Sunday, June 30, 2013

Web Analytics: a Precursor to Cognitive Enhancement

Any sufficiently complex, rapidly-responding, and self-adjusting computer system is sometimes heralded as the place that “AI could wake up,” but could be seen more broadly as the venue of algorithm development that might have extensive applicability, including for cognitive enhancement.

Some exemplar complex modern computing systems include big data analytics, high-frequency trading operations, multiplayer video game networks, weather-modeling systems, and now…mobile and web analytics. These latter platforms are becoming increasingly sophisticated, continually updating actual and predicted user behavior data and delivering this information in real-time. Web property owners can watch live engagement with their websites in a heads-up display (HUD) overlay on web pages, as Chartbeat demonstrated at an API-related mini-hackathon at their NYC offices on June 29, 2013.

Some of the most prominent mobile and web analytics companies currently include Google Analytics, Chartbeat, MixPanel, KISSmetrics, Omniture, and Visual Revenue.

The 800 pound gorilla of online metrics is the eCommerce use case, using metrics in endless iterations of A/B testing (e.g.; does version A or B of the website produce more click-throughs and product purchases?) However, it is now increasingly important to measure other kinds of web experiences, for example news consumption where the key metric is engagement time as opposed to a simple link click-through. The type of interaction is also important, where the user spends time on the page, and the type of engagement activity such as reading, commenting, and sharing/referring.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Interconnected Big Data World: API Services Marketplaces

A feature of the data-driven modern world is different companies (e.g.; Walgreens, BestBuy) and web properties (e.g.; eBay) offering access to their data and services via API (application programming interface).

In some part an ingenious crowdsourcing ploy and more broadly having the effect of enmeshing even more deeply the interconnected data world, API access requires a lot of coordination.

A new market segment, API management services, has sprung up to facilitate both public and private (white-label) access. Some of the leading companies in the segment include: Mashape, the cloud API platform, offering developer access to hundreds of APIs, Mashery (acquired by Intel in April 2013), an API network with standardized and richly-documented access to over 50 APIs, and Apigee, a leading provider of API services for enterprises and developers. Other related companies include 3scale, WebServius, and Layer 7 Technologies. A related company Zapier enables task-automation between online services like Salesforce, Basecamp, and Gmail.

API management services are growing marketplaces for the management, distribution, and consumption of APIs. Developers gain the ability to have a standard interface for quickly accessing and working with data from hundreds of sources. Web properties and corporations gain a standardized and outsourced management solution to coordinate external developer interactions and extend their ecosystems.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Technology vs. Free Will? Tuning into the Internal Qualitative Experience of Time

Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, was living and writing in a time (early 1900s) similar to today where the furious pace of innovation in science and technology was promising to elucidate the deepest secrets of the world such as how the mind works.

Determinism Victory from the Application of Quantitative Methods? 
As the social sciences gelled into departments of academic study unto themselves and sought to apply techniques from the hard sciences, Bergson became concerned about the potential loss of free will and a victory for determinism. Humans might be reduced to billiard balls in the sense that if human behavior could be predicted mechanistically like that of a billiard ball, it would mean that humans would lose their liberty and free will.

Doublings: Experiences with both Inner Qualitative Subjectivity and External Quantitative Objectivity
Bergson proposed that there are several concepts that are different in our internal experience (qualitative, subjective) than in our external experience of the world (quantitative, objective). This difference between internal and external experience (called a doubling) exists in areas like time, intensity, multiplicity, duration, self, and consciousness. The external aspects can be measured quantitatively, but the internal aspects cannot, they are states that overlap, merge into one another, and emerge and recede dynamically.

Prescription: Tune into the Qualitative Aspects of Inner Experience
To Bergson, freedom is most visible in spontaneity, the ability of a person to choose spontaneous action. To maintain free will, one should tune into the qualitative aspects of internal experience, understanding concepts like time as a qualitative overlap and ebb and flow of states dynamically, energetically. Bergson’s nomenclature for inner qualitative time is ‘duration’ as opposed to external quantitative ‘time’ – this is the difference between the sense of waiting for a train to arrive (qualitative) versus the time elapsing on the clock. Being attuned to the qualitative aspects of time, one can live more spontaneously.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

DIY Philosophy: Crowd Models to Democratize Participatory Thinking

The model for computing and info tech exploded with the PC and the Internet – democratizing the field across all strata and making it accessible to any interested individual. The worldwide technology and startup industry has boomed and proliferated as a result. DIY science is doing the same for crowdsourced labor, quantified self-tracking, biology hacking, and the shift to the 21st century health paradigm of preventive medicine. The field of philosophy is ripe for similar democratization – some tip-offs are that it is one of the few remaining areas comprised primarily of white males, and where memorization is still important.

Philosophy Improves Sophistication of Modern Thinking 
Philosophy is the sport of thinking – one of its great benefits is its broad applicability beyond the dusty academic discipline to one’s own personal thinking and lifestyle. A key contemporary use of philosophy is in helping to provide a deeper and more sophisticated means of understanding our fast-paced technologized modern world and our place therein. Many people are interested in philosophy but few have the affordance or interest for full-time involvement which has seemed to have been required given the notorious density and inaccessibility of philosophical works.

Crowd Models Facilitating Philosophy Accessibility 
Crowd models (analogous to the PC revolution) are starting to change the former inaccessibility of philosophy. Philosophy courses and reading groups are popping up at free public universities (the Public School, the University of the Commons), podcasts are acquiring significant listenership, and online communities and publications have growing participatory audiences (e.g.; e-Flux, Plasticities Sciences Arts).

FQXi for Philosophy
While there are some research institutes supporting philosophy like the University of London's Institute of Philosophy, one next step in creating the more overt sensibility of the DIY philosopher as the analog to the DIY scientist and software hacker would be to have Philosophy Research Institutes that specifically promote DIY philosopher participation through essay contests, conferences, and other acknowledgement and community-building activities – an FQXi (e.g.; a research institute encouraging speculative innovation in physics and cosmology) for philosophy is needed.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sensor Mania – The SmartWatch Arrives

The wireless Internet of Things is slowly rolling out – smartwatches (Pebble, Basis) have been some prominent arrivals alongside Google Glass.

A variety of two-way communication from each device type has been a quickly realized need that is starting to appear in SDKs and APIs. Pebble in particular is doing a lot to stimulate use and application development through developer community resources, an online codesharing cloud, meetups, and hackathon events.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the smartwatch rollout and actual use in applications (Figure 1) is the notion of a [seamless] interoperable computing system where the smartwatch, cell phone, and PC communicate together and perform different operations at different times like message alerts and data syncing. A future with a distributed on-board (e.g.; on-human) computing environment can be imagined with many different special purpose devices providing key functionality, all communicating with a utility device for power and connectivity.

Figure 1: Pebble Watch Faces / Apps