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    Por genjix






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    Hello James Burke,


    Halfway through all of your material and really enjoying the great series. The best thing is how I had these random collection of ideas and how you've gone over, expanded them and put them in a narrative. Excellent work! Your programmes really make me think a lot and wonder about how science affects us. It'd be nice to hear your thoughts on my ideas.


    As a former programmer we were taught to decompose problems into smaller objects. One object; one problem. This discrete mode of thinking pops up everywhere in the computing world like the Unix philosophy of write programs that do one thing and do it well. It's a way of solving problems by making small objects with plain interfaces (well documented clear names in code, plain text in Unix) that you chain together on a higher level.


    You could say each object is like a small component in complex machinery. Each of these components has computation limit. In communications you could say it's a channel capacity.


    Society could be like the design of a computer program. Each person has a limited channel capacity that can only dedicate themselves to solving small problems. Then the results are communicated using a simple interface (jargon, language and visualisations) to another person. We abstract upwards where near the top, people are manipulating mathematics far removed from reality.


    Already the potential for a global consiousness is emerging. At the moment the interface between the neurons in this machinery are clumsy and slow using noisy analog sound signals which experience data loss. But things always get better. Language improves (or hive minds are developed!). Here memetic evolution takes on it's own form in the medium of human thought.


    I've spent hours of time trying to imagine alien civilisations and am studying astrophysics just for finding life. I played with the Shannon equations and playing mind games. Maybe they could live in a highly structured society where roles are uniquely divided and dedicatedly followed. No deviation from your societal role. Or they could have a noisy chaotic society where effort is duplicated constantly but there is a creative mastery of exploiting this aether of ideas.


    Using the society as a network/brain and people as computer nodes/neurons analogy I'd imagine the first society where each person is highly intelligent, efficient.

    They don't communicate too much as it only serves to degenerate the environment with noise. This noise takes resources to relay and filter out- valuable computation resources. And since they are dedicated solver to only one particular task they have no need to mass communicate when their assigned problem is unique. Likewise no one else cares. Call this society "The Specialists".


    Our other society of "The Generalists" could be anarchaic with a flat egalitarian society. Our aether is now filled with a constant chatter filled with random noise. Our individuals contribute a small resource to solving problems but the majority of their brains are used for filtering information, cherry picking data and joining idea- for which they are very skilled! Ideas spread fast as one person (a node in this vast network) has many many connections, some far away in unrelated fields.


    Analysing these two structures using a program I wrote, I represented the two societies each as a different graph:







    Each node is a person. By picking random nodes and counting the steps we can see how a message from a node (a person) to another node (another person) works. The first graph has a slow predictable route, but you always know how long it will take to get from start to finish. Our other graph has fast routes spanning the map, and it's trivial to journey from one side to another. But locating yourself in one small area becomes a frustrating exercise where you'll zig zag around and never able to guess your end point.


    There's a game for modelling animal populations. Hawk-Dove. The Hawk has a risky strategy but with big rewards, while the dove has low risk strategy always avoiding danger and playing the safe route. Make a computer model with a population of these strategies and without exception the population will lurch swinging from mostly hawks to mostly doves, gradually settling down. You could say it's like hunters and prey. If the hunters eat all the prey then won't be able to survive. On the other hand if there's too much prey then there's a lot of food for the hunters and their progeny. 


    In this way population always balances itself out to an optimal state. For many people (although travel is reshaping this) they have connections at some stage between near and ordered (whether we say physically, or in interests, fields, ...), and far and unordered (odd contacts, people with diverse interests).





    It's more accurate to represent our links to others as neither extremes. This is the most efficient graph. You can move with speed to different corners, and you can also locate nodes locally with an element of predictability and pattern. It's possible to figure things out in this new structure but not every prediction will be correct.





    This picture amazes me. There's similarities and patterns everywhere. From the enormous to the microscopic world. We ourselves are like structures in the network of a brain, each softly humming with the throw of thoughts across paths spanning people and then lighting up with a blinding flash of activity at a new meme. These memes travelling through the medium of humanity becoming a lifeform in themselves adapting not through millions of years but in minutes.


    Hard to imagine that without speech we're little better than ravens or dolphins. Isolated neurons firing into a cloister of emptiness.


    We're in the beginning of a new dawn, a second renaissance. Partly fuelled by the communications boom with the internet being an important rung on that ladder. Never before has a tool for immediate access to information existed. Every idea is accessible and ideas are cheap- everyone has thousands of ideas. This noisy cauldron offers the potential for great change because as you say, change comes from new ideas. And as you also say, no one makes a new idea! The triggers for change are all offered in the marketplace of the internet.


    Building from your conclusions I'd say we're more chaotic than an ordered species. And that our new developments come from reapplying knowledge taken from other fields. Creative talent. The talent of taking ideas from diverse fields and clashing them together in outfits for bad fashion day. You need access to those ideas and knowledge of those ideas. A person with wide knowledge of diverse topics is a generalist.


    A new 21st century job is the knowledge worker. A person takes refuse from the sea of noise, moves it through their box where they apply their creativity, education, talent, and output something useful and valuable. A new class of creative generalists working as developed economies move toward being service based.


    useless info $\rightarrow$ add value $\rightarrow$ valuable content


    We have all this noise and data flowing around us and people are adapting to this filtering huge amounts of informations on the scale we've never seen before! Searching for stimulus to feed them. As a child I'd read lots of books, often repeatedly. Recently I decided to actually read a book after all these years. The meandering and building up in text just bored me. I couldn't concentrate. Being conscious of myself reading Wikipedia, I realised how adapted I was to working with a huge amount of text; I'd skip several times up and down inside paragraphs, read the next sentence while still thinking about the first, jump around the text. My handling of information was just better.


    It's not just my own case study. I've been reading primitive studies where their conclusions are that we're losing concentration and thinking ability- which is totally wrong and misplaced. We abstract ideas upwards. As our world becomes complex we use abstractions to handle that information; little thought containers. We have limited processing ability so we work with higher level objects. Our brains are getting BETTER not worse.


    Older people consistently from my experience in computing just tend to memorise sequence of commands in using a computer. They have less understanding how a button which performs a task fits into a window lying on your desktop. These are all hard abstract concepts. Like a blind man from birth suddenly able to see will not make sense of this strange world filled with blurs. His model of the world is built from feel and his brain wired up that way. It will be resistant to change given that he already has a model that works and this new model doesn't! World IQ is climbing. Research wrongly claims we are less deep thinkers when we can draw on more sources and tie them in more abstract ways.


    We have this amazing creative resource, a potential for thousands of triggers of change. And ghosts from the past inhibit it. Copyright law tries to make an artificial culture of scarcity for an item that is abundant. Net neutrality, DRM, software patents, censorship, tiered internet, trusted computing, ... All threats to a free and open internet. It's tempting to attempt control of one small part (please think of the children!) but not worth the risk. Inhibiting any kind of communication is inhibiting progress as new ideas can come from almost anywhere. Better to find a way to work with the new thing, a new mode of thinking rather than trying to smash your fist trying to control it. Micropayments for fractional exchanges of a dollar might be a start. Security needn't be paramount for frivilous amounts. It's inevitable, but large portions of mainstream media are going to be laid to waste starting with newspapers.


    And good riddance. Humorous quote from director Roland Emmerich on his new Foundation film: "It has to be done all CG because I would not know how to shoot this thing in real". A story written by Isaac Asimov with people talking- not a action scene. Formulaic films are a boring chore. Hollywood pumping out derivative design by committee stories. This is the quality content that worries providers who say decentralisation and mob collaboration will ruin. Art has existed for centuries and will adapt it's ownership model to whatever social structure is in place. Inhibiting technology is not the solution.


    There's a dreary inching of the internet towards centralisation and censorship. Technology is promoted based not on it's technical merits but social acceptability. Any offer of convenience, no matter how slight is taken over a superior product. Technology usage becomes inert. Examples of this are everywhere. Apple's vendor lock-in by non-inter-operable products. Facebook by centralising all communications into a single location. ISPs discriminating against bittoreent traffic. This is very unhealthy for the internet.


    Tim Berners Lee commented that he imagined the early web as a sharing resource with people editing each others pages and creating the web collaboratively. Instead today the web works more along the lines of websites offering you content to consume (like the old model) except that it's easy to setup your own offering. Not quite easy to change a website yet (outside Wikipedia and others). The web's been tugged in this direction by the nature of people who want to protect and secure their work. An old mindset in a new world.


    A healthy internet would be a flat unstructured web. Let people decide how to organise it. Build better tools for managing and filtering the data stream. Embrace openness.


    A beacon of light stands in the darkness resisting the human urge of hoarding data and hanging resistant to subversive efforts of corporations for control of a people's web. That hope is Free Software (also known by Open Source). Free means the same free as in freedom (libre) not free as in free of charge (gratis). It's a global movement of people's that emerged in the 80's when software usually widely shared, started to become privatised as corporations moved into the growing computer sector and started taking charge.


    People worldwide work on their own hours contributing work to a community developing technologies that are open. Not everyone is programmers, but programmers are an important part. It was disappointing reading an interview where you waxed quickly over the what is probably the most important change of our century. The repercussions might not impact us in 100 years, but beyond that I think the effects will be huge. It started with single individuals and has grown into something enormous worth billions and a foundation of the internet, used by companies worldwide.


    \href{http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux\_adoption}{http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux\_adoption} stands as a testament to free software. Wikipedia itself is a free software project with the pages under an open license.


    Why it's potential for impact is massive goes not to the software itself, but the idea that mobs can produce quality work. That people are willing to sacrifice valuable man hours to make a beautiful thing. Personal motivations vary but with food and comfortable living, people move up in the maslow hierarchy of needs. Provide the resources people need to be comfortable and people before that needed to work hard for food now look for personal fulfillment. Maybe that comes from contributing to a community. Or maybe it comes from doing good. Perhaps from creative interesting endeavors. Everyone is different but you allow everyone resources to live and positive things will just naturally arise.


    The mob has advantages over a dedicated worker. Swarming problems will quickly run through many solutions. Mobs swarming problems makes them shallow.


    A funny aside is the anecdotes of companies who viewing the free software collaborative method as magic fairy dust would open up their source code in an attempt to revive their business from the free work of volunteers. Everytime when you approach the community in this way, it fails. You need to right mentality to approach. If you want people to contribute then everything has to be cleanly subdivided, working independantly. Boundaries need to be lowered by documentation and further splitting into components. You need to decompose the feast into easy snacks.


    Trolltech a formerly closed source company that opened up has a conventional hierarchy of company developers. A conversation I had with employees they remarked that community contributions to the project are close to nothing. Another project that I worked near to called Blender3D also went the same route, and yet they are nearly completely community developed. The difference is the mentality and approach. Nearly everything in Blender3D is public and accessible. Decisions are done in the community, not outside and then dictated to the army of developers. This pattern is also visible in one of the biggest free software companies- Canonical, developers of Ubuntu the most used Linux operating system. Everything is centered around the community. You can join any of their meetings online or at a conference and make suggestions, participating in the development. The best contributions get chosen from a pool of varieties, not assigned to a worker.


      "Windows users are more or less in a customer-supplier relationship: They pay for software, for warranties, for support, and so on. They expect software to have a certain level of usability. They are therefore used to having rights with their software: They have paid for technical support and have every right to demand that they receive it. They are also used to dealing with entities rather than people: Their contracts are with a company, not with a person."


    The quote is the simultaneous strength and weakness of free software. It's empowering but off putting for the user.


    Free software selects contributions based on merit. And unlike the hard work of a cook who persistently is negatively affected by consumers of their food, a content producer (artist, coder, writer, ...) isn't worried by people that consume their content and contribute nothing back. That consumption promotes their work in itself when the user seeks help from friends or mentions it in passing.


    If the tools of science became cheap, then we might see a prevelance of citizen science. Biopunk is a vibrant collective working with genetics. Astronomy projects to leverage the wisdom of the crowds in cataloging the sky are becoming more popular, especially distributed computing and crown sourcing. SETIquest is a recent project to have done this but they failed in everyway to entice community support, making all the mistakes I mentioned above. They were extremely defensive against suggestions for improvement- people are people and it's easy to fall in love with your labour, view it as perfect and fail to see it's flaws. Coders get this too, but knowledge of human fallibility is the best preventation. Artists have the best mentality here as they actively encourage and ask for "constructive criticism"!


    Your comments on schooling being a rote memorisation exercise and that actively encouraging creativity (at the expense of teachers) were very good. Assigning numbers and grading people is part of the cold war vision of measuring people through numbers based on games theory. Needing to assign scores to people as agents in a simulation. Except they assumed that humans are rational, our decisions the best given curreny knowledge. Luckily people engage in all manner of mathematically irrational behaviours like voting or behaving altruistic. Not everyone betrays their partner in the prisoners dilemma as they should mathematically .


    Have you heard of the Semantic Web? It really sounds like the vision you're describing for the k-web but in a technologically more mature way. My computer is running a desktop called plasma-KDE which offers semantic technology using a service called NEPOMUK- the social semantic desktop.


      > Semantic Web

      > Semantic Desktop

      > NEPOMUK

      > Plasma KDE


    I've name dropped here so you can further research. By adding information about all the data around us, it can be categorised, linked, sorted and sifted through efficiently. Right now I can add tags to my music and rate them. After I can quickly find that music using the tags adding it the playlist. Higher rated music gets played more often.


    One flaw that many talented people are working to resolve is that tagging, rating and describing files using this metadata (data that describes data) is very cumbersome. Tools and systems need to be made conducive to automated description of this data without human intervention. Artificial intelligence is still not mature but thats one aspect of streamlining the entire system. Much more can be done.


    Once data has labels on it, then it becomes possible to efficiently organise, fetch and manipulate it in scales never imagined. Working with all this information becomes trivial and human oriented rather than people having to hunt it down.


    thebrain is a nice tool. But possibly it would work better using semantic technologies. There's a way of modelling systems called Model-View-Controller. A model to describe the system internally, a view to show the data to the user and a controller for manipulating the data. thebrain's aim looks to me like the view part of this equation- showing the data in a user acceptable form.


    If that's the goal then it needs to interface with other protocols and formats so you can draw on diverse sources of information that already exist. The only true universal format is plain text. It's the reason why Xml (a plain text format) is a very popular exchange format. It's human readable at the expense of the machine. Easy to swap between different technologies. The formats and protocols that stood the test of time are all easy and simple to implement.


    With the products of free software, there's all this free technology around us. It just takes a creative approach to mixing and matching existing technology rather than reinventing the wheel to work magic. It's all out there!


    Is thebrain under k-web? Are they volunteer based projects? If they are then it's very inaccessible as it stands. Signing up and jumping through hoops to test out thebrain. People have a short attention span before wandering off. And volunteers start out in the periphery before stumbling back again and with investment in the project (posting on forums or checking updates) gradually get drawn into closer and closer orbits where they contribute small things at first and expand to become valuable contributers.


    Here's a couple of random ideas that I have floating around:


    A chat window on my browser for each webpage. People reading a news article can all discuss among themselves. A useful way for realtime feedback of ideas I'm currently concerned about. Many news articles and blog sites have a section for people to post comments. But it lacks the realtime element of exchange and is often too much effort just to sign up. If I want to just leave a random question then I won't jump through hoops to sign up and then make sure to check back in a few days time.


    My other idea is based around the idea that decentralised flat internet is a healthy internet. At the moment we store files on a webserver where people go to that webserver and request them. To share a file (video, music, ...) you upload it to the webserver and your friend fetches it from there.





    I propose removing the webserver from the structure of the internet entirely. Instead we could have a web of people, called a mesh network. Mesh networks are a type of network where instead of connecting to a node which is part of a privileged structure (in a tree shape), you just connect to everyone immediately around you and pass data around. Much the same as conventional communication.





    In this mesh network our user requests a webpage and the neighbours communicate with their neighbours until the page is downloaded and passed onto them. Now the webpage exists on that users computer, not elsewhere. Our user makes a small improvement to the webpage adding their own additions. A third user downloads this modified webpage and has the choice whether to keep it, modify and repropogate or just fetch the original.


    No one would have control of the data in this setup. Right now if a site is useful then the webserver that hosts the webpage will get many requests from people downloading that webpage. Popular sites are punished as many requests cost money. Under the distributed web over mesh network idea, more popular content (web pages, music, video, ...) will be more prevelant in the network. Requesting that popular file means a trip closer in the neighbourhood than a distant trip over many nodes. Users are all equally empowered with true control over the data on the network.


    Loved your series. Great ideas. Obviously you really think a lot about science and technology in our lives. My small half a page of notes have expanded into an essay as I added explanations- so I hope it's obvious.


    Is there books or videos that you recommend? Anything interesting- even on writing. I'm a knowledge-junkie always looking for inspiring sources to amaze me. Inspired by your documentaries and Cosmos by Carl Sagan I've been writing a little one-man documentary short. Any tips or reading you can point me to? There's a user on youtube called JamesBurkeWeb that shows your documentaries with insightful user comments on your videos that you'll enjoy.


    Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed my random ideas. If you want to reply (please do) then you can email me xxxxxx.com or by post to: