Singularity and Sentience

I tuned into the launch of Echo’s social media mixer, the StreamServer, which they describe as a platform for the activity streams-based economy. As the saying goes, in a world where the amount of information is ever-expanding and time remains constant, attention is what is of value. As your phone and computer beeps and buzzes with the latest urgent notification, the ability to monitor, much less take action on a signal becomes impossible. All information is approaching real-time in the constant battle to be first.

The volume of this “me first” wave of data increases causing the half-life of information to get shorter. Steve Rubel quoted a study that found that 92% of retweets happen in the first hour. If you can’t get your point across so that it resonates with someone else within that first hour, that thought is gone for good. Scrolled away, below the fold, decayed away.

So we wire things up to make things faster and we put systems in place to help us make sense of all this information flowing around so we can pick up a signal that we can use in a meaningful way. Something that will hopefully make our life better than it was before we had to deal with all this information that gets pushed at us.

Then we build filters. And what are filters but a search query that swims mid-stream. Not a respective search like what you would type into Google to search an archive but a prospective search, one that looks forward in time. And each of these queries we type are nuggets of intelligence. We fine-tune them to get exactly what we want and filter out what we don’t.

Follow all my LinkedIn contacts (that have twitter accounts) that are in the Mobile Phone industry and have over 500 followers that are saying anything with a hashtag of #MWC and has more than 5 retweets.

In plain English (kinda), that is what we want our filter to do and a smart system will look at how we respond to the results of that filter and try and automatically make it better. More like this, less like that, etc.

So we teach the machine how to think. We tell it how we connect the dots and draw conclusions.

So I dig around the aboutecho.com wiki and scroll down to the Philosophies section (I dunno, sounds intriguing) and click through to read this post on http://synapticweb.org/.

Social profiles are becoming real-time streams. If the old profile was a neuron, the stream is a neural pathway or pattern. It is the connective tissue between applications and people that feeds information from one node to another. Profiles come and go, people express themselves using countless tools and technologies – the stream, however, is the consistent and persistent channel that matters. It is the new presentation metaphor that increases the level of information we can consume while reducing our sense of overload. Just like synapses, they fire, and like synapses, it is the collective patterns of multiple firings – multiple signals or re-tweets – that creates a pattern. Patterns create meaning. Tune in, tune out, it doesn’t matter. The information will find you if it matters. Implicit information derived from content and gestures is one of the great opportunities of the Synaptic Web. To observe a set of gestures and connect them together creates a dynamic profile of interests, intentions and friends that can be used for discovery and filtering.

This is heady stuff. Yeah, I read Kevin Kelly’s book too but we’re going to have to evolve quite a bit beyond brute force keyword filters. How do you encode a vibe, a hunch?

Don’t get me wrong, Echo StreamServer looks like an interesting idea and I’m sure we’ll hear something along these lines from Facebook soon too. Big minds are at work on this. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that a bit of hacking is going to solve our information overload problems. We’re just taking the tools out of the toolbox and learning what we have.

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3 thoughts on “Singularity and Sentience”

  1. Ian – thanks for taking the time to dig so deep into our stuff.

    I’m not sure we will see an EC2 style white label database from Facebook any time soon though :)

    Chris – VP Strategy, Echo

  2. “Follow all my LinkedIn contacts (that have twitter accounts) that are in the Mobile Phone industry and have over 500 followers that are saying anything with a hashtag of #MWC and has more than 5 retweets.”

    I like that, someone should make a SQL/Pig language for doing twitter lists. It seems totally do-able with existing tools.

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