Kurzweil posts about a system developed for “mining the blogosphere,” i.e. BlogSum, a sophisticated listening natural language processing system for evaluating and indexing blog content developed at Concordia University. “The system is capable of gauging things like consumer preferences and voter intentions by sorting through websites, examining real-life self-expression and conversation, and producing summaries that focus exclusively on the original question.” This is a technical concept that David DeMaris and I had discussed some years ago, thinking of potential activist/political applications. It’ll be interesting to see how this technology is deployed.
John McDermott at Financial Times writes “How to have a conversation”:
What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist: “Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.” But Cicero was lucky: he never went on a first date with someone more interested in their iPhone than his company.
Reading that, I realize I suck as a conversationalist (but wait, I shouldn’t talk about myself…) A commitment to learn and act on those principles is in order… online and off.
Later in the article, McDermott mentions “the ‘six ways to have a better conversation.’ These, according to the school, are: 1. Be curious about others; 2. Take off your mask; 3. Empathise with others; 4. Get behind the job title; 5. Use adventurous openings; 6. Have courage.”
If you take off your mask, will you disappear?
In 2009, Howard Rheingold created an excellent mini-course in network literacy, a substantial resource for those who want to learn more about the Internet. Here’s the introductory video:
Howard’s written a book on network and digital literacy called Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.
In the first decade of the 2000s, I was fired up about the potential for an energized entrepreneurial scene to emerge in Austin, which was famously on the map as a city for new business, but didn’t really have the kind of creative entrepreneurial scene you see in, for instance, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. I worked with Bijoy Goswami at Bootstrap Austin, and managed the Wireless Future project at IC2, as well as flying formation with the clean energy and sustainable business communities that seemed to have traction here. However, busy myself with a couple of startups, I became less focused on that scene. It kept evolving… Bijoy started an entrepreneur community via his work with the ATX Equation, and local entrepreneur Josh Baer started something local, similar to Y-Combinator, called Capital Factory. Gary Hoover, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of entrepreneurial history, has been teaching classes for entrepreneurs at the McCombs School of Business. There’s much better support for entrepreneurs in Austin today than there was a decade ago.
Now Josh, John Butler (of IC2) and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe are teaching a cross-disciplinary course at the University of Texas called 1 Semester Startup. I attended a meeting last night of potential mentors for the class, in which students will form actual startup companies and try to make them fly. Mentors will be on call to answer questions and help the budding entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls and deal with inevitable mistakes and missteps. Several people (including yours truly) signed up for these mentorship roles.
There’s much wrangling about the lack of jobs in the U.S., and the economic crisis we’ve brought on with a complex combination of bad business, bad government, and outright fraud in some of the more abstract markets. To me one of the best solutions to the fix we’re in economically is to get better and better at building business and creating new markets, and that’s the promise of entrepreneurial creativity. So this course is just the sort of thing we need – more and more of it. (I’d also like to see a strong emphasis on ethics in entrepreneurial training, but that’s another rant for another day).
Everybody’s head is a strange universe filled with echos of voices they’ve heard over and over again. Against this, we try to manifest our intentions, to persuade with more voice, more conversation. Sometimes we get through, but even when we get through, we’re often filtered, just as we’re filtering. Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to build and sustain an effective collaboration?
I’m looking at the ways that we strive to aggregate our attentions, find common ground, and work together. Over the years I’ve approached this through the lens of democracy, or what I’ve referred to as the “democratic intention” to create a participatory process that works. The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this intention, though we so often profess it, is actually rare. Most of us would really like to assert our self interest, our own preferences, but society is a collision of interests and preferences, we have to give in order to take. In a recent discussion of the book The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, I was struck by the hardwired assumption that self-interest inherently rules, and cooperation is reached most effectively with an understanding of that point, thus the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, I find that real people are fuzzy on that point, they’re not necessarily or inherently all about self-interest. We’re far more complex than that.
There’s a force of democratization in this world that I suspect is an inherent effect of two factors, population growth and density (which forces us to socialize and co-operate) and human evolution (hopefully we’re growing wiser, more capable, and continuing to adapt). I see aspects of it in work that I do. My internet work is often about building contexts to bring people together for shared experience and collaboration. At the Society of Participatory Medicine I’m involved in communications, and the concept of participatory medicine is driven by a democratization of health information and process. In politics I’ve focused on grassroots emergence, ad hoc and headless organizations, methods for effecting and enhancing participatory culture and activism. In thinking about markets, I’m drawn to the Cluetrain Manifesto and Doc Searls’ current Project VRM, or vendor relationship marketing, which is about giving consumers tools for symmetrical power within the vendor/customer relationship.
I’m thinking about all this in the context of my ongoing fascination with culture, media, and the Internet, and developing thinking that might feed into several interesting projects here and elsewhere. One thought I had was about a potential revival of Extreme Democracy and new conversations about emergent democracy. These are potentially lush gardens of thinking and doing that at the moment are barren, having been untended for a while.
Via Flemming Funch, a review of “Finite and Infinite Games – A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” by James P. Carse: “A finite game is a game that has fixed rules and boundaries, that is played for the purpose of winning and thereby ending the game….An infinite game has no fixed rules or boundaries. In an infinite game you play with the boundaries and the purpose is to continue the game.”
All finite games have rules. If you follow the rules you are playing the game. If you don’t follow the rules you aren’t playing. If you move the pieces in different ways in chess, you are no longer playing chess.
Infinite players play with rules and boundaries. They include them as part of their playing. They aren’t taking them serious, and they can never be trapped by them, because they use rules and boundaries to play with.
Hearing via Twitter that my friend Gary Chapman of the LBJ School has died. News of his death was posted by Isadora Vail of the Austin American Statesman. No details yet. I had just emailed Gary today asking for his support in putting together an Austin Wikileaks Summit. [Update: Statesman article by Vail reporting that Gary died of an apparent heart attack.]
Gary was a visionary thinker, always exploring the edge of emerging technologies… and he was a fine guy and a good friend. I interviewed him for the Austin Chronicle in 1999. [Link]
I think that a lot of people in the technology policy community feel there’s a kind of vacuum with respect to crafting a vision for why the United States should invest in science and technology in the future. That’s seen as a liability in forming consensus about what we should be investing in, but also an opportunity for helping craft a new vision.
The last organizing principle of technology policy was the Cold War, and that lasted for 50 years. But that’s pretty much over, and now we need a new organizing principle. It’s not clear what that’s going to be. There’s been a de facto consensus around global economic competitiveness, but that doesn’t really seem to have the same kind of glue that the Cold War rationale had. So I think there’s still work to be done on crafting the vision, and I think there’s certain pieces that have to go into it:
(1) Sustainability, that is, its relationship to the natural environment and our ability to build an economic system that doesn’t deplete the earth’s resources.
(2) Global commerce that is not solely competitive, but cooperative in nature as well.
(3) Social justice and equity issues, so that we don’t end up with technology policy that just favors the wealthy. That would have to take into account vast disparities in education and literacy and access to economic resources.
(4) A technology policy that’s democratic, and that offers the opportunity for people who are not scientific and technological experts to help craft it.
Daniel Pink has a smart article on flip thinking, a trend in innovation. It’s a matter of rethinking sequence logic: for instance, a math instructor finds that it makes more sense to work on problems in class, and follow with the lecture (uploaded to YouTube, where students watch as homework). You experience the tension of the problem first, and get hands-on guidance from the instructor. Having learned your way around the problem, you see the lecture that contextualizes that learning.
While the idea is great, and Pink offers excellent examples where turning sequences around might work, the more compelling lesson is about creativity: we should rethink our habits and routines, and consider re-engineering our processes, as a matter of course. It’s too easy for ruts to form. We avoid disruptive innovation because it can be painful, but it’s productive pain. [Link]
Wired News hosts a conversation between Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson, who’ve written similar books… Steven – Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation; and Kevin – What Technology Wants.
Steven “finds that great creative milieus, whether MIT or Los Alamos, New York City or the World Wide Web, are like coral reefs—teeming, diverse colonies of creators who interact with and influence one another.”
Kevin “believes “technology can be seen as a sort of autonomous life-form, with intrinsic goals toward which it gropes over the course of its long development. Those goals, he says, are much like the tendencies of biological life, which over time diversifies, specializes, and (eventually) becomes more sentient…”
I’m glad Kevin and Steven are making the “hive mind” point, a rationale for softening rigid proprietary systems and encouraging collaboration and interaction… sez Steven: “innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” Great ideas emerge from scenes, the solitary inventors are just catalysts for the execution (no mean feat, though).