A Sense of Destiny

Watch the above video first.

For a long time, every time I opened the paper, or switched on the news, I would experience a sense of complete hopelessness – war, corruption, destruction and squandering of the planet’s resources for personal gain, struggling for basic necessities and needs… it was a bleak picture, and I would wonder if there was any point to it – things just seemed to be getting worse all the time.

Then, a few days ago, I was involved in a project which required us to think seriously about the future, in a organized, limited, disciplined way. And that was the tipping point – while the overall totality was too large, too painful to take in, by examining it one small slice at a time, I can see a way out.

‘The internet of things’. Machines, devices, some dumb on-off switches, some superintelligent and superconnected… all talking to each other and to us. A neural network for the planet.

Imagine a future where a car cannot overspeed, a dangerous construction project doesn’t get sanctioned, an illegal construction finds it’s machinery switched off. A missile that doesn’t detonate. Money that cannot be accepted under the table. Everything transparent, everything self-aware, and most important of all, everything that knows what’s going on – and the difference between right and wrong. A benevolent Skynet.

Information overload is what allows today’s inequities to be perpetrated – we created laws to bring order to the chaos of an exploding population. The same laws today are clogged with the sheer volume of the demands placed upon them – there is so much to do, and the entire system will proceed with the speed of it’s slowest link – the reading speed of a judge, the clerk who has to file a physical piece of paper, all the checks and balances that need to be manually activated. It creates a loophole where restraint of unjust action becomes an escape route for unjust action, coming from the other side.

Imagine a world where the slowest link is gone. All the information you might ever need is immediately available, instantly, transparently, and it’s actionable. Minds that never sleep, never die, and that don;t need money, food, drink, or vice, are watching it to make sure it works. And they’ve been programmed to do it right. And they’re all interconnected – so nothing disappears. Nothing goes off the grid. Rules actually become enforceable, instead of suspended until proved. Everything’s already proved.

There may be more wars. There may be a Big Brother state. There may be crime, famine, disasters. But slowly, inevitably, the world is moving in a certain direction, and it’s impossible to stop it. All that we see around us – all the signs that say, “The end is nigh” – these are all symptoms of a greater change, an irresistible, inevitable change.

It’s going to be the greatest Renaissance of all – a new chapter in evolution. A new way to live. A new Life.

All we need to do… is survive it.

The Parrot AR Drone – Technology versus privacy, the war just escalated

I saw a video recently about a totally kickass little gadget.

It’s a quadricopter (4-rotor) drone that carries a camera, and transmits images via wi-fi to your iPhone. Oh, and the same iPhone is the control device as well. The video is streamed live via wifi – and it integrates augmented reality in the vidstream as well.

What this gives you is a remote controlled device that can get out there, roam around, pick up info on what’s happening and give it to you live. All while you sit in the comfort of your home.

Seen Surrogates? This is one step closer. When you have a machine that can get out there and, as long as the battery lasts, move around, broadcast video, pick up object-associated info, live… it’s a step away from being able to interact with the real world (right now it just watches, and watches in far greater detail than reality – that’s what AR is all about, anyway-) the potential is awesome.

As a gadget, it’s instant geekgasm.

But also raises some serious issues about privacy. It’s ultimate surveillance. How comfortable are we when there’s 3-4 of these hovering around when we’re outside – and we know they’ve identified us, called up our tweets, our addresses, our social network profiles, likes and dislikes… and in the right (or wrong) hands, your emails, credit history, criminal record…

Not to mention the sheer privacy-destroying impact of augmented-reality cameras floating around, able to fly, and untraceable to source.

Read the more detailed writeup here –



Wave logo

Got a Google Wave invite at a time when I was pretty much resigned to waiting for commercial release before it happens.

I’m not going to get into the standard dicussions; just read this, this, and this. And continue surfing down some more interesting links you’ll find there. Instead, I’m going to talk about my experience with it so far, pure and simple.

First off – chances are, even if you did get Wave, a lot of the people in your contacts didn’t. In fact, most didn’t. So the most awesome part of Wave – the collaborative part – is pretty much untestable in a real-world situation; I have to do stuff alone, or mock stuff with 1-2 others, and then try to imagine how it’ll be when everyone’s involved.  (Kind of like watching Eyes Wide Shut, heheh 😉

So, I’m going to use analogies.

Scenario 1: Chat. There’s 4 of you in a Google chat, planning a weekend activity. Someone suggests a road trip. The others debate destinations and duration. One takes the initiative and does a little research, shares links to some tourism site and/or photos. You all see them, and the conversation continues.
What would be different in Wave – each link / photo / text could be added to the wave, and comments / debates about each destination could proceed centered around that particular item – a photo, a site link, a text block. Independently and with no confusion. With Gtalk, it’s totally linear; once a line is entered, it will move the conversation inoxerably forward; any attempts to return to an earlier point risks confusing everyone, or needs detailed explanations. Also, once you log off, it’s gone.

Scenario 2: eMail. Look at any mail in your inbox which has multiple replies. In Outlook, for example, it’s a nightmare – 15 people have replied, all the subject lines are the same, different people may have accessed the mail at different times and replied to earlier versions… how do you find one specific comment? In threaded, conversation-style mails like Gmail, it’s easier but still quite difficult; it’s a hub-spoke model, which means that while the guy everyone is replying to, knows what everyone’s saying; but the others don’t know what the rest of the gang has to say. Which means that one guy has to send out updates and final decisions; until then, everyone’s in the dark.

Scenario 3: A shared Google Document. Everyone involved in the exercise is given access, and they can add in their comments, updates, etc. Which means that now, while everyone can see what the others have done, it’s only one person at a time who can make changes. Plus, it’s cumbersome – uploading it, giving permissions… tracking who did what and when…

Scenario 4: A forum. Here, the linearity can be overcome by replying to replies in a thread, but the interface is very clumsy and hard to use. Not to mention lack of flexibility, and it’s real-time only to the point that you sit with a finger on f5, hit it every few seconds, then scroll up-and-down, back-and-forth across the entire thread to see changes.

Scenario 5: A webex+phone conversation. While multiple people may be involved, and conversations can go back to cover earlier points, clarify others, demonstrate actions – it’s still group listening, 1 person talking, and any instance of multiparty participation needs to have set rules and generally leads to frayed tempers. And, it’s expensive.

All the above disadvantages is precisely what Wave gets around. It’s live, real-time. Accessible to all. Easy to use. Simple to search. Non-linear, which puts it in a league ahead of everything else, including a phone conversation. (Face-to-face with visual aids like a whiteboard is pretty close, except that even here you have to take notes and get people into the same room.) Embeddable. Has drag-and-drop-level ease of use.

Then let’s talk about the add-ons which make the above even better.
It’s open-source, which means people can create applications for collaboration the way facebook had users creating apps for socialization. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you thought, when struggling with Outlook / Webex, ‘God, I wish I had something that could just _______ (share / send / take notes / explain / translate / upload / etc)…’ Now, whenever somebody has a similar thought, and any one of them has an idea of how to make it happen… an app will get written and plugged in. The commoner the problem, the higher the chances somebody’s going to solve it. An app to translate into a other language? Already there. An app to lookup a phone number and give the registration details, address, etc? Not too far off, I hope. A mini-Alexa to evaluate sites under discussion? Why not?
It’s embeddable, which means a wave  can be added to other sites – yes, like a live collaborative blog – but also means it’s a remote content-management system for websites. Accessible from anywhere and anytime. By anyone you choose to add into the wave.
It can replace comments and forums. Why be linear? Why be text-only?
Gadgets and Robots – Something you need to keep doing regularly, outside of Wave? Chances are, someone’s created a robot to do just that, automating your manual work  like tweet updates, flickr lookups/uploads,  a dictionary, a route calculator, a countdown timer, a birthday reminder…
Think Wiki. Open-source. Collaborative. Crowdsourced. User-policed. These attributes resulted in the creation of probably the world’s best, most detailed and most exhaustive repository of knowledge… and because it’s live, then over time, also the most error-free. Isn’t that exactly the same attributes in Wave, too?  A single wave can, with the right people involved, become the most exhaustive subject matter in any field. Live. Accessible. Interactive.

That’s it for now – waiting for Wave to get opened up to the public so the rest of my contact list is on. That’s when it’s going to really take off!

Tomorrow happened yesterday and you never noticed

This is a really old video, and I’m sure all of you would have seen it at some point. I thought it’ll be an interesting thing to re-look, and see just how right – and wrong – Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson were.
I suggest watching the video, if you haven’t seen it yet, before reading the rest. It’ll make more sense.

Amazon.com – a store that can make suggestions
True. Most online retailers have some kind of a rating system, consumer-based. eBay and Amazon being the best examples.
Reason magazine sends subscribers a issue of mag with their house on the cover.
Sure. Absolutely possible, and if Google decides to do this, they can put a lot more than just where you live… But it’ll scare the pants off people. Maybe Time’s declaring You the Person of the Year  in 2006 was premature, for their hard copy version; if you’re a digital subscriber, it could actually have been you. With your ugly mug on the cover.

Keyhole Google Earth. Google MapsLatitude. ’nuff said.
Google begins indexing and digitizing the world’s library
Google Books has happened. Yes, there were legal issues. Yes, the courts ruled in favor of Google.
Google Grid – in some form, already there. The network of Google-owned different apps – Picasa, Orkut, Youtube, Google Docs, Gmail, Gtalk, Blogger… not to forget Facebook, who does all this in one site via an open API for user-contributed applications…

Newsbotster sorts news according to what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading.
Sounds familiar, all right… How much of your daily media is consumed via facebook recommends, posted links, items liked, forwards, videos posted, images tagged..?

Googlezon’s bots pick up contextual cues… and serve up related content.
Adwords. Maybe not all content – yet – but advertising content is definitely contextual.
Fact-stripping robots are a violation of copyright law
Yes. This debate also happened with the Gutenberg Project (even though most of Gutenberg’s texts were not subject to copyright law), and Google Books (over a million scanned so far)

Is anyone else seeing the similarity to Google Wave?
Everyone gets paid a tiny cut of Googlezon’s ad revenue
Adsense again. The entire SEM industry is based on this. The Long Tail has become a part of mainstream business lexicon.
Epic – at it’s worst, and for too many, Epic is a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational. 
Think status messages, link shares, forwards, spam, comments and tweets? Don’t you curse the people who flood you with this useless flood of non-information, at least once a day?

There was an updated version called 2015, but it didn’t have the… purity of 2014. Apple, Picasa and podcasting were just bunged in as a perfunctionary mention. I’ll stick with the original.

In the end, it always comes back to organizing the information coming in, choosing who generates it. The same rating system that lets you pick a good seller or a good product, is equally extendable to choosing your media inputs. There are specialist websites, content creators, which are rated more highly than others; Often niche and superspecialized, but organizing those niches is going to be a basic survival trait of the human mind.
The ability to ‘Prioritize’ is already a survival and success trait; those of us who know what we’re looking for, have happier lives. The rest… lost in a swirling maelstorm of fluid, shifting information, prey to anomie and living in terror of change, finding solace in simplifiers – drugs, drink, repetitive rigid behavior… can you see it?
Good content gets the rating it deserves from people who recognize it. These people spread the word. Others who recognize that value consume the info as well. And that is social media at it’s best. Getting good info, on the subjects you want, from known, credited sources.

The darker side of the story –
Some organizations know more and more about us. Virtually everything there is to know about us. The amount of personal, private information we willingly entrust to strangers, is staggering. Our email exchanges, documents, what we look like, preferences, realtime locations, even psychological test results… If someone wanted to, could they misuse this data?
Theoretically, yes. Practically…
In 1999, the total sum of all human-created data from all history was about 12 exabytes.
On the 15th of June, 2009, 494 exabytes of data were being transmitted across the globe.
(1 exabyte = approximately 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.)

A human cannot keep up with this. A machine – not now. But Moore’s Law is likely to hold good for another 600 years; and while Skynet might happen before that, it’s going to have it’s hands more than full just trying to keep afloat on the exaflood.

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Sources: Mostly Wikipedia.

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