Thursday, September 29, 2005

Need more memes!

They are taking over, true, but not fast enough. One can still step out of the memosphere for a few months, maybe almost a year and easily step back in and learn/absorb/adapt/deploy the key memes of the preceding months. What about turning on your machine every morning (better yet, getting a cortical download in a sleeping or waking state ) to find a nice list of the top 10 new memes in the last few hours. How stimulating would that be? Where is the automated meme canvasser tool?

Memes are more likely discovered than created. For a variety of reasons including unprecedented levels of self-actualization, the ongoing transcendence of humans from materialism to idea-ism, and that 95% of the scientists that have ever lived in the world are alive today, there are more memes than ever flying around the memosphere but too few and of varying quality levels.

One of the reasons for the currently slow but evolving speed of meme devolution is the quality of memes and in particular the correlation between the quality of a meme and the time it takes for it to be generated (discovered). Memes seem to come about in several ways: directly, as a synthesis, as a new idea springing from a synthesis or from long scientific or other experimental work. The long tail meme, for example, is the direct result of a synthesis of available information concerning the sales trends of music and other consumer consumables, but is not the result of ongoing scientific work which takes longer to generate. Anything hastening scientific research results will hasten the generation of high quality new memes, particularly in basic physics (e.g.; the end of particle accelerators) for example.

True, more memes probably exist than are bubbling up to the memosphere for propagation beyond their immediate audience due to structural, political and other reasons. So that needs to be resolved.

We can examine what life is like now with the meme flow we currently have. We can try to imagine what it will be like with 100x as many. What will life be like? What tools will we have and devise to capture/absorb/understand/deploy massive new amounts and types of memes? How soon will this moment arrive? Should we hasten it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Information theory negates AI hopes?

Douglas S. Robertson's excellent book, "Phase Change: The Computer Revolution in Science and Mathematics" published in 2003 points out various moments of phase change in six science disciplines. According to Robertson, phase changes occur following the invention of a novel technology for collecting information. The obvious examples are the telescope in astronomy and the microscope in biology. However, greater than any other phase change trigger has been the computer which caused (and continues to cause) phase changes of unprecedented magnitude in all science areas.

Robertson goes on to cite IBM information theorist Gregory Chaitin's claim that compressed information (the shortest form of information) is governed by a conservation law, similar to the conservation of energy in physics. "Just as the quantity of energy is unchanged under physical operations, the quantity of compressed information is unchanged under logical operations...the conservation of compressed information implies that the quantity of information output from any computer program must be less than or equal to the quantity that was input."

If the same or less information comes out, it suggests that intelligence or consciousness cannot be emergent. The artificial intelligence idea that massive information input to a computer, even self-learning algorithms over the Internet, will evenutally result in intelligence as an output may be wrong. Intelligence would seem to be an emergent property which would exist on top of the underlying data inputs, as more than the sum of the parts.

Emergent intelligence might work with Chaitin's conservation law if quantity stays the same but quality increases. But is intelligence more information (quantity) or better information (quality) or information at all? The key take away is probably that intelligence cannot be an emergent property of computing and that other approaches to artificial intelligence may be more promising.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Informal learning models supersede institutional learning

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." – Albert Einstein

"The new age of education is programmed for discovery rather than instruction." – Marshall McLuhan

Traditional education is increasingly obsolete for four reasons: speed, content, format and information availability.

1. Learning institutions cannot redesign themselves, their processes, their topic areas and curriculum content fast enough to keep up with the imperatives of the changing world. Ideas, technology and concepts are evolving too quickly. An example of this shift is traditional journalism school being perceived irrelevant as writers garner audience influence by blogging.

2. The vast majority of material at traditional learning institutions is past-focused not future-oriented. Of course there is value in learning the trends of history and the contexts in which events happen but there should be much more effort devoted to tools and abstractions for acting in the future.

3. The most interesting and important current topics are not taught in university courses but are only available via self-learning. As discussed in previous posts, the creative class engages in a massive amount of continuous self-learning and has a shared body of knowledge. This is a tremendous potential resource is already facilitating human collaborative endeavor. Some of the most interesting learning comes from evolutionary biology and other science areas, modern economics, emerging social structures and science fiction. Also, it is not clear that books and lectures are the best delivery mechanism; with today'’s faster speed of thought, books and lectures should be supplemented with blogs and interactive tools such as simulations, etc.

4. The explosion of free information on the Internet offers a great alternative to institutional learning and promotes exploring highly individualized interests. Society changed dramatically after the last explosion of information availability, the advent of the printing press. Information wanted to be free (e.g.; available) in that day, now it still wants to be free (e.g.; costless). Maybe the full live education experience cannot be replicated with the current Internet experience, but probably lab and other hands-on experiences can be simulated. All of a sudden, a lot of people will start having significant knowledge without university degrees. Peer review and reputation networks are a helpful proxy, but real world degree equivalents will need to be conferred and some means of testing and validating self-learning is needed.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Meme propagation accelerating

The speed of meme transmission has been accelerating, from years (5-10 years ago) to months (1-3 years ago) to weeks and even days. Dawkins was right.

Meme propagation has been speeding up for a variety of reasons, most prominently due to blogs and the rise of the creative class.

There are over 30 million blogs estimated to be in the Anglosphere (e.g,; blogs written in English), only 2% of them are read by more than 250 people but the ones that are read are read immediately, by thought and action influencers and statured blog authors are taken much more seriously than traditional media. Ideas are transmitted at the speed of thought to hundreds and soon to be millions of eager readers.

Second, as a prior post "Involuntary Third Culture GroupThink?" discusses, the ever-growing creative class community anticipates and is on the lookout to immediately assess, reshape and apply worthwhile memes in their daily lives.

Some examples of accelerating propagation in the memosphere are first of all the word meme itself. Originated by Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene published in 1976 and further explicated by Susan Blakemore in the Meme Machine published in 1999, the term only circled uber-geek circles for years until it went techy mainstream in 2005. It is still not in the non-techy mainstream. By contrast, Chris Anderson's long tail meme appeared in October 2004, and went techy mainstream in 2005. Even faster has been the world-is-flat meme, surfacing in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, published in 2005 and less than half a year later, is fully entrenched in the techy mainstream.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blogging poised to go mainstream

Despite the already large number of bloggers in the world (60 million by a May 2005 estimate from the Blog Herald, the phenomenon is still largely in the novelty and techy realm but poised to accelerate into mainstream.

Though one of the points of blogging is to defy labeling, there are several general categories into which the blogosphere can be currently divided: personal narratives, alternative journalism, technology blogs, political blogs, business blogs and futurist blogs to name a few.

Blogging is a fascinating and popular modern medium for many reasons, including its ease of use, and that it is fun, free and immediate. Some of the current key themes of blogging are: the democratizing power of blogs, the return of writing, thinking and originality of perspective, community building, the trend towards activity not passivity, and the decline of traditional print media.

1. Blogging is an incredible democratizing tool: each person can air his or her individual viewpoint and personal story, the equivalent of an OpEd column for everyone.

2. Blogging is a venue for human creation and actualization, formulating and communicating original thoughts; who would have thought that thinking and writing would have come back into fashion in SlackerWorld, but indeed having a blog is an imperative for the technosavvy and is increasingly appearing on resumes. In a world of brown, blogging places a wonderful premium on originality and innovation.

3. Blogging is a way to open yourself up to meet and dialogue with an entire worldwide community of others with shared interests. Community, collaboration and interaction are an important benefit of blogging.

4. Blogging is exemplar of the trend towards action and away from reaction. Video game consumption has surpassed movie and television consumption, people are flocking to online worlds (especially with user-created content such as Second Life) and simulation learning is growing. Activity is more stimulating that passivity and anything that triggers activity in a fun way, like blogging, will be dramatically successful.

5. Blogging is such an important new medium that traditional print media is declining. Circulations are down and layoffs are in mid-stream (for example, the NY Times announced the layoffs of 500 on 9/19/05). Traditional media (with the possible exception of Fox News) realizes their role is no longer to tell their constituencies what to think (e.g.; Top Down method), but rather that they need to understand and incorporate the diverse actual viewpoints of their constituencies (e.g.; Bottom Up method). Some argue that traditional print media is becoming irrelevant but it does still have value, its sequestered as one category of information, blogging is another and there are or will be others too. Traditional print media will be evolving to a different role but will still have a use.

If you aren't already, how soon are you going to blog?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Evolving Gender Roles

Women are notoriously absent from nearly all aspects of public life: politics, business, technology and the press but blogs may provide a flexible creative don't-have-to-be-an-expert structure that could be a powerful medium for female expression and provide innovative new viewpoints.

At the Accelerating Change technology conference, I encountered many men who had written or were about to write books, and no women, even when they often had better and at minimum different memes, that were interested in writing a book, whereas they do blog. And women's sparse quality presence on IT Conversations is also remarkably noticeable and a dichotomy with all of the different insights women have and new ways they are involved in using and experiencing technology.

Evolving gender roles for both sexes allows greater ideation. As city densities continue to increase and women must work as an economic imperative and increasingly by realizing the intellectual benefits of working on non-family related projects or jobs, their voices will shape whatever medium they are in. Men are experiencing evolving gender roles as the creative class norm is away from early or in many cases any family development which leaves both men and women with much more time and acceptability to ideate and create.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Involuntary Third Culture GroupThink?'s third culture or Richard Florida's creative class, as technophiles might think of themselves, may be doing itself a disservice. It is de rigueur for everyone to read the same books, blogs and mags. Really, who has not read Blink, The World is Flat and Freakonomics in the last few months? And as the content is read, so are the memes spread.

Is there paralysis mired in GroupThink? How critically does the creative class think about new memes? Or are they just accepted because of the TechnoCelebrity status of the messenger? To the creative class' credit, they have a red hot sort for true innovation and these memes rise to the surface. But few are willing to call out mediocrity (e.g.; Friedman's under-edited vague analysis and conclusions from anecdotal evidence.)

The third culture is palpable and significant. Core knowledge can be assumed when speaking to the third culture the way topic knowledge can be assumed when speaking to a university major in a field.

Perhaps never before has there been such a large and growing group of people with such an extensive and shared meme-base. The shared meme-base may have some exciting emergent properties; one is that new memes can be absorbed, critiqued and assimilated with increasing, and dare I say accelerating speed. Information dissemination, absorption and action will all be quickened especially when coupled with machine tools, e.g.; instant wireless voting on policy issues.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Scale shift needed to understand physics

Even a cursory consideration of any sort of astronomical phenomenon immediately makes it clear that the scale of human life and the cosmos are completely different. The astronomical scale is dramatically more expansive, huge, some examples and comparisons are that winds from planetary nebulae can be 2,000-4,000 km/second vs. a bullet which travels at 1 km/second. The sun is many times larger than the earth but it is far more common to have suns that are significantly larger than our sun.

Not just the size or scale but the dramatic dynamism, for example, red dwarfs can lose weight at the rate of 600 trillion tons/second, suggests at phenomenon of which we have no understanding. The power and dynamism is extraordinary.

The astronomical scale is dramatically larger and probably exponential. (Is it just the large range of a scale that makes it logarithmic/exponential?)

The vastness of the astronomical scale suggests that the human scale, human experience and probably human thinking are too small and limited. How can we possibly discover the next laws of physics when we are thinking linearly and not exponentially?

Thinking must be at a larger scale and probably logarithmic or exponential. How can we adapt our thinking in this way? A. Naturally/forced thinking B. Via computer as external thinking enhancement, modeling/simulation tool C. Gene mod