror and injustice becomes our nightmare, as well. But with this, the boundless creativity, resources, and potential of the new collective also becomes our own, so that one day we may say with complete authenticity (quoting Michael Roe) “what’s been done to you feels like it’s been done to me.” And most importantly, we will live and prioritize our lives in accordance with these newly experienced global realities. ich all persons share their thoughts, dreams, faith, desires, etc.. the communication protocol amasses the collective ideals and dreams and experiences together and brings the collective mind into view of all participants. What we get is a bell curve distribution. The same average ideology we have today in today’s dead tree iconography, but on the grandest human scale. But here’s the good news. Most people won’t participate at this collective level. Many people will be mostly watching TV, or engaged in some other passive activity. The passives vs. the actives. The creatives vs. the ____________. Refined leadership will always be a part of community. But that leadership will move from a small, professional, clergy, CEO-style, stage-centric hierarchy model to a vastly larger, distributed, creative mind – a true collective mind of the amassed creative population working in common resonance, with a common Spiritual center, yet not bound by inherited institutional  

Communication Wants to be Free

From TED’ster David Pogue at today’s New York Times, on Google’s new Gmail Voice Calling service. There will come a day, probably within two generations, when most global-interpersonal communication may be included as part of a common virtual access fee, like a water bill.  Effectively, free. What Voice Calls from Gmail does is open up another variation, one that strikes even closer to the “free calls from a phone, to a phone” ideal. Now it’s free calls “from a computer, to a phone.” At the moment, you can’t use this new feature until you download and install a special plug-in for Mac or Windows. But you can’t help wondering: What if Google released an app like that for Android phones, or the iPhone? Well, I’ll tell you what. At that point, you could, for the first time in history, make unlimited free phone-to-phone calls. We’re tantalizingly  

The Vanishing Interface

The tools that connect us are increasingly temporary. With each new technology, the distance between humanity shrinks or, in some cases, disappears. And not just physical distance, but all distances — time, feedback systems, meme spread, tribal and ideological identity … much of what defines us individually is accelerating collectively. Moore’s Law tells us that computers will continue to get more powerful, shrink in size, and converge to near-zero cost. Within generations, the “devices” we use to connect to this emerging network will become a generic and transparent part of life, integrated into clothing, furniture, walls, vehicles, and anything else we encounter throughout our day. This evolution took another big step with India’s Ministry of Human Resources Development announcement of a $35 tablet in the works.  This isn’t a full-featured computer, but rather a cloud device. As more and more heavy lifting is done in the cloud, tablets such as this become a common user-interface. Yet in a few generations, the idea of “tablet” will seem quaint, as connective technologies become an invisible part of everyday life, and perhaps even part of human biology. The cloud, of course, is where virtual tools and all but the most sensitive information will eventually reside, with all people and cultures having equal and immediate access. The cloud includes communication protocols that will eventually offer a seamless language bridge for all data (text, speech, visual, etc.). It really won’t matter what language we write or speak — the intelligence of the cloud will make virtually all human symbolism understandable to everyone, at any time, in real-time. Anyone on the planet will connect with anyone else without the historical barriers of language, time, or border. This assumes, of course, that the Internet(s) remain free from overt government or commercial restrictions (see prior post, China, Iran, etc.). The distance between us will continue to collapse (cost, size, ubiquity) until we literally become the interface, if we chose  

Fake Net Neutrality

Derek Turner has an important op-ed piece up today at cnet. I encourage you to read it and take action with your elected officials. I have. “There are currently closed-door meetings taking place between phone and cable behemoths, and the biggest Internet companies, to craft a “compromise” deal that could carve up the Internet for them and leave consumers and smaller competitors behind. If the fix is in, it won’t be long before they launch a PR campaign presenting this scheme as some kind of middle ground far from the “radical fringe.” But buyer beware: This could be fake Net neutrality. This fake Net neutrality will be a huge loss for consumers and online entrepreneurs, who will have to stand by and watch as these industry giants turn the vibrant marketplace that is the open Internet into something that looks more like cable TV, where consumers face high prices and few choices. If policymakers don’t put in place safeguards to ensure robust development of the open Internet, we would be allowing the few companies that can afford it to buy admission access to a new fast lane, while newcomers to the online marketplace would be stuck within the constraints of the existing platform. For those who care about preserving the Internet as a level playing field, this means establishing real Net neutrality–clear and unambiguous rules that keep the Internet free and open, not just for large companies with deep pockets able to pay for priority, but for consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs