Towards Sierras ©Gary Hayes 2005Apologise to my many tens of readers for being a little lapse in posting over the last weeks, a few diversions that have put me in a big picture, future mode, hence this post. Bear with me on this one – most of my small posts on big picture ramble a little. I was drawn to an article here in Oz by a respected futurist and fellow tech muso called Ray Kurzweil. He has been responsible for some of the first musical synthesizers, text-to-speech engines and many books including his about to be released latest “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” describing the ‘matrix’ moment – when humans can be fully digitally represented outside their biological limitations (kind of a been-done-before book – but there are some very useful extrapolations). If your still with me you are thinking what has this got to do with personalize media? Let me continue.

The article Human 2.0 that caught my eye in is a reasonable scientific prophesy of our technological/biological future, and in reading it I was compelled (as one is) to look at the media applications, or rather implications. There are lots of nods to the oft-quoted Moore’s Law and various traditional futurist predictions but here is the opening:

We can reliably predict that in the not too distant future we will reach what is known as “The Singularity”.
This is a time when the pace of technological change will be so rapid and its impact so deep that human life will be irreversibly transformed. We will be able to reprogram our biology, and ultimately transcend it. The result will be an intimate merger between ourselves and the technology we create.

This is where those industry folk zone out and go and ‘build something’ as for us mere media mortals hacking away with simple flash applications, interactive TV services or chatbots this is of course completely irrelevant, or is it? Can we compare the rather crude interactive services we are doing at the moment to early cave paintings, aboriginal rock sketches or the first utterances of language? I believe what we are doing and what is happening now is far from some random scribbles, the gun has already been fired and the march/race forward has already begun. We can already see around us some very strong pointers to our ‘most likely digital future’ – a distant manifestation but part of a forward continuum and direction, and we are accelerating, the article continues:

Between 2000 and 2014 we’ll make 20 years of progress at 2000 rates, equivalent to the entire 20th century. And then we’ll do the same again in only seven years. To express this another way, we won’t experience 100 years of technological advance in the 21st century; we will witness in the order of 20,000 years of progress when measured by the rate of progress in 2000, or about 1000 times that in the 20th century.

Those plugged into major trends (I am getting there bit-by-bit) can see society is already moving its activity away from passive consumption of pre-prepared media and taking part in a connected conversation, sharing and participating – moving from the physical and into virtual. Social computing and social networking are the new drivers of change. Forester have stated already that over 11% of the online audience are regular readers of blogs, not a massive number but it is the exponential increase which is of interest. It is growing faster than any other form of media exchange, audiences want personal ‘contact’ with other humans, the planet is reconnecting itself – remapping its metaphorical neural pathways. We can see it in the ‘dynamic conversation trickle’, RSS feed users worldwide is now running at 275 million , a very rapid transition. It is the new, as more and more people are placing part of their ‘minds’, opinions and ideas at least in the near term, out there for the rest of the world to see and talk about. Traditional media in this current Neolithic world does not play a significant part beyond being the occasional campfire moment – a good story, gather round and listen, but it will be peripheral rather than core activity (unless one believes Human 1.0 is intrinsically lazy – will leave that for another day!). Those who tell stories had better be part of the overall conversation or you will tell stories that no one will find relevant anymore (note: to advertisers, broadcasters, filmmakers – you are of course taking note?). Extrapolating this increase in the migration of personal story and opinion from the spoken and physical to the digital, combined with the increase in broadband and we start to see flashes of the future, through the ‘venetian blinds’ of our current cave dwelling (OK it is a pretty ‘swish’ cave). But where from here, the article then looks at processing power:

By 2020, $1000 will purchase 1016 calculations per second (cps) of computing (compared with about 109 cps today), which is the level I estimate is required to functionally simulate the human brain. The ultimate 1-kilogram computer – about the weight of a laptop today – which I envision late in this century, could provide 1042 cps, about 10 quadrillion (1016) times more powerful than all human brains put together today.

This is the core element of the article that drew me to the obvious personalization continuum…[(tangent: I was less interested in the nano-technological or biotech aspects of the book/article (that road is oft travelled – how our bodies will have implants, micro life savers etc:) how we will bring tech into the physical world etc:.] …and what is all this computing power going to be used for? What are the motivations in building super-fast computers (or life devices). I suspect most people on the planet using their current computers to do email, im, blog publishing and word docs are wondering why they need more than 4Ghz? This will be the case for many years I suspect, consumer demand for speed will be less and it will be media distributors and content creators who will have to create that demand. So what are ‘we’ going to create?

The most profound transformation will be “R” for the robotics revolution, which really refers to “strong” AI, or artificial intelligence at the human level. Hundreds of applications of “narrow AI” – machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence for specific tasks – already permeate our infrastructure. Every time you send an email or make a mobile phone call, intelligent algorithms route the information. (snip..)
With regard to strong AI, we’ll have both the hardware and software to recreate human intelligence by the end of the 2020s. We’ll be able to improve these methods and harness the speed, memory and knowledge-sharing ability of machines.
To re-create the capabilities of the human brain, we need to meet both the hardware and software requirements. Achieving the hardware requirement was controversial five years ago but is now largely a mainstream view among informed observers.

Here we are, this is it. We have started the engine, revving it up slightly, looking at the road map, and about to move into first gear. We are on the road to ubiquitous AI, permeating all aspects of our lives. Without going into all those aspects (which would mean this post turns into a book) the one that is relevant to my particular blog here of course is media consumption. The search, locate and retrieval of those bits of personal and shared story that you want. Admittedly today’s ‘agent’ technology is still crude. If you have read my recent posts on personal TV profiling for example we really are doing simple line drawings in the sand – using a few tens of levels of criteria to map the complexities of our tastes and moods – not good. The evolution forward, in relation to my previous tagline to this blog “the digital you, represented in the digital universe’ splits into two simple areas – when we map the above AI vision onto agent based personalization. The agents are either 1) your ‘full’ representation searching through the universe of content or 2) other ‘fulls’ bringing and recommending things to you. That is it. Simple. Sounds like life and in fact it is. Those ‘fulls’ (I know dreadful term – it is early and I have to rush to work), full human digital representations can manifest and interface with you in many ways of course – avatars, through touch, speech, immersive reality, sms, photo realistic, via big or small screens whatever cross-media is relevant or takes your fancy. The important thing is the ‘fulls’ are as real as another person in these digital environments. What Amazon and others are doing with collaborative filtering is like life. You listen to others, their stories what they recommend. The digitisation of humans, Human 2.0 will indeed mean what we are now, will be what we become then. Migration rather than transformation – I would not even suggest it is a paradigm shift. A final snippet:

One benefit of a full understanding of the human brain will be a deep understanding of ourselves…

Hold it a second though, here comes the obligatory cautionary note, this is the wrong way round, surely. Looking at the brain to understand ourselves? Perhaps, perhaps not. We are building a relationship here, creating a partnership between two entities, the biological and the digital. As in any new relationship between two human 1.0’s we really need to understand ourselves first before we engage, to do otherwise is to corrupt the other and leads to a partnership that fails. Looking at the synapses and neurons is part way there. Looking at our brain chemical addictions is part way there. To not know who we are, what motivates us or why we do what we do before we start digitising ourselves, will lead to disaster – there is more happening than meets the eye. Luckily we have, according to Ray, at least 15 years to sort that out. To get from here to there – step one off to get some self-development books 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005