Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Resilience and Anticipation: My Speech at Google - Part Two

Last time, I offered a key point from the sprawling TechTalk that Sheldon Brown & I presented at Google, a week ago: “Visualization as A Core Element of Problem Solving.”

Summary: In each of the last six centuries, the West was shaken by new technologies that transformed three things: - vision, memory and attention -

- providing human beings with greatly augmented powers, that thereupon triggered - crises of confidence.

For example, printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive.

Later transformations, like mass education, libraries, telecommunications and databases took this process farther, by orders of magnitude, till today people are used to seeing, knowing, and perceiving vastly more than their ancestors might have imagined.

Moreover, the cycle of cascading revolutions and crises continues!

Google is part of this rapidly accelerating tale of human challenge and progress.

Playing Gutenberg’s role in the latest technological augmentation of human mental power, Google’s chief influence has been upon one of those three vital components -- memory.

Near universal access to stored information via the burgeoning Knowledge Mesh.

Others are working on the second part of the triad: vision (omni veillance). A topic that I visit frequently, especially when dealing with defense or transparency issues..

GoogleTalkBut this time Sheldon and I focused on the third and most-neglected area of technological augmentation. Yet, the one that is potentially most transforming. The one most in need of new tools, empowering human minds to harness torrents of data and sight.

By far, the least-developed sector of our latest cognitive revolution is human attention.

Oh, sociologists and researchers claim to be studying this, pointing out that attention is the one intrinsically limited commodity, even if goods and services expand exponentially. They speak of an “attention economy.”

Still, on a practical level, are these ruminations getting us anywhere? Are tools emerging that help peoplenot only to express opinions, but to productively deliberate, negotiate and settle disputes? Sure, Second Life and MySpace draw millions to interact. (And interaction, by itself , can be fun!)

But is anything sapient and productive going on? Does any of this activity and/or cash flow actually apply to 21st Century Problem Solving?

We pointed out that adults seeking to accomplish things online interact mostly asynchronously. Almost never do the producer and recipient of information interact online in a fully synchronous way. That entire world is left to teeny-boppers.

So, we decided to help people step back and examine how attention is used today in four areas:

ART, ANTICIPATION, RESILIENCY AND DISCOURSE.

Naturally, Sheldon handled art! (With his usual brilliance and panache. It’s why I asked Google to expand their invitation!)

I speak often about resilience and anticipation, each of which is no good without the other.

But this time, for a change, I sped through those topics, in order to dial in on a fourth aspect of attention -- discourse.

While prodigiously expanding the average person’s access to information and vision, we’ve done far less to empower them with tools to discuss, argue, self-organize and apply citizenship in rapid, real time. A commonly shared myth is that supplying people with the means to express vociferous opinions is somehow enough. But some are at last realizing, this just isn’t so. (e.g. the founders of Wikipedia.

(To see how deep this goes, you could look at -- "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit.")

PATENTBy a coincidence, I happened to have a timely illustration of the problem, ready to reveal during the Google talk. The date precisely coincided with official issuance of my US patent covering a vast range (126 claims!) of potential representation modes in online conversation... as fundamental as adjusting semantic content and presentation according to distance, orientation, reputation, time, and traits of the content itself.

Ponder that: things that we do every day, every second, in normal, real-world conversation -- adjusting semantic content and presentation according to distance, orientation, reputation, time, and traits of the content itself -- I now own their application in online interaction. The patent is that general.

(For years, I heard folks say: "That's obvious; of course it’s been done!" Not one of them ever met my challenge to find an example! Now, I have a better answer. The USPTO agrees. No prior art. The vast range of real-life interaction modes may seem obvious... but few have made it to the online world. Live with it. Better yet. Change it!)

The important thing is not whether I benefit from an IP claim covering dozens of natural human interactions. Perfect exclusivity is frail. Some obscure exceptions may (or may not) be found. So? What’s proved is that it’s rare.

No. What matters is supplying 21st Century citizens with tools -- augmentations of vision, knowledge and attention -- to be adept and vigorous stake-holders in civilization.

Millions and billions of empowered, knowledgeable men and women must help, forming “smart mobs” at the drop of a hat,. (As Vernor Vinge and I depict in several stories.) But first, there are gaps - as wide as those that were filled by GUI, by the web browser, by the home computer, by the internet. As long as somebody will not be sparked into filling this gap....

Ah, but then, I may be wrong. (It can happen! ;-) Perhaps the net pundits are right. Maybe we can make do just with improved knowledge and vision tools alone! Perhaps attention will take care of itself Criticism and discussion, analytical competition and discourse, may not prove a necessary third ingredient, this time around.

It would be just like us to succeed just by knowing and seeing a whole lot of stuff... and then shouting a lot of opinions... without ever bothering to discuss anything at all.

38 comments:

Diane Trout said...

When I think about attention management tools, I in terms of tools to help me continue to concentrating on a task without my focus being destroyed by an interruption. Modern live is rife with threats to ones ability to concentrate for extended times--which I find makes it difficult to complete complex tasks.

I want to implement a tool that could prioritize various interruption sources and block the "low priority" ones. For this to work there needs to be some way of ranking and tracking how valuable communications with that source were (via a UI extension to IM and EMail clients) and the likely relevance to the task at hand (by text data mining analysis, examining data tags?)

This ranking system might be even more useful if there was a way of sharing them with others on your social network as well.

A second question is there any chance that you'd license your patent in such a way that non-commercial open-source developers could implement some of these attention management technologies without fear of a sleeper lawsuit?

Naum said...

Tried to watch but it's just too choppy and I don't see an option (after grudgingly being forced to download proprietary, proprietary format specific video player) to download a *.gvi (instead of streaming *.gvp file which results in same problem).

Bleh... ...maybe somewhere it's available as a .wmv/.mov/.mpe?g...

Matzebrei said...

Prioritizing the various text messaging is important, but I think most of the advances in text processing that we're going to make for a while are already here, they just need to be synthesized, Whether it's the tools David has patented (prioritizing by orientation, reputation, search terms, gisting, etc.), or something else. We are also beginning to see some really neat tools for wading through the tsunami of data out there, with tools such as improved search (a-la Google) to concept analysis software (such as Attenex, a tool to decrease document review time for investigations, etc.) which can help weed out bad/uninteresting search results quickly, or even filter incoming messages, etc.

I imagine the next big breakthrough in managing attention will be figuring out standardized user interfaces that use other senses than vision and maybe sound. The simplest and most common example I can think of right now is the "vibrate" setting on your cell phone. It allows you to be notified of a call without necessarily taking your attention away from, um, the blonde sitting across the table?

Most any HUD could have peripheral vision overlays to monitor certain alerts (a sort of "Check Engine" light to keep track of your stocks?) or might instead plug into other senses, like that vibrating phone.

TwinBeam said...

The Exorarium Project link is broken. Obvious fix if you copy/paste it...

TwinBeam said...

Does the sound of a gunshot or explosion or other effect, in a video game, non-verbally convey semantic content? (E.g. "someone is fighting nearby", "Danger!")?

monkyboy said...

Yikes!

I'm no patent guy, but it sure looks like many of the things you patented have been in use in online games for years, Dr. Brin.

I assume your patent doesn't cover games...but couldn't anyone who uses these methods just call their product a "game" to get around it?

reason said...

diane trout...
I'm not sure that concentration on a task is an undisputed good. Sometimes interruptions are important. And knowledge should be broad not just deep, because everything is interconnected, often in ways that aren't immediately obvious. The most important discoveries and solutions often come from unexpected directions.

That we now often have more information and complexity than we can cope with is clear.

DemetriosX said...

Off topic to the current post here, but a couple of things have sprung up in the last few days that apply to the overarching theme.

Somebody seems to be getting it. Students in a texas school district are being taught not to sit passively if a gunman invades the school.The idea of kids taking on an attacker may be scary, but in Columbine and elsewhere school shooters have walked around shooting people just sitting there. THIS is the lesson of flight 93. 30 kids armed with 20+ pound backpacks are pretty formidable. Story .

The second thing is a pull quote at
Locus from an interview with Paul Park:
Faith is almost antithetical to spirituality, not just in religious matters but in many others. When people have faith in their country, in their political party, in their leaders, it causes them to act in a way that can be controlled by others. That behavior comes out of a kind of laziness, where they don't examine the reasons why they do things. Doubt is a magical thing, doubt comes from God's hands and everything good that happens comes out of it, so it can't be inimical to spirituality.
For me, this comes from the same philosophy underlying CITOKATE.

Woozle said...

From the brief description you gave, I can't immediately think of any prior art... but I do need to mention that the US PTO has acquired a reputation for being overenthusiastic in granting patents (and overwhelmed by prior art to research). See Issuepedia: Patents

Woozle said...

P.S. More about prior art in electronic disputation arenas: I had my own ideas for a next-gen version of IM/IRC, which I described here and which were in turn based in part on ideas expressed in the 1988 book David's Sling (available for as little as 25 cents on Amazon, if anyone wants to check it out).

As far as I can tell, these ideas seem to be in different areas (real-time conversational threading; collaborative evaluation) than those in the patents obtained by Our Esteemed Host. Here's hoping, anyway ;-)

Pat Mathews said...

Attention is a *major* issue with everyone I know. We're living in a world which seems to give everyone ADHD or which demands artificial aids (non-medical) to focus and classes in organizing and time management. Electronic social secretaries are a huge chunk of that market. Mouth, meet fire hose.

Pat Mathews said...

P.S. Suzette hadel Elgin mentioned once (reference lost in the garbage-can memory) that while male management trainees had no problem estimating how long they could do any task, many of the women had no idea. At last someone thought to investigate further instead of tying it to the effects of estrogen on our little bunny brains.

Behold! Every last one of them answered (I can just hear the exasperated tone in which they did) "It depends on how many times we're interrupted!"

Rob Perkins said...

You talk about the development of "smart mobs", presumably these are ad hoc collections of hobby-experts brought together by common interest in some development or event.

In Federalist #10, Madison describes a "faction" as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

Today in the U.S., we are factionalized to a degree. The fights over things like gay marriage or the war in Iraq highlight some political factioning. Some of the book-punditry by demagogues of either political side highlight others.

What is to say that a mob, however smart, won't fan the flame of factionalism? What controls does one place on such a mob? Don't we see some of the beginnings of the problems enumerated in Federalist #10, concurrent with the advent of the Internet, such as, for example, the relative ease with which California's Gray Davis was removed from office?

Do we limit the power of smart mobs, still, to the functions of a debating society, or do we give them the ability to authenticate their members, to the point where they can then propose Initiatives to the People simply by virtue of providing their online signatures to the Initiative petitions?

In other words, how does one prevent the idea of a "smart mob" from embodying tyranny in the form of mobs made up of philosipher-kings?

David Brin said...

Diane focuses on the key word: Prioritization. It has taken me years to realize that it is what these attention tools are all about.

Woozle, DAVID’S SLING is often cited as a fictional partner to The Transparent Society. Your hyperchat notion is cool and (as you note) generally related to the concepts in my disputation article.

Demitrios: great Park quotation. Much better than the drivel spouted by Dawkins in this month’s WIRED, about the new, militantly aggressive atheism. I did not see a single original thought there, only old farts being grouchily indignant and not noticing that they are getting off on the same poison they criticise.

Pat, yes, attention tools are vital.

Alas, the higher you go in society, the more assistants and secretaries people have, doing all this sifting for them the old fashioned way. Hence, the ones with the means to invest in these tools see little need for them. Consider again how odd it is that I not only got this patent... but cannot attract even a nickle of VC interest in it.

The 21st Century is filled with unimaginative cowards. But we knew that.

Oh, Pat: I love the interruption anecdote!

Rob asks: What is to say that a mob, however smart, won't fan the flame of factionalism?

Very good Rob. And the answer is ... as always... us. Other smart mobs. Look the Founders MADE this choice! While worried about mob fevers, they nevertheless worried aboutsuch things LESS than all the kings and priests did! While putting in place speed bumps to slow mob passion, they did vest all soverignty in... the aggregate mob!

Hence we are only arguing over HOW to make this work better, not whether. (Indeed, much of our present culture war factionalism is because much of the electorate seems eager to give back their soverignty to feudal masters, instead of debating their fellow citizens with respect.)

Read my last few paras in the main posting again. I AM deeply worried! Unless new tools empower individuals and smart mobs with better disputation abilities, the firehose effect will make them just vastly more know-it-all (would be philosopher-king) bigots.

I share your worry. Indeed, the feudalists are counting on that worry - in order to stymie the arrival of Universal Citizenship (a phrase I like FAR better than “smart mobs”!)

Doris said...

Off-topic comment:

Saw your remark about sticking a finger into a black hole last night on the Nova preview.

If CERN does produce baby black holes, what could one stick into them? Light? Atoms? Discount coupon for frozen yoghurt?

Rob Perkins said...

Very good Rob. And the answer is ... as always... us. Other smart mobs. Look the Founders MADE this choice! While worried about mob fevers, they nevertheless worried aboutsuch things LESS than all the kings and priests did! While putting in place speed bumps to slow mob passion, they did vest all soverignty in... the aggregate mob!

Did they? The Federalists worried constantly about faction; their Papers are full of remedies against it. And while it's true that they invested sovereignty in the aggregate *states* and *peoples*, depending on their differences of opinion and priority to cancel one another out (again, see Fed. 10), that also means that the aggregate was not a mob, but rather more like an ecosystem of ideas.

(It's on that basis that I split my ticket; the ecosystem is more diverse, and therefore healthier, if the majority party in the Congress is not the one with the White House.)

What we face in the next 20 years, if the isolationists or anti-immigrationists ever have their way, is a homogenization of culture so complete that the differing factions disappear; everyone would be operating from the same childhood premises, that being what one might find on PBS or Nick Jr.

In other words, the assumption of aggregate factions divides itself gradually into two or three large factions, because of the benefits of mass media to culturalize us all to the same bases. Make sense?

If it does, then Madison's arguments, and his center of many fractious factions, cannot hold; other controls on the mob need to be found, because we'd really *have* a mob then, split perhaps into only two factions, which is an odd macro-expression of the problems of small democracies.

This is the political system we have today at the national level, of course. (Am I arguing post-hoc ergo propter hoc here: Mass media->homogenous culturalization->far fewer factions?)

If true, then the aggregate mob cannot stop a tyranny by the majority, or the following anarchy, because slightly more than half of them (or even slightly less!) would be enough to plunge the nation into, say, an unpopular expeditionary war.

@Demetrios

I really *really* wish people would stop conflating "faith" with "blind faith". It confuses the issues at hand. Only if I adjust the meaning of clearly defined words can I come up with nonsense like "Faith is almost antithetical to spirituality," as though "Faith" were never anything more than unquestioned premises.

As a religious (deeply, deeply religious, without ever falling into mysticism or supernaturalism) person myself, I *know* that doubt and faith are two facets of spirituality, not the polar opposites Paul Park asserts. It's more useful, as David says, than the activist atheisms of Dawkins, but still misses the point so completely that it's next to useless. Kind of like a 10-minute Olbermann rant.

Anonymous said...

There may be prior art for that (in my opinion dubious) patent: sophisticated Usenet newsreaders have long had not only killfiles, but various scoring options that could be applied to filter and prioritize different posts based on content and authorship. Forte Free Agent has a complex system of this type (and it's free, as the name suggests). Should be easy to find with even weak google-fu.

I do hope this is a defensive patentleft or similar, intended to prevent someone actually evil from doing something similar and then locking down a lot of useful technology, or extorting money. "Sleeper lawsuit" concerns seem valid; we don't want a Unisys or RIM v. NTP scenario here, do we? It is more important that this stuff gets widely deployed soon and accessible to as many as possible (not just the rich) than that someone make a small fortune licensing rights to it, doesn't it?

Here's hoping.

David Brin said...

Anyone familiar with my philosophy (militant moderastion and progressive-modernist openness) would expect me to take a middle ground. I am willing to make money off this, but only to an extent that "isn't evil". I would never let the IP be locked into a single platform, suing all innovators to follow. The aim is to provide a GENERAL creative environment within which hosts can be creative, offering an infinite/competitive array of welcoming (and useful) interactive environments.

Having said that, let me add that the patent is necessary because for years NOBODY at the higher levels of net-intelligencia OR finance would believe me. Not even when I grabbed the back of the head and pointed, shouting: "See that? Where is anything like it implemented on the Web?"

(The "prior art" that you mention utterly misses the point. I never claimed to have patented the WORD "prioritization." Just most of the possible uses that emulate realtime, real world conversation.)

Alas, I find that the number of people who are even remotely able to see the obvious is as small as the fraction who "got" GUI before the Mac, or who envisioned the Web before Berners-Lee and Andreeson. (Ironically, I am one of them, but does that lend credibility?)

I am starting to realize that ideas take their own sweet time. Five years from now, when the world is ready, somebody will implement all these things and I will have the (partly) unpleasant task of telling them to pay a (modest) royalty. It's not how (or when) I wanted this to happen at all.

@Rob, you still miss the point. While cautious and worried about mobs, the founders still moved HUGELY toward granting sovreignty to self-organizing masses. Yes, too large a shift lads to Lenin & Robspierre. But they went a LONG way and left room for others to go farther. And we are MUCh farther along that road than people were in 1787.

We need to go farther.

Starting with taking the US House of Representatives back to the people.

Folks, are you doing what you can? A lawn sign? Some phone bank work? Getting out the vote on election day? Don't forget the state assembly races. Those are as important as Congress!

And get your conservative friends MAD at Rush Limbaugh. He wrought this destruction of their movement, and guys like him, almost as if they had been commie spies.

Stefan Jones said...

Ah, blogger is back on line! All of the blogger sites I visited tonight were blocked up . . . until just now.

I honestly don't think that Limbaugh is directly responsible for the corruption and betrayal of conservatism. He is a bulldog who sics himself relentlessly and indescriminately on the conservative's designated Class Enemies. He's the guy who runs the Three Minute Hate, distracting people from the real problems around them.

In the meantime: Olbermann on Limbaugh on Michael J. Fox.

Rob Perkins said...

@David

I disagree, but don't forget all the piles of preconditions I laid on that case, just to be contrary. :-)

monkyboy said...


I am starting to realize that ideas take their own sweet time.


Dr. Brin,

You don't seem to be making a full time getting your idea to the market...

Dust off your programming skills, lay in some cases of Jolt and lock your study door :)

David Brin said...

Monkyboy, you always bust my chops.

You miss the point. I got LOTS of these side things! My wife and kids want me back writing novels, the one thing that civilization seems to fully appreciate from me.

Dang, I ain't imitating Mark Twain, here. I can be wrong and I won't be obstinate, betting my career and fortune on an "ouighta-be" invention.

Anyway, if I gotta wait till civilization catches up with some of my ideas, well... that's what being a sci fi writer is all about.

We'll see.

monkyboy said...

I understand completely, Dr.Brin.

But...

Ideas far worse than yours will get their chance in the marketplace simply because someone was obstinate and was willing to bet their career and fortune to get it there.

That's the system you back so forcefully.

Yet it sounded like you were kinda knocking it in your comment I quoted...

Blake Stacey said...

Orange Off-Topic Alert!

You can always count on Warren Ellis to say what he wants to say in a memorable way:

Charlie Stross on the storm churned up in science-fiction-book circles by some bullshit article about bloody Star Wars and the perspective it puts on the future of the form. This is one I need to digest and ruminate on.

(For God's sake, don't read the comments section beyond the main article at the link.)

He links to "Let's put the future behind us" by Charlie Stross (20 October 2006, quite a while ago in blog-time). Now that I've finally had duties important enough that I needed to procrastinate with true grandeur, I've at last read Star Wars on Trial. Remind me to rant about the defense arguments myself, when the thread topic is at least a little more germane.

SpeakerToManagers said...

(For years, I heard folks say: "That's obvious; of course it’s been done!" Not one of them ever met my challenge to find an example! Now, I have a better answer. The USPTO agrees. No prior art.

Just because the PTO grants a patent is no guarantee that there's no prior art; there may be a lot they just don't recognize because they've never built up the software expertise they need. As an egregious example, sometime late in the 1980's they granted a patent for pointers to data!

Andrew Smith said...

Neat science: a sub-vocal interface to an automatic translator.

SpeakerToManagers said...

There's an important part of attention management where memory is used to husband attention. The desktop GUI, for instance, can keep anything you're working on, or need to work on, where you can find it by merely moving your eyes, so a lot of the context of a task is kept in the spatial relations and contents of the windows on the screen. This lets you use your short-term memory for the current task, and swap in the short-term context for another task quickly.

The underlying notion is to keep the required memories in the outside world, not inside your own head where they're hard to find.

One of the things that's missing in current interfaces is a notion of time and priority; a representation of the attention stack you keep (not very reliably!) in your head to handle sevicing and recovering from interruptions.

The issue is not just one of aiding attention when performing some set of similar tasks, such as reading a number of blogs, following links to references and returning from them; it has at least as much to with aiding the performance of fundamentally different tasks, which have a much greater impact on the time and effort required to switch contexts. Say you're writing an article, and you get important email from your lawyer which you need to handle right away, but before you're done with her, an RSS feed you subscribe to sends out an update you will want to see when you're done with the email but before you get back to the article.

I think what we need is some sort of attention management framework, which uses as much of the computer interface as possible (spatial, auditory, and visual modes) and allows scheduling of tasks (application invocations among them), blocking and unblocking of interrupting tasks by arbitrary types of prioritization, and flexible control of how context is accessible, how it's presented, and how much context is kept over different periods of time.

Woozle said...

As far as the patenting issue, I think part of the point Our Esteemed Host was making is that you can argue and argue and argue with some people and it won't penetrate beyond the lower-spinal level... but show them a piece of Official Paper, and by gum that'll make them take notice.

It also establishes some legal protections (which hopefully will be used in an Enlightened manner, but any tool etc.) of the sort that venture capitalists often like to see before they go risking actual money.

Hey DB -- if you manage to flush out any venture capitalists, send me some! ^_^

David Brin said...

Speaker: sigh and utter sigh. You did not read... at all.

I do NOT claim that the USPTO patent demonstrates conclusively that there is NO prior art. I have relentlessly conceded that the patent probably will be riddled with prior art exceptions, popping out from countless obscure corners and failed products.

THE POINT is that those exceptions are and must be RARE exceptions! They will only prevent me from profiting. They do not prove that we already have prioritization-assistance services, because we don't!

Because anything widely-used WOULD have been noticed by the USPTO... or by the MIT Media Lab, or by the Computer-Human Interface Conference, or....

Ten years of challenges to smarty-pants cynics. And NOT ONE has ever backed up their sneers with a single example.

Funny, you followed with a post describing the sort of thing that I have long wanted. That’s missing. Develop it now! And I will charge very low royalties.

----
ELECTION-RELATED ASIDE

Russ Daggatt is savoring the likelihood that President George W. Bush is about to be the "lamest of lame ducks" without influence even within his own party.

I beg to differ. In fact, Bush will have four more cards in his hand, after the elections, that will keep him a force to be reckoned-with.

First the inherent powers of executive department management. This will (for example) allow him to continue signing "emergency" exceptions to contract vetting rules. This has been a primary method of graft for 6 years and it requires no legislation. Dems in Congress would have to act assertively in BOTH houses to prevent this.

Second, we all fear his control over defense and foreign policy could "go nuts".

Third, there is the scenario of Cheney resigning in order to give W a new Veep... who would then be the GOP heir apparent. W's power to appoint this fellow makes him an overwhelmingly potent kingmaker.

But the fourth card is the biggest reason the GOP must continue kneeling to Bush. Presidential pardons. He can dish these 'get out of jail free' cards like Halloween candy. According to whim. (Especially if he does the unprecedented and issues one to himself!)

There are scads/hordes who will be needing these Escape Justice Certificates, and it is not too soon for the dems to be contemplating maneuvers to limit this final betrayal of justice.

monkyboy said...

I don't think Dr. Brin needs VC money to get his chat program to market.

He could just use his position at the top of the geek kingdom to lure talent to work on it for a chunk of the company:

http://tinyurl.com/ywkpe

One ad on craigslist is all it would take..

Maybe we're seeing a flaw in capitalism?

The more successful (and older) you are...the more you have to risk to start a company.

So new companies in America tend to get started by teens and twentysomethings with wealthy parents...

Colin Nicholls said...

Having recently re-read "EARTH" (loved it) I saw this link to a gravity map of the planet:

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/gallery/animations/world_gravity/

Seems appropriate, talking about visualization.

SpeakerToManagers said...

David,

I had not intended to make my comment about the PTO a sneer at you or a denial of the usefulness or newness of your ideas. On the contrary, as you understood from my post, I believe this is an area where ideas like yours are greatly needed. Perhaps I wasn't clear, but I was just trying to point out that getting a patent these days does not show that a comprehensive search of prior art has been done.

The fact that having a patent implies a careful search even to many people in high-tech fields, where we ought to know better, is a shame.

SpeakerToManagers said...

David,

I had not intended to make my comment about the PTO a sneer at you or a denial of the usefulness or newness of your ideas. On the contrary, as you understood from my post, I believe this is an area where ideas like yours are greatly needed. Perhaps I wasn't clear, but I was just trying to point out that getting a patent these days does not show that a comprehensive search of prior art has been done.

The fact that having a patent implies a careful search even to many people in high-tech fields, where we ought to know better, is a shame.

Tony Fisk said...

@Colin. I agree 'Earth' stands up well to a re-read (I felt it went off the rails the first time 'round when Manela pounced on the kleptocrat saboteur. Guess I've got more paranoid since!) Care to embellish a few Earth predictions?
(Haven't had time recently, although I have added the invisibility article wrt 'blur-weave'- microwaves only, for now)

Even as he starts mending fences, or building them, and starts speaking the unspeakable (ie that Iraq might not be going the way it was 'officially' intended), I've noted the way dear George & co. have been insinuating that it's a 'failure on the ground'?
Who bore the brunt of the blame for 'nam?
I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Even charging very small royalties will raise the bar too high for open source to enter the arena.

Mark said...

Earth, the irony: the more accurate the predictions the less impressive it will appear to future generations; they won't notice it was written years before these things happened or assume it was obvious to all. You need some really good misses to avoid that problem.

My only concern about the usefulness of the patent is whether naturally evolved synchronous communication behaviors work well for asynchronous communication.

The competition for synchronous communication isn't IM or blogs, but voice. In the professional world we have conference calls all the time and if visuals are brought it, they are for shared attention, like power point presentations or virtual white-boards.

Having said that, I think the line dividing synchronous and asynchronous is not clear, more a gray zone of various latencies. If this technologies can bridge the gap, making, say, it easier to have a long conversation between people during the course of the day while other work is being done, then this could be a big hit.

Woozle said...

Amen to the comment about the synchronous/asynchronous gray zone. I'd have to say that IRC (chat rooms) pretty much straddles the two worlds – you have the near-immediate response time of synchronous, with the persistence of asynch (at least, if you leave your chat client open while away, as most chatters in our network do).

"Voice" is just IM without easy buffer access or search capability. ;-)

And yes, many of us are active in IRC while at work, and use it to solve technical problems regularly.

cold wolf said...

Regarding Holocene, David. I really wanted to build it, and I got a very talented individual to help me, but... as we went through the design we discovered that it creates as many problems as it solves.

The problems I can remember...
- Logging conversations is nigh impossible
- Sifting/Gisting through them is even more difficult
- Group convo is even more chaotic than IRC since you have to keep an eye out for new messages coming from all directions
- Private messaging in Holocene is a difficult problem as well

Developing a system like Holocene humanely is the most difficult thing. I think it's a neat idea, but it isn't practical enough to be useful. Rest assured, online communications will transform eventually, but probably not in the way anyone imagined. Yet.