Friday, December 31, 2004

New Business Models I

This is New Business Models I because there are so many new ones springing up and surpassing the old world business models with many more to come. Perhaps the most notable new business model du jour is Open Source, even espoused by IBM CEO Polisano in a recent suggestion list to the US government on the imperative of increasing American competitiveness.

The new business model addressed here is the customer creating not only the content but also the applications. Customers have long been creating content in Internet business models like eBay, hotmail, craigslist, and now in blogging sites, flickr and other photo sites, and online gaming worlds like Sims Online and Second Life. The next wave is the customers, really a new class of entrepreneurs or other innovators, creating the applications as well, using web services APIs provided by Amazon and increasing numbers of others.

There are many amazing things about this including:

1) the exponentiation - exponentially more content is and will be created than the company/initiator could possibly create. From the vast sea of content will arise attendant phenomenon such as the coalescing of new special interest groups / shared interest communities, and patterns, linkage and ultimately new means of value creation from the content / information,

2) the necessary accompanying innovation of new tools (especially automated) to manage, search and create content,

3) the rise new skills to exploit this medium, the application and tool creators, to create derivatives of derivative of derivative applications, the need for people to be proficient in these new skill areas or at least decide whether they would like to or not, and services like the early easy website development sites allowing one not to know html,

4) the way humans are getting to be more meta with computers, adding layers of intelligence in how machines talk amongst themselves to make human live more productive and easier. This is great in lots of ways but also represents humans getting another step farther removed from the operating, and really, control, of computers,

5) the additional democratizing of the trend - allowing more people the freedom to dream and create the applications that are fun interesting and worthwhile to them, not having to wait until their needs are a large and valuable enough corporate marketing opportunity. This StarBucks of software development facilitates the proliferation of individuality, self-expression, and fulfills self-actualization levels in Maslow's hierarchy,

6) and the stronger form of democratizing of the trend, economically, individual application development and launch as a flexible income generator nicely complementing a traditional job and other life activities that can grow, turn into multiple businesses and deliver economic freedom. This is an important emotional empowerment, to not work for someone else but to be an autonomous unit coming together for collective collaboration, training, feedback and other activities but remaining fundamentally self-directed not answering to another or another's machinations within a slow-to-evolve corporate hierarchy.

Monday, December 20, 2004

How to identify understanding

Can another's understanding be identified and confirmed? This is one of the most pressing questions in Artificial Intelligence. There are many ways to try to establish whether the other understood. The first and most obvious though perhaps not the most convincing way is to ask the other, did you understand? Understanding is presumed when the other gives a summary of the material, or asks questions such as those that point up inconsistencies, request clarifications or suggest extensions. Asking the other questions, as in a test, will also test for comprehension. Asking the other to apply the information directly or by integration, extrapolating it to higher level, is another way. A specific application is by asking for a prediction of a case using the information, but this cannot be the only application or confirmation of understanding as Jeff Hawkins proposes.

Why is understanding relevant? Understanding, comprehension, getting-it-ness is an important prelude to action. One needs to 'get' the situation before being able to act, before being able to assess different courses of action. What is comprehension? It is a perception of and about the direct area at hand but many important cultural assumptions may underlay the direct situation and also require realization in order for the true 'grokking' of a situation to occur. Concepts, cause and effect, an assumption of linearly and "forward" progressing time are some examples of Western cultural assumptions that may be subsumed in Western understanding. It can be challenging but finite to explain or specify the cultural nuances, they are all parameters for factors or concepts.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Continuum: Concept to Data Detail

Some areas drive toward concreteness, toward precision, using data and detail to build arguments. The focus is on the data from which the conclusion and course of action is self-evident. Some examples areas are: finance, science, technology, trading, markets, and neuro-linguistic programming. These are areas where a specific reductionist meaning is sought.

The opposite end of the continuum, not trapped by data, but free, flexible, broad abstract is the world of concept. Concept is vague and opaque and can mean many things on many levels and from the many lenses of different viewpoints.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Stratified information

There needs to be an increasing number of levels of information about certain topics, especially technology areas. People want to understand things at different levels and there is tremendous value in receiving information tailored to different tiers. Unless one is in the practitioner area, the full technical detail is not relevant and the salient concepts and issues summary will be most relevant, at a variety of levels of detail. Horizontal studies, like identifying and working with similar patterns and linkages across fields is perhaps as important as the vertical levels.

The need for stratified information is an effect of having so many more areas and sub-areas, especially in science. In the days of Darwin, polymaths could really be technical experts in many if not most fields. While that may still be somewhat possible today, it is challenging and not useful for one to be an expert in one's entire field. For the practitioner, the focus is on the application and extension of the specific. For the generalist, the value is not in being a deep technical expert in multiple areas but rather to be versed in the key concepts and issues of multiple areas.

The need for stratified information is also driven by the sheer volume of information and the limited capability of the human mind to process, comprehend, retain and use this amount and complexity of information. There should be ways for humans to more effectively interact with information, for example to comprehend-on-demand.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do non-profits work?

501c3s are probably necessary but not as effective as they could or should be in driving social change. Its amazing to think about what this sector could look like in the next few decades, reshaped around effectiveness of result and using technology as the backbone. Personally funded and directed institutes and foundations are possibly more likely to be more effective due to the presence of stronger financial resources and clarity of purpose and goals.

The interently policyesque and fuzzy social change driving nature of the non-profit cause, together with the scaricity of financial and human capital resources and especially the environment conspire to challenge the definition and accomplishment of non-profit goals. The environment means specifically the structure, culture and assumptions of the non-profit sector which dictate the operation of both the internal organization and the larger external ecosystem. This environment is much more difficult to navigate and successfully mold progress within than that of the for-profit world. The for-profit world is much clearer, in the assumed agreed upon objectives and values systems of the participants (invdividuals, companies, industries and economies) that are displayed and serve as the medium for change, mainly in the form of exchange.

The lesson is to organize around result in ways that resonate with diverse value systems and work styles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Are there enough scientists?

Are there enough scientists working on the big problems? There are certainly orders of magnitude more scientists and more sub-areas of science now than 100 years ago and many centers of innovation around the world. But is it enough? Enough for what? The biggest imperative for science innovation is the sun's burnout in 5 billion years, but even just staying on our current trajectory of technology development, we will probably be long gone by then. Enough generally means quickly enough for those living today, especially all of those living today, to experience a more interesting, fun, robust, easy and efficient life.

If we want the future to arrive sooner, we do need more scientists working on the technologies to do so. The most successful approach would blend political, economic and cultural incentives to graduate more engineers from more diverse backgrounds, to make these fields more accessible, to train and sponsor more people in the ancillary areas of technology development (e.g.; the business-making and policy pieces to get the technology implemented), and to market the benefits of technology shift to counteract futureshock.

There certainly can and should be more scientists and with pro-active governments stimulating the funding, marketing, and political and economic incentives, we can realize the future more rapidly. We must do it ourselves before and so that we can outsource technology development to AI.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Whence software

Is software development the crisis that Jaron Lanier and other industry luminaries bemoan? Sure, it'd be nice if it were a lot better, for example with standardized stable components, such as, by analogy, the equipment, tools and measures established early on in the homebuilding industry; also with alternative development and test methods, more team work, team skills and general education of developers. Better tools like verbally commanded software development interfaces will make development accessible to a wider audience and facilitate a much larger diversity of applications as well as innovative approaches.

So software design and development may be improving, but some suggest that burgeoning brute force method hardware may have a higher magnitude impact. Software inadequacies can be made up for with ever-cheaper massive hardware. Even within hardware there is more specialization and load shifting, memory continuing to take the brute force computation role as memory circuits outpace logic and will grow to comprise 70-80% of the transistors. Some even suggest that machines, cognizant or not, will take over software development in the not too distant future.

Great software development is still a key issue that many will contribute to resolving in the next twenty years.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Will Microsoft exist in 2060?

Yes, it seems likely that it might, if it continues at its current trajectory. Not focusing on the monopolistic practices and alleged lack of innovation in the operating system and traditional application suites, the firm has been an interesting chameleon targeting and adapting to new markets, especially gaming (in 2004, the Xbox has 44% market share in the US), home media entertainment, consumer music and small/medium business accounting and other software applications.

The firm continues to morph and can now be thought of as a technology company not just an operating system and applications software company. If this morphing correctly anticipates, defines and meets new business and consumer demands, the firm will succeed grandly.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Work is no longer an economic imperative

More and more people are, and will be, finding themselves at the point of not needing to work in the traditional go somewhere for 40 hours+ per week job. What will people do with their time when there is no longer the economic imperative to work? Some will continue to work, work may be more about status and achievement. Some will pursue new projects, competing in other venues for status, fun, belongingness and achievement such as sports and art. Others will pursue innovation and continuing to ask and answer humanity's big questions. Some segment will pursue leisure in varying degrees of activeness.

To some schooled in the paradigm of the recently traditional world, freedom is slavery. Many people are afraid to retire because they don'’t know what to do with their time, or deeper, they don't know who to be. Identity that was defined by association to the workplace needs to be redefined in empowering new ways. This is not just the condition for people reaching retirement age but for anyone probing their life, trying to find out what they really want to do or be in their life, or others that find they don't need to take up the vast majority of their waking hours with work.

There will be a need for more fulfilling edu-fun projects, especially where people can compete, garner status, achieve, learn and feel belongingness. More people are becoming lifelong learners, some for interest and some for exigency and the trend will continue. There will be a need for value-sorting, personality/activity match tools and services. More venues for self-expression and creativity in all forms will flower.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Are people interactions obsolete?

Blogs are the beautiful next step in communications. Email brought asynchronicity. Blogs are a step further, you don’t have to actually communicate with the other person to have a relationship with them, but you can. You know someone more intimately through their blog than celebrity stalkers do of their quarry. I want to go and check certain blogger pages every day (or at new posts), I feel like I know them, like they are a friend. This makes the need to consciously seek out real world shared interest friends obsolete because I can find and relate to them online, in more effective ways. It can make the real world interactions more efficient and higher level, more focused on collaborative new topics when you don't need to catch up on activities and thoughts because you are already au courant from the person's blog. Will AI blog?

This is part of a broader theme of the changing dynamics and possible obsolescence of people interactions. In the past, knowing people was the key to enabling your life, to getting a job, to meeting friends and potential romantic partners, to collaborating on a shared interest topic. This is all different and will continue to be so with the great democratizing Internet. Work can be found and executing increasingly via Internet and phone with less physical presence required. Romantic and/or sexual relationships can be found, conducted or complemented online. And blogs can replace, heighten or enhance friendships, especially as more audio and image content is added. One application can be for seniors or others who would like to feel connection, inspiration and companionship; a robot or a blog may satisfy some high percentage of that need. Learning will also be a valuable application.

Friday, December 10, 2004

How many sentients are enough?

In a situation of human immortality, reached as humans include increasing amounts of artificial processing together with their biological processing, machines become more intelligent and humans upload to machines or other substrates, a question naturally arises - how many humans or consciousnesses (consciousni?) or sentients are optimum in the world or universe?

One view says as many as possible, or that can be appropriately sustained given resource constraints. Another view says the same amount as we have now. Another says fewer, since a variety of operations may now be sustained with machines. In the possible event of little resource constraint, should "parents," begetters of new consciousnesses, via cloning, original mixing, and other traditional and novel methods, either be limited or incented to have or create as many new consciousnesses as is their whim?

A deeper perspective of the problem naturally asks what are sentients doing? What is their purpose, use? The obvious reason for consciousness is to extend knowledge, information, ideas, innovation and discovery. Maybe different types of consciousness are possible, leading to new ways of cross-consciousness collaboration. Ignoring the jaggedness between current consciousnesses and steps to educate, entice and realize the transition to immortality, the presumed conclusion is the American school of consciousness creation, that more, more, more is better.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Living up to our potential

Ben Saunders, a revolutionary explorer of the arctic poles, inspiringly points out that most of us humans are only scratching the surface of our potential, delivering maybe only 3-4% of what we are truly capable of achieving. The topic has also surfaced recently in the extropian email list as an offshoot of life extension / artificial enhancements discussions.

This may be sad and true, but how can we climb out of our comfort zones and achieve more of our potential? And why should we? The counterpoint is that humans have worked hard to get where we are now, with many in the developed world now working with their fingers & brains and not with the labor of their bodies. We are vegging out, but we have earned it. But we aren't fulfilled, as Mihalyi C. nicely codifies, unless we are engaged in some degree of challenging projects that we think are worthwhile. However, we could be engaging in such projects still without tapping larger parts of our true potential.

One group of individuals that really strikes out and is inspired to achieve more of their potential is those who have undergone some sort of extreme hardship, including but not limited to physical harm. Lincoln, for example, was apparently an unremarkable man until the death of his sweetheart drove him to make a real difference in the world. So how can we stimulate this drive in ourselves without having experienced extreme adversity, feeling a heavy calling to accomplish a specific goal, or other?

And what is it to live at greater capacity realization? Do more? See more? Live out of the box more? Create new ideas and drive them to implementation? A good starting place is to have a question quietly directing our thoughts and activities: "What can I do today/right now to realize more of my capacity?" To get ourselves to step up and be more in every situation we find ourselves in and to create more and more new situations in which to sketch, explore and realize our potential.

...One final mention regarding the potential hazard of big bold feats, that what about the postpartum emptiness and incorrect but present western bias to action potentially enslaving one to one's last action. Living to capacity is more about being than doing, with doing as a form of being. Ensure there is a strong "why" behind actions.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Biological Model Panacea

The ubiquitous meme du jour is applying biological models to current technological challenges. Witness Janine Banyus' biomimicry, Steve Jurvetson and other's biomemetics, the load of "emergent" behaviorists and many others. Really is this just an extension of the complex adaptive systems / chaos theories?

If we framed the real challenge more broadly, we might think of other tools to use. One slant of the challenge is merging our ideas and realities of "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches. The top down approach is continuing to manipulate our environment with the same technological tools, improved in the same straight-line, known, forecasted methods; the leading example of which is semiconductor design and production. Bottom-up, on the other hand is looking to biology and other models of building from the smallest elements up, molecular assembly, copying through DNA. I guess the reason we are trying to merge is not just running into the tools/technical limits of continuing to extend top-down approaches but really the desire to extend human manipulability and control over the environment, to the extent of building structures from the atomic level.

Bio-models should not be looked at as the next black box (whose inner workings remain a mystery) as were neural nets, cellular automata and computers in general in some cases where we abdicate control and understanding perhaps due to drudgery as well as the plea of inability to understand the complexities.

I think it is more important to focus on the basic physics of understanding and manipulating atomic behavior. Applying biological models is a sideline, and its possible that a better understanding of biological systems will be the result of greater basic physics learnings.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Population Futures

There has been much ruminating by Phillip Longman, Joseph Chamie and others in the last year, since the UN's revised population projections publication. The UN's projections suggest that this world's human population will grow from its 6.4 billion in 2004 to 9 billion maximum (by 2050?) and then settle back to the 8 billion range. The biggest concern is over below-replacement fertility rates everywhere in the world, both in industrialized and developing nations.

I'd suggest that its time to get excited about this challenge - the challenge of not having enough working humans to support the productive capacity of nations and provide the goods and services demanded by seniors. It is an invitation for technology to facilitate, solve and surpass this challenge. Japan's population is estimated to shrink for the first time in 2005 and it is no coincidence that the country is also farthest ahead on its government-supported program for robotic care and companionship of the elderly.

While there are many ways in which technology can and will further increase productivity and enable work and productive efforts, as well as take up formerly human-delivered responsibilities, a variety of expected and unexpected technological discontinuities will likely also aid in resolving the current fertility rate depression.

Discontinuities are not limited to but may occur in three areas: improving the child birthing and rearing process, shift to non-necessity of working to provide survival level needs and artificial intelligence of machines.

And we need to ask anyway, how many humans do we want and why, who should decide, what the purpose, cost and benefit is.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Data Appliance

Now that so much fact-based information is available for free (and hopefully remains this way) on the Internet, the emphasis is no longer on knowing information but rather on being able to find it when it is needed. Why not a data appliance or prosthesis, initially external, that provides a suite of audio-visual information by "hearing" key words as they are spoken, or as the appliance is explicitly addressed. Multiple human parties in the discussion can view the data beam to inform themselves and debate the higher level aspects of the topic.

This and other factors are causing several to envision revolutionary new models of education in the future. We can now divide information into two great camps - freely available and not available. Relationships with people, status and the traditional hierarchical structure of the world grant access to the unavailable information. How valuable is it anymore anyway? It wants to be free and spread meme-like as much as it can. What is the incentive for classified data to remain locked up? It dies.