Towards a Global Brain: Man-machine symbiosis, cooperation, and the future of societyFriday, July 20, 12
“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” -Edwin SchlossbergFriday, July 20, 12 Often, the shape of the emerging world is right in front of our faces, but we can’t see it because we aren’t framing it in the right way.
The extraordinary convergence of computing and human potentialFriday, July 20, 12 What I want to give you now is some context for thinking about the extraordinary convergence of computing and human potential
Towards a global brainFriday, July 20, 12That is leading us towards what we might truly call a global brain.
The Google Autonomous VehicleFriday, July 20, 12I’m going to start in what might be an unexpected place, with the Google autonomous vehicle. This car is thought-provoking ona number of levels.
2005: Seven Miles in Seven HoursFriday, July 20, 12You see, back in 2005, when a car named Stanley won the DARPA Grand Challenge, it went seven miles in seven hours.
2011: Hundreds of thousands of miles in ordinary trafficFriday, July 20, 12Yet only six years later, Google announced a robotic car that has driven over a hundred thousand miles in ordinary traffic.
Artificial Intelligence? “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” -John McCarthy, 1956Friday, July 20, 12Was this a triumph of artiﬁcial intelligence, like IBM’s Watson beating human Jeopardy champions?
“We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.” - Peter Norvig, Chief Scientist, GoogleFriday, July 20, 12It was surely that. But there’s another important factor that is easy to overlook. Google’s chief scientist, Peter Norvig, says thatthe algorithms aren’t any better. Google just has more data. What kind of data?
AI plus the recorded memory of augmented humansFriday, July 20, 12It turns out that the autonomous vehicle is made possible by Google Streetview. Google had human drivers drive all those streetsin cars that were taking pictures, and making very precise measurements of distances to everything. The autonomous vehicle isactually remembering the route that was driven by human drivers at some previous time. That “memory”, as recorded by thecar’s electronic sensors, is stored in the cloud, and helps guide the car. As Peter pointed out to me, “picking a traffic light out ofthe ﬁeld of view of a video camera is a hard AI problem. Figuring out if it’s red or green when you already know it’s there istrivial.”
Man-Computer Symbiosis “The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.” – Licklider, J.C.R., "Man-Computer Symbiosis", IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, vol. HFE-1, 4-11, Mar 1960. EprintFriday, July 20, 12The Google Autonomous Vehicle is thus an example of what JCR Licklider, the legendary DARPA program manager who fundedthe original development of TCP/IP was writing about in his 1960 paper entitled Man-Computer Symbiosis. He wrote:
Harnessing Collective IntelligenceFriday, July 20, 12So, in a surprising way, the Google Autonomous Vehicle is another unexpected example of the trend that I’ve referred to asHarnessing Collective Intelligence. It’s another miracle of computer-mediated human cooperation!. This is a thread that runsthrough all the great inventions of the web, from Google itself, Wikipedia, social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are alltechnologies for harvesting and coordinating the products of thousands or even millions of minds, increasingly in close to real-time.
A few key assertions § We are building a network-mediated global mind § It is not the “skynet” of the Terminator movies § It is us, augmentedFriday, July 20, 12The google vehicle is only the latest of a long series of developments that show how we are augmenting ourselves andconnecting ourselves into something bigger. We are building a network-mediated global mind. It is not the “skynet” of theTerminator movies. It is us, augmentedThis picture is a routing map of the internet. It’s striking how much it looks like a map of the synapses in a human brain. It’snowhere near as dense yet, but the imagery is suggestive. But there’s a lot more here than just imagery. The global brain is ahuman-computer symbiosis.
“global consciousness is that thing responsible for deciding that pots containing decaffeinated coffee should be orange” – Danny Hillis (via Jeff Bezos) – http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2005/03/16/etech_3.htmlFriday, July 20, 12Let me come at this idea from another angle.At our Emerging Technology Conference in 2005, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recounted a conversation he’d had with computerscientist Danny Hillis, in which Danny said [quote above]. Now this is nothing new. Speech, the written word, printed books andnewspapers, the telephone, radio and television are all technologies for passing knowledge from mind to mind.
Friday, July 20, 12But what’s different now is the way that electronic media speeds up that process. Using twitter, we can instantly learn abouttrending topics around the world, and share in the responses of others.
We are all Khaled SaidFriday, July 20, 12This new real time mind-sharing capability can be used to organize large numbers of people for political purposes, as we saw inthe recent uprisings in the Middle East.
Friday, July 20, 12Technology-enabled cooperation can be very simple, as with a wiki. Here’s for example, is the initial wikipedia page for thegreat earthquake that hit Japan last year.
Friday, July 20, 12Within a short time, through thousands of edits by thousands of interested individuals, it turned into a full-featuredencyclopedic account of the earthquake and its aftermath. Let’s watch that in action.
“Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia. It is a virtual city, a city whose main export to the world is its encyclopedia articles, but with an internal life of its own.”Friday, July 20, 12What’s important to realize is the human element in these applications. A community of hundreds of million humans linking todocuments makes Google possible. At its deepest level, the web is social. It’s not just overtly social applications like Facebook,Twitter, and Google+.Michael Nielsen has written a wonderful book about how collective intelligence can be applied to problems of science. He takeslessons from the consumer internet and applies them to much more challenging intellectual activities. He emphasizes, in hisdiscussion of Wikipedia, that it is not just a collection of documents, but the product of a community. He says [quote above]
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I dont know which half.” - John Wanamaker (1838-1922)Friday, July 20, 12That leads me to the whole topic of feedback loops. It isn’t just that this information is going mind to mind. We are increasinglytaking this information and creating electronic feedback loops, which might include humans in different ways. Increasingly,technology is solving what we advertisers call “the Wanamaker problem” after 19th century department store magnate JohnWanamaker, who said [quote above] What Google did with pay-per-click advertising was to solve the Wanamaker problem, bybuilding a business model that only charged advertisers when consumers clicked on their ads, and harnessing collectiveintelligence to predict which of those ads would be most likely be clicked on.
Friday, July 20, 12We’re now seeing this same idea spread to other areas of the economy. For example, these kinds of feedback loops enabled bydata are part of what the US government is trying to do in healthcare with Accountable Care Organizations.
“Only 1% of healthcare spend now goes to diagnosis. We need to shift from the idea that you do diagnosis at the start, followed by treatment, to a cycle of diagnosis, treatment, diagnosis...as we explore what works.” -Pascale Witz, GE Medical DiagnosticsFriday, July 20, 12Personalized medicine requires new kinds of diagnostic feedback loops. Pascale Witz of GE Medical Diagnostics explained how
Friday, July 20, 12In the city of San Francisco, you’re seeing something similar, where all the parking meters are equipped with sensors, andpricing varies by time of day, and ultimately by demand. I’m calling these systems of “algorithmic regulation” - they regulate inthe same way our body regulates itself, autonomically and unconsciously. All of the technology “smart city” initiatives need tobe seen as ways of instrumenting not just the physical city but the social life of the humans who live in it.
Friday, July 20, 12The idea of the social life of the city as captured by technology becomes clear in this visualization done by Wired Magazine of 24hours of 311 calls from the city of New York, showing what issues citizens are contacting their government about. This samekind of ebb and ﬂow comes increasingly from the data exhaust from our devices.
Friday, July 20, 12This shift requires new competencies of companies and governments. The ﬁeld has increasingly come to be called “DataScience” - extracting meaning and services from data - and as you can see, the set of skills that make up this job description arein high demand according to LinkedIn. They are literally going asymptotic.
Intelligence Augmentation “The human mind ... operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature. Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it. ... One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage. Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do.” – Vannevar Bush, As We May Think, 1945Friday, July 20, 12I want to turn to another aspect of man-machine symbiosis, this time in terms of information retrieval. In 1945, Vannevar Bushwrote a famous and inﬂuential article called “As We May Think” that in many ways preﬁgured the ideas of the World Wide Web.
A device that knows where I am better than I do, a knowing assistant telling me where to go and how to get there.Friday, July 20, 12The current state of the art of this kind of near-miraculous information retrieval can be seen in today’s smartphones. Forexample, a smartphone equipped with mapping software knows exactly where you are. But note that the information beingretrieved is generated by human beings, often through collective activity.
Friday, July 20, 12Returning to IBM’s Watson, we see that it too is a product of man-machine symbiosis. After all, the documents that it “reads” toperform its feats of apparent intelligence are human documents. In the three seconds it has to come up with a Jeopardyquestion, it has time to read and process the equivalent of 200 million pages. And now that speed of information retrieval isbeing used for more than parlor tricks, as IBM works to train Watson to act as an assistant in healthcare. The average physicianis able to read the latest research in his ﬁeld perhaps ﬁve hours a week; Watson’s ability to read everything and suggestpotentially relevant answers makes it an ideal assistant. “Watson makes suggestions, not decisions,” says IBM’s Dr. Randy Kohn.
Friday, July 20, 12This is the real opportunity for new information retrieval UIs like Google’s Project Glass - in specialized settings where access toa computer can be seen as a powerful kind of human augmentation. I expect it to be used in professional settings before itbecomes popular as a consumer device. (In social settings, it will require even more profound resets of behavior than the“always-on” mobile phone.)
Friday, July 20, 12You can see a preview of where this is taking us in the Apple Store. Where most stores (at least in America) have usedtechnology to eliminate salespeople, Apple has used it to augment them. Each store is ﬂooded with smartphone-wieldingsalespeople who are able to help customers with everything from technical questions to purchase and checkout. Walgreens isexperimenting with a similar approach in the pharmacy, and US CTO Todd Park foresees a future in which health workers will bepart of a feedback loop including sensors to track patient data coupled with systems that alert them when a patient needs to bechecked up on. The augmented home health worker will allow relatively unskilled workers to be empowered with the muchdeeper knowledge held in the cloud.
The global brain is us, connected and augmentedFriday, July 20, 12This global brain is doing more than letting us spread news and gossip more quickly.
§ patientslikeme and collaborative clinical trialsFriday, July 20, 12patientslikeme allows patients to share their symptoms and solutions, and are starting to provide a basis for crowdsourcedclinical trials of new treatments.
§ Jen’s TED talk, possumsFriday, July 20, 12Or consider the point Jen Pahlka made in her recent TED talk about government services. When we use crowdsourced serviceslike xxx, which let neighbors help each other rather than calling a city call center for help, we not only save money, we make oursociety stronger.
Friday, July 20, 12And of course, there’s the latest sensation in cooperative applications, crowdfunding, as exempliﬁed by Kickstarter.
Friday, July 20, 12But this technology of collective action and man-machine collaboration can be used for immense social good. For example, afterthe devastating earthquake in Haiti last year
Mission 4636Friday, July 20, 12a whole set of new tools for cooperation were deployed to coordinate the activities of volunteers. For example, the Ushahidicrowd-reporting platform was used to report people in need of rescue via SMS to a special shortcode, the collaborativeOpenStreetMap project was used to quickly map shanty towns so that rescuers could be sent to the right location, and crowdwork platforms like Crowdﬂower, SamaSource and Amazon Mechanical Turk were used to translate reports from Haitian Creoleinto English via volunteers in Haitian diaspora communities thousands of miles away. These applications show a man-machinesymbiosis including smartphone-wielding humans as sensors, remote processors (translators), and as augmented actors, guidedto the locations where they were needed, and told where to dig.
Friday, July 20, 12But they can also be used to manipulate ﬁnancial markets for private gain, to the detriment of society. Our ﬁnancial markets area great example of collective intelligence gone wrong, abused for private gain rather than public good.
How can we make the emerging global consciousness not only smarter and more capable, but more moral?Friday, July 20, 12So that leads me to my concluding question.
We’ve got one world. We’d better get it right.Friday, July 20, 12
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