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..
But this time Sheldon & 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.
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.")
By 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.
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.