Category: music

The Transhuman Gap

[Cross-posted from Signtific Lab.]

While most would support using technology to allow parapalegics to walk again, to help the blind to see and the deaf to hear, how will society view those who electively enhance themselves through prosthetics & implants?

Consider the not-so-subtle marginalization of transhumanists who believe that technology should be readily integrated into human biology, experimenting with their own crude body modifications. Or the implications around personal security and privacy (not to mention religious fear) raised by those intrepid folks who are self-implanting RFIDs into their forearms to activate lighting & appliances when they enter their homes. Even the international debates over performance-enhancing drug use by athletes reinforces the cultural belief that a “natural” baseline range exists for human abilities and any “synthetic” modification beyond the accepted range is considered unfair.

From issues of fairness to those of security and trust, integrating more machinery into a programmable nervous system challenges many of the fundamental notions we have of what it means to be human. When a Marine returns from a warzone patched up with a cochlear implant, how will they be regarded when it’s revealed that they can hear you speaking from 3 blocks away? Imagine if that person then enters the Police force, what issues of civil liberty and privacy might be confronted? How might we regard an employer that suggests each employee be programmed with software to bring them into the corporate Thinkmesh?

How does society’s regard for a technology change when that technology becomes part of our bodies? How does our relationship to people change if we know they are different? What competitive advantages are conferred by these technologies and how will they be reinforced by socioeconomic drivers? What gaps might arise between those able to afford augmentations and those who cannot?

And what becomes of the Platonic sense of one fundamental Reality when more & more people are seeing personalized variations of the world mediated by connected devices? Will the merging of technology & flesh enable a more cohesive & effective society or a more fragmented and divisive one?

Thus far humans have worked from a standard body map that allows us to understand ourselves and project that understanding onto all other classes of our species. We will likely bring both our sense of membership as well as our fear of otherness with us as we begin to internalize machines unevenly across cultures.

[See also 5 Dark Scenarios For Trans-humanity.]

Reflections on Thailand

[Extensive photo album here.]

Japan crossed with Mexico. Hack, mash, and lash everything together. Very hot and thick, humid and prone to short heavy rains. Bangkok is larger than expected, with a higher skyline. Slum-like in many ways but comfortable. Dirty, aged, grafitti’d, tagged, polluted, smelly, hungry, buggy, feral. Friendly, smiley, reverent, strong, spiritualized, watery, creative, delicious, surviving with tenacity. Temples & tenements, luxury hotels and megamalls. Insane traffic and transport. Little regard for lanes or right of way. Swarms of motorbikes, vespas. Cheap and dangerous tuk tuk 3-wheelers. Families piled onto scooters, kids asleep, baggage strapped on. Traffic flow like a logjam, shifting metal slabs moving within inches of each other, victory goes to the bold in a cloud of exhaust. The mighty Chao Phraya cutting its way through Bangkok and out to the coast, it’s headlands in the foothills below Burma. These are river people, with traffic on the waterways as busy and chaotic as the streets. The river is deep, a 1/4 mile wide, running green & tan, dirty and littered with commercial & vegetal detritus. After the rains clumps of fallen jungle float on its surface, carried down from farms and foothill tributaries. Black & yellow birds land on leafy branches half submerged to dine on nuts and berries. Water taxis from hotel to Sky Train. Fantastic monorail, the SRT, its cement track a modern work of civil engineering adding to the Tokyo vibe of downtown Bangkok.

Tangled mess of black utility cable slashing horizontal lines across most everything, tied in to huge transformers, burnt metal grills pumping amperage for the teeming metropolis of 6 million. The twisted infrastructure grows organically like a banyan, stretching out axonal to connect and communicate. Most buildings are old haggard tenements, their facades stained with a dark grey wash like grease and ash drawn out of the thick air. Structures that seem abandoned, uninhabitable, are strung with drying laundry drawn perpendicular to the necessarily ubiquitous swamp coolers lining the sides of each floor. Broken concrete fields under freeway overpasses offer football grounds lined by graffiti mural walls under chainlink divisions.

Downtown, luxury malls with Louis Vuitton and Burberry fronted by large altars of golden Buddha’s and Ganesha’s, black marble elephants flecked with gold, yellow floral garlands and incense offered by shoppers to their immaterial gods. A sign at Wat Phrao Keo in broken Thaiglish sagely, if not inadvertently, warns visitors to “Beware of your valuable possessions”. Technology, commerce, wealth, and western aesthetics have moved in with the economic development afforded here as in every other large city by the realities of globalized communication and trade.

Down crowded alleyways lined with merchant stalls and open air ad hoc kitchens, thick with pedestrians, cars, tuk tuks, and manic motorcyclists weaving through the narrow channels, over rooftop patios caged against some unseen menace, rise countless golden and white and glittery temple spires. Buddhist Wats take residence everywhere, themselves seemingly hacked into the dense fabric of the city, rising like aspirational fruiting bodies of ancient mycelial webs. Wat Arum, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Keo & the Grand Palace, and innumerable others. Religion & myth is woven throughout the populace. Every building has it’s own adjacent spirit house offering residence to the disincarnate lest they move into your own home. City walls are tacked with incense holders between stores. Banyans breaking through the sidewalks are wrapped with rainbow sashes honoring their freakish holy treeness. Every taxi has a statue on the dash or mala hanging from the rearview or Buddhist stencil on the headboard or any combination of the aforementioned. A 3-day Buddhist holiday shut down all government and banking.

The current Thai king is the longest reigning monarch of the modern age, holding office since 1950. Thailand was the only East-Asian country to resist British colonialism, sparing its autonomy by ceding a few bits of territory along the Burmese & Malay borders. Indeed there are long running conflicts with the Burmese, and Buddhist Thailand is in the midst of an insurgency along the Malaysian border from an advancing Islamic populace. The cabinet of the prime minister and the military have provided ongoing political theater as each vie back and forth for the seat of power. Most transfers of power, even in the case of multiple coups, have been bloodless. The Thai people themselves seem to have little interest in these power games, preferring a life of pragmatic spirituality while maintaining a deep abiding love and respect for the king. The two possibly mortal social offenses in Thai society are speaking ill of the Buddha and speaking ill of the king.

Farming is honored. Rubber trees and palms cover most southern land, providing two of the country’s largest exports. The Thai peninsula includes all the most breathtaking exotic tropical beach locations you could imagine, including the stunning Railay Bay – famed for the movie The Beach. Beautiful light blue waters, ridiculously warm and salty, stretched for ages across the gulf. Koh Samui running on Full Moon inertia, tourist trinkets, and scattered luxury resorts sheltered from the hustle. Low inland jungles bring minimal shade to island shanties in seemingly impossible poverty. Yet they survive & persist and move through generations like the rest of us. Koh Phangan also still milking their internationally notorious Full Moon Rave scene, adding a Half Moon party to underwrite the Euro draw. Even away from the main strips the beach scenes has a fun accidental Burning Man vibe, a shoreline esplanade of shanty bars and sound systems. Expats all over the place. Seems easy to get lost for months, years, decades in some seaside shack eating fruit and fish in a poor man’s paradise. Impossible walls of insects whip up into sudden frenzy, a cacophonous wail of screamapillars, giant cicadas that still don’t seem anywhere near big enough to make such a pitch. Monkey troops swing across canopies carpeting tall rock slabs jutting from the water. A rock climber’s joy, sheer faces hung with dripping stalactites and pocked with rope tie-ins. These tall rocks are scattered by the hundreds – thousands? – across the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. A boater’s paradise. You could spend months exploring thin beaches stretched around the edges of countless small jungle rock islands.

In the South, each night was attended by thunderstorm, often over sea or above the island peaks. Big black charcoal canvas lumbering across, flicker flashed with lightning bursts every few moments, often too distant to hear the thunderclap, then a sudden ear-shattering rend of ozone right above. When the heavy rains hit they come quickly and with ferocity. Never seen rain like it. So thick that it occluded line of sight to 20 meters or so, hiding everything beyond in watery showers. From the steep island peaks water rushes down in sudden rivers cutting through beach sands, pushing tan clouds out into the bay, a shimmering clear layer of fresh water forcing the saline back out over the ocean’s surface. Giant raindrops agitate the bugs forcing them to take flight in peppery swarms. Small opportunistic swift-like birds take to the skies darting and arching, turning and diving to pluck the insects mid-air in some ancient deeply programmed ballet of the food chain. Life goes on. It must. When rains come often and fiercely you can’t just drop your business. This was especially so in Bangkok whose streets are lined with tirelessly deployed open markets bare to the sky save for a small canvas over each. In 20 or 30 minutes the rain will likely pass so there’s no point in worrying much about the interlude.

While the deep south is struggling with a mounting Islamic insurgency, and the peninsula is attending the construction of more new mosques, the buddhist majority continues to permeate life with the spirit of their patron, accompanied by a host of Garuda and Nagas and a menagerie of mythic beasties syncretized from India and China. If Thai Buddhist Bangkok is feral and lashed and relentlessly modded in ghetto slapdash, the Bangkok Chinatown is 10x more so compressed into tighter alleyways, with more people and motorcylces (Vespas apparently seek Chinatown to live out their golden years), hung with impossibly more spaghetti cables, and festooned with walls of neon Mandarin signage casting a little too much light onto freakish displays of animal carcass and presumably inedible seafood and giant transparent sacks of fried pork product and stall after stall of fashionable Versace & Loius Vuitton knock-offs. Imagine threading your way down a dark, narrow alley lined with flea market stalls and no-health-code/no-insurance open air cart kitchens, filled with people pressing in all directions through dense heat and smell and rot, then send a motorcycle down the alley every few moments to do battle with cross-traffic carts and tuk tuks. Now imagine the alley is a whole network labyrinth covering multiple blocks between several-story tenaments streaked with black soot and stain and hung with drying clothes and black cables. This is why we western pansies stay in the nice hotel with A/C and a pool.

The final capper to the trip was in Bangkok the night before our departure. After the evening rains subsided, my partner and I went down to the pool for a night swim, around 9pm. Refreshing and fun we frolicked and generally soaked up the remaining moments of our stay. Then, in the poolside darkness moving low between the lounge chairs, I saw a large reptilian form lumbering along. “Dude, there’s a fricken alligator coming towards the pool!” I exclaimed excitedly. As it marched into the light we realized it was actually a monitor lizard – Varanus salvator, to be precise – about 5-6ft long with a fattened belly like it just ate a dog or possibly a small European child. “If that thing gets in the water, we get out immediately” I said with some urgency. I knew it could swim and see underwater much better than we could. No reason to tangle with a 6ft thunderlizard in a foreign country with questionable health care. Sure enough the beast slipped into the pool and sidled along the swim-up bar. We hopped out, laughing nervously, and I approached the lizard from a careful distance. Grabbing the pool attendant I motioned towards the monster. “That’s bad”, he said in a way that suggested that, bad as it may be, it wasn’t unusual. And so he casually splashed the creature with water nudging it along until it climbed out of the pool slowly, begrudgingly, made it’s way back into the riverside brush. It was easily the biggest lizard I’d ever seen in the wild.

The final day we were denied pool access during a particularly solid rain. When it’s always 90+ degrees & 90+% humidity, swimming in the rain is quite nice. But no, we were not allowed. “Why?” I protested. “Lightning” retorted the attendant. Fair enough, I thought. Then, in a casual but cautionary aside, the attendant reflected, “We had an accident last year”. This is the Bangkok Riverside Marriott, a fancy if not dated family hotel. Apparently buried somewhere deep in the boilerplate legalese fine print of our hotel contract is the clause, “Marriott Properties takes no liability in the event of any hotel guest or visitor getting suddenly struck by lightning and then slowly eaten by ferocious monitor lizards”.

The Revolution is Being Twittered – Tehran is Connected


Image by .faramarz.

“The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.” So opens the #iranelection cyber war guide for beginners just posted today and widely distributed across the web through Twitter. The guide continues with precise information about what behaviors and syntaxes on Twitter are now being watched by the Iranian security apparatus; which hashtags are legitimate and which are state honey pots used to identify and block IP’s; how to pass new open proxies to those within the Tehranian resistance; and smart guidelines for those considering launching Denial of Service attacks on State websites. The author has compiled a brief & succinct guidebook to help global non-Iranians better help those in Iran who are trying to ensure that these events are not hidden from the eyes of the world.

The guide closes with: “Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.” To me, this is about the future of all people.

As Clay Shirky noted, the events in Tehran mark a hugely important historic moment. Under an old theocratic and belligerent rulership, the modernist progressives from Iran’s urban center, Tehran, are using mobile communications and social networks to bypass the State and reach out to the world. Ahmadi’s swiftly-imposed net blackout has failed against the ingenuity of tech-enabled university students and the eagerness of sympathetic geeks across the world to help fight The Man (in this case, the authoritarian and repressive regime of the Ayatollah, the Guardian Council, and President Ahmadi-nejad). This marks a large state change in global power dynamics. In an age moving rapidly towards ubiquitous networked mobile computing, transparency and representation are the emerging foundations of civilization, simultaneously empowering the principles of Democracy while de-legitimizing the very notion of the State.

Perhaps even more surprising is the critical role of Twitter as the de facto global, real-time, open communication and collaboration channel. Using SMS, every mobile phone user on the planet has the ability to message Twitter and reach out to a global network. Twitter’s architecture guarantees an exponential distribution of information, and their lack of public shareholders allows them to take a more humanitarian posture. Protesters in Tehran were getting messages to hi-value nodes like Stephen Fry, John Perry Barlow, and William Gibson who then retweet the message to hundreds of thousands of their followers. By Monday #iranelection was the #1 trending term across Twitter and has stayed there since. Twitter is the primary channel for information coming in and out of Tehran regarding the contested election of it’s president – in a critical middle eastern Islamic nation, oil-rich with an aggressive posture towards the US and it’s allies, and who is poised on the brink of becoming a fully nuclear state. The out-of-left-field social networking phenomena has been so valuable to the goals of US interests in Iran that the U.S. State Department requested that Twitter postpone it’s scheduled service downtime.

The regime is now evicting reporters from Iran. The challenger, Moussavi, is likely not much different from Ahmadi-nejad. Both are pre-approved by the Ayatollah and Guardian Council. The pro-Moussavi population wants to see voting irregularities investigated and their “moderate” candidate approved as president. Tehran’s tech-savvy are redefining the fundamental relationship between people and governments. All power structures should be watching the events in Tehran and across the web. The people are getting smarter and bolder.

This is the age of empowered collectives striding across a globalized, hyper-connected world. In a virtualized information space, borders are less meaningful and countries are loose contextual buckets through which people interact. The swift assistance provided by western techies is not really about the US helping Iran, it’s about good, aspirational people trying to help other good, aspirational people. The playing field is leveling as humanity learns more and more about itself, overcoming fear and stereotypes and ignorance simply by communicating more effectively.

There will be a reaction as states work to retain power, upping their game to adapt to the new tech. And there will be darker consequences of these new tool as the All-Seeing Digital Eye rises over the land. We struggle now to free information but the next big struggle may be to secure it. All coins have two sides and all technologies will be bent to human will. Hopefully we’re all getting a little bit better at cooperating with each new day.

***This was written in a bit of a rush before I jet. Here are a couple more links:
Here’s a list of good info links.
Lyn Jeffery of IFTF writes Field Notes from the Iran Twitter Stream.
SF Gate article: SF Techie Stir Iranian Protests.
Jamais Cascio: The Dark Side of Twittering a Revolution.
And Hillary Clinton Defends Twitter Efforts for Iran.

Kevin Kelly – The Nine Laws of God

I’m re-posting this from The Whole Earth Catalog archives because I think it’s an excellent summary of the core principles needed to evaluate natural systems. This also speaks to the foundation of much of my own thought about human social, cultural, and technological evolution.

The Nine Laws of God
By Kevin Kelly * Whole Earth Catalog * Spring 1994

Distribute being. The spirit of a beehive, the behavior of an economy, the thinking of a supercomputer, and the life in me are distributed over a multitude of smaller units (which themselves may be distributed). When the sum of the parts can add up to more than the parts, then that extra being (that something from nothing) is distributed among the parts. Whenever we find something from nothing, we find it arising from a field of many interatting smaller pieces. All the mysteries we find most interesting – life, intelligence, evolution – are found in the soil of large distributed systems.

Control from the bottom up. When everything is connected to everything in a distributed network, everything happens at once. When everything happens at once, wide and fast-moving problems simply route around any central authority. Therefore, overall governance must arise from the most humble interdependent acts done locally in parallel, and not from a central command. A mob can steer itself, and in the territory of rapid, massive, and heterogeneous change, only a mob can steer. To get something from nothing, control must rest at the bottom within simplicity.

Sow increasing returns. Each time you use an idea, a language, or a skill, you strengthen it, reinforce it, and make it more likely to be used again.

Grow by chunking. The only way to make a complex system that works is to begin with a simple system that works. Attempts to instantly install highly complex organization – such as intelligence, or a market economy – without growing it, inevitably lead to failure.

Maximize the fringes. In heterogeneity is creation of the world. A uniform entity must adapt to the world by occasional monumental revolutions, one of which is sure to kill it. A diverse heterogeneous entity, on the other hand, can adapt to the world in a thousand daily mini-revolutions, staying in a state of permanent, but never fatal, churning.

Honor your errors. A trick will only work for a while, until everyone else is doing it. To advance from the ordinary requires a new game, or a new territory. But the process of going outside the conventional method, game, or territory is indistinguishable from error. Even the most brilliant act of human genius, in the final analysis, is an act of trial and error.

Pursue no optima, but multiple goals. Simple machines can be efficient, but complex adaptive machinery cannot be. A complicated structure has many masters and none of them can be served exclusively. Rather than striving for optimization of any function, a large system can only survive by “satisficing” (making “good enough”) a multitude of functions.

Seek persistent disequilibrium. Neither constancy nor relentless change will support a creation. A good creation, like good jazz, must balance the stable formula with frequent offbeat, out-of-kilter notes. Equilibrium is death. Yet unless a system stabilizes to an equilibrium point, it is no better than an explosion, and just as soon dead. A Nothing, then, is both equilibrium and disequilibrium.

Change changes itself. Change can be structured. This is what large complex systems do: they coordinate change. When extremely large systems are built up out of complicated systems, then each system begins to influence and ultimately change the organizations of other systems. That is, if the rules of the game are composed from the bottom up, then it is likely that interacting forces at the bottom level will alter the rules of the game as it progresses. Over time, the rules for change get changed themselves.

Evolution – as used in everyday speech – is about how an entity is changed over time. Deeper evolution – as it might be formally defined – is about how the rules for changing entities over time changes over time. To get the most out of nothing, you need to have self-changing rules.

These nine principles underpin the awesome workings of prairies, flamingoes, and cedar forests, eyeballs, natural selection in geological time, and the unfolding of a baby elephant from a tiny seed of elephant sperm and egg.

These same principles of bio-logic are now being implanted in computer chips, electronic communication networks, robot modules, pharmaceutical searches, software design, and corporate management, in order that these artificial systems may overcome their own complexity.

When the tecfinos is enlivened by bios, we get artifacts that can adapt, learn, and evolve. When our technology adapts, learns, and evolves, then we will have a neobiological civilization.

E-Tech 2009 Twitter Round-up

Here’s a selection of my tweets from the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past week. These are the ones I think grab the juicy nuggets from the speaker’s presentations. [In temporal order with the earliest (ie Monday eve) listed first.]

Tim O’Reilly: “We have greatness but have wasted it on so much. ”
We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a digital commonwealth. #etech
Work on something that matters to you more than money. This is a robust strategy. #etech
Niall Kennedy: Energy Star rating for web apps? Thinking of clouds & programming like tuning a car for better gas mileage. #etech
Cloud computing: no reasonable expectation of privacy when data is not in your hands. Not protected by 4th amendment. #etech
Alex Steffen: Problems with water supply are based in part on our lack of beavers. #etech
Social media for human rights. http://hub.witness.org #etech
Gavin Starks – Your Energy Identity & Why You Should Care. see http://amee.com #etech
Maureen Mclugh – Consider that technology may be evolving in ways that are not particularly interested in us. #etech
Becker, Muller: We have under-estimated the costs and over-estimated the value of our economy. #etech
Becker, Muller: We assume economic trade must be the primary framing of value in our lives. Why? #etech
Design Patterns for PostConsumerism: Free; Repair Culture; Reputation Scaled; Loanership Society; Virtual Production. #etech
NYT: emerging platforms, text reflow, multitouch, flexy displays, smart content, sms story updates, sensors, GPS localized content. #etech
Jeremy Faludi: Buildings & transport have the largest impact on climate change. Biggest bang for the buck in re-design. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Biggest contributor to species extinction & habitat loss is encroachment & byproducts from agriculture. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Best strategies to vastly reduce overpopulation: access to birth control & family planning, empowerment of women. #etech
Tom Raftery: Grid 1.0 can’t manage excess power from renewables. Solution: electric cars as distributed storage. #etech
Considering the impact of pluging AMEE (@agentGav) data in ERP systems for feedback to biz about supply chain impacts. BI meets NRG ID.
Mike Mathieu: Data becoming more important than code. Civic data is plentiful and largely untapped. Make civic apps! #etech
Mike Mathieu: Take 10 minutes today and pick your crisis. Figure out how to create software to help. #etech
What is #SantaCruz doing to make civic data available to service builders? We want to help SC be healthier & more productive.
Mark Fraunfelder: “I haven’t heard of anybody having great success with automatic chicken doors.” #etech [re-emerging technology]
Realities of energy efficiency: 1gallon of gasoline = ~1000hrs of human labor. #etech
Kevin Lynch: Adobe is saving over $1M annually just by managing energy. #etech
Designing backwards: Think about the destiny of the item before thinking about he initial use. (via Brian Dougherty) #etech
RealTimeCity: physical & digital space merges, people incorporate intelligent systems, cities react in accord w/needs of pub welfare. #etech
Oh my we’re being LIDAR’d while Zoe Keating plays live cello n loops. ZOMG!!!
zoe keating & live lidar is blowing my mind at #etech 1.3M points per sec!
Julian Bleeker cites David A. Kirby: “Diegetic prototypes have a major rhetorical advantage over true prototypes” #etech
Julian Bleeker: Stories matter when designing the future, eg. Minority Report. #etech
Julian Bleeker: “Think of Philip K. Dick as a System Administrator. #etech
Rebecca MacKinnon: Which side are we helping, River Crabs or Grass Mud Horses? #etech
Kati London: How can we use games to game The System and how can they be used to solve civic problems? #etech
Nathan Wolfe: Trying to fight pandemics only at the viral human level ignores deep socioeconomic causes of animal-human transmission. #etech
Nathan Wolfe, re: viral jump from animal to human populations: “What happens in central Africa doesn’t stay in central Africa.”
Nathan Wolfe: need to work with % of population w/ hi freq of direct contact with animals for early detection of viral transmission.
Nathan Wolfe: Vast majority of biosphere is microscopic, mostly bacterial & viral. Humans: very small piece of life on Earth. #etech

Twitter Digest – 2.21.2009

These are a handful of Tweets I’ve made recently that bear repeating here:

  • Twitter “continues the trend of making ordinary citizens active producers of potentially actionable intelligence”: http://tinyurl.com/catedu
  • Hmm… Apple–>Canvas–>Mozilla–>iPhone. No Flash. My conspiratorial wonderings remain.
  • @chris23 is starting to think that web2.0 biz name disemvowelation was necessary to get around GoDaddy parking on so much virtual real estate.
  • Prosecution baffled by Pirate Bay org structure, can’t grok non-hierarchy: http://tinyurl.com/aw67j2 [who to blame in flat orgs?]
  • Life is very large and diverse. We r programmed to pay special attn to the Bad while the Good slips by like a warm breeze.
  • Imperialism is a game played by successful tribes. World still being trampled by alpha males. Meanwhile, the crowd unites & sees itself.
  • Classic cycle: corrupt ruler grabs export revenues, pads gov w/ cronies, builds up mil, ends domestic invstment, plunges country into chaos.
  • Twitter as Mood Ring

    Yep, Twitter ought to monetize its analytics and license an enterprise dashboard to interrogate the zeitgeist. Mark D. Drapeau from Mashable opines on the great question of our times: What is twitter’s Vision? Here are some excerpts I feel are especially important & insightful…

    Viral marketing guru Scott Stratten recently commented that Twitter is “the conversation that’s happening, right now,” and I cannot think of a more simple way to describe it to a newbie. But what many people perhaps don’t realize is that quantitative analyses of these conversations are themselves valuable.

    …Twitter itself is closest to the data surrounding human engagements and therefore best-suited to analyze it

    …Paradoxically, the best vision for Twitter may be to change very little – let the users define what Twitter is and how it should be used, and choose a business model that stays out of their way. That business model could very well be tracking the sentiment of large groups of people to help businesses make smart and profitable decisions.

    The Contextual Web

    Alex Iskold of AdaptiveBlue writes about the Contextual Web over at ReadWriteWeb:

    So where is all of this heading? Are these technologies signal or noise? We believe we are witnessing the birth of a fundamentally new kind of web, a smarter one, a contextual one. Unlike the old web we are used to, this one understands what we are doing and helps us. It is a web in which we search less and find relevant content faster. This new contextual web is still very young and unevenly distributed, but it is definitely here.

    The fact that these contextual technologies are springing up is not accidental. The Contextual web is made possible by our push into semantic web and the rise of web services/API culture. The combination of basic semantics and API is fueling all of these contextual applications. Bit by bit, the web is getting smarter, friendlier, and more enjoyable.

    Indeed, we are engineering the cloud to help us better navigate it’s incomprehensible amounts of data and to draw patterns and context from our interface.

    Another Rant: On the Cloud, Augmented Reality, & the Networked World

    [This is a reply I left recently to a Global Futures question about the near-future of the web. It goes a little off-topic at the end but such is the risk of systems analysis. Everything’s connected.]

    Within 10-15 years mobile devices will constantly interact with the world around us, analyzing objects, faces, signage, locations, and anything else their sensors can engage. Camera viewfinders will identify visual sources using algorithms to match them up with cloud data repositories. Bluetooth and GPS will interact on sub-channels silently exchanging relationships with embedded sensors across devices and objects. A user’s mobile device will become their IP address hosting much of their profile information and mediating relationships across social nets, commercial transactions, security clearances, and the array of increasingly smart objects and devices.

    Cloud access and screen presence will be nearly ubiquitous further blurring the line between desktop, laptop, server, mobile devices, and the objects in our world. It will all be screens interfacing between data, objects, and humans. Amidst the overwhelming data/content glut we will outsource mathematical chores to cloud agents dedicated to scraping data and filtering the bits that are pertinent to our personalized affinities and needs. These data streams will be highly dynamic and cloud agents will send them to rich media layers that will render the results in comprehensible and meaningful displays.

    The human sensorium and its interaction with reality will be highly augmented through mobile devices that layer rich information over the world around us. The digital world will move heavily into the natural analog world as the boundaries between the two further erode. This will be readily apparent in the increasing amount of communication we will receive from appliances, vehicles, storefronts, other people, animals, and even plants all wired to the cloud. Meanwhile, cloud agents will sort through vast amounts of human behavioral information creating smart profiles and socioeconomic and environmental systems models with incredible complexity and increasing predictive ability. The cloud itself will be made more intelligible to agents by the standardization of semantic web protocols implemented into most new sites and services. Agents will concatenate to tie services together into meta-functions, just as human collectives will be much more common as we move into increasingly multicellular functional bodies.

    The sense of self and our philosophical paradigms will be iterating and revising on an almost weekly basis as we spread out across the cloud and innumerable virtual spaces connected through instantaneous communication. Virtual worlds themselves will be increasingly common but will break out of the walled-garden models of the present, allowing comm channels and video streams to move freely between them and the social web. World of Warcraft will have live video feeds from in-world out to device displays. Mobile GPS will report a user’s real-world location as well as their virtual location, mashing both into Google Maps and the SketchUp-enabled virtual map of the planet.

    All of this abstraction will press back on the world and create even greater value for real face-to-face interactions. Familial bonds will be more and more cherished and local communities will take greater and greater control of their lives away from unreliable global supply chains and profit-driven corporate bodies. Most families will engage in some form of gardening to supplement their food supply. The state itself will be hollowed out through over-extended conflicts and insurgencies coupled with ongoing failures to manage domestic civic instabilities. Power outages and water failures will be common in large cities. This will of course further invigorate alternative energy technologies and shift civic responsibilities to local communities. US manufacturing will have partially shifted towards alternative energy capture and storage but much of the real successes will be in small progressive towns rallying around local resources, small-scale fab, and pre-existing economic successes.

    All in all, the future will be a rich collage. Totally new and much the same as it has been.

    twitchboard.net: the rise of personal cloud agents

    The folks over at Twitchboard.net have the right idea. From their site:

    TwitchBoard listens to your twitter account, and forwards messages on to other internet services based on what it hears. Our first service will automatically save any links you tweet to the del.icio.us bookmarking service. We’re working on connections to many other services — stay tuned!

    This simple tool is a software agent built on the web platform. It lives on a server as a script watching your personal datastream – Twitter, in this case. The initial service notices when you have put an url in your tweet, grabs it, and passes it along to your del.icio.us account as a bookmark. It effectively concatenates two web services together to optimize your workflow and eliminate the need to double post. It extends the function of Twitter to include the function of Del.icio.us recapitulating the phylogenetic imperative evolving from unicellular function to multicellular. Twitterl.icio.us!

    Twitchboard represents the emerging class of cloud agents that will help us sort and search the massive volumes of data we interact with regularly. Our connections are getting too dense and the data we’re working with is growing far too big for us humans to handle manually. We need subroutines customized to our interests, affiliations, businesses, and collaborations that can do the heavy data lifting for us while we focus on the meaningful expressions these agents will create for us from the noise.

    Increasingly we’ll have swarms of such agents running across our digital lives doing our bidding and the bidding of numerous marketing and security agencies as well. These tools will have particular value across the enterprise where they will monitor workflows & financial movements, gather market data from clouds, and sift through productivity metrics to formulate valuable business intel. Agents will tell us about our lives and our health delivering colorful abstracts with pretty animated datasets showing how much we drove this week, how many miles we walked, tasks completed vs. outstanding, and much more feedback based on an array of scripts & sensors.

    Twitchboard is using the fertile comm grounds of Twitter and it’s API to watch the datastream for keywords that can drive additional services. You can bet they’re also deriving all sorts of interesting meta-patterns from the Twitter feed that will be plugged into further modular mashups and visualizations. Through it’s popularity and the openness of it’s API Twitter is lighting a roadmap towards the semantic web. Groups like Twitchboard are building the services reading the machine web and helping us better manage the mountains of data piling up, meanwhile giving rise to a class of autonomous agents moving across devices, sensors, cameras, and clouds.

    [Kudos to Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb for mentioning me & this post in her column!]

    New Site Layout

    I’ve finally upgraded WordPress and have a shiny new template. This one should be easier to read, is hopefully more SEO’d, and has a bit more of a professional look. In theory, it will even have more content now that I’m on indeterminate hiatus from employment.

    Nude (Dressed Up Mix)

    Well I lagged on getting my Radiohead remix up in time for the first contest. So I’ve cheated and uploaded it to the new contest for Reckoner. I’ll eventually do a remix of the new one too but who knows if it’ll be in time for the current contest.