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.

Contagious Media Showdown

There’s lots of slick sites here, all looking to catch that hook that will bring the fame and fortune (ok, well mostly fame). Maybe my standards are more base as the execution is totally crude (think of a circa-1988 Geocities website) but my personal favorite features a lanky masked man as an unlikely hero dancing to cell phone ringtones. My vote for the Contagious Media Showdown is for the

RingToneDancer!

Should the FBI be renamed the FIB?

More on my theory that key indicators to the Al-Qaeda threat were lost in the shuffle due to a lack of trained Farsi translators posted by boingboing.net Quoting an interview in Government Executive magazine with Sibel Edmonds, a translator hired by the FBI,

Edmonds said she was hired to retranslate material that was collected prior to Sept. 11 to determine if anything was missed in the translations that related to the plot. In her review, Edmonds said the documents clearly showed that the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country and plotting to use airplanes as missiles. The documents also included information relating to their financial activities. Edmonds said she could not comment in detail because she has been under a Justice Department gag order since October 2002.

It gets even more disturbing. Instead of investigating its shortcomings and learn from its mistakes, the FBI has been actively discouraging full disclosure to the point of coverup. In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Ed Bradley, Ms. Edmonds mentions cases where her investigations were actively hindered.

This story is gaining legs and is starting to bubble up into the popular media in a way that could explode in Senior Bush Administration officials. Should the FBI be nicknamed FIB?

ugoff.com

Boing Boing points to another mini-site put up by the Miami-based ad agency behind Subservient Chicken. These guys are re-writing the rules of Western advertising with their deconstructionalist, tongue-in-cheek dig at stereotypes and creative use of new and old media to position their clients’ products. I’ve been the bemused recipient of some of their other materials promoting the mini and Virgin Airlines.

Their New Employee Handbook which you can get to by clicking the “employment” link is both inspirational and a good read. It also is a shining example of how to set the right tone at a young, vibrant company looking to take on the world. From the guide:

We Ask that you Don’t

Throw sand.
Be selfish.
Disparage others.
Talk shit.
Duck responsibility.
Play the busy card.
Leave others hanging.
Make excuses.
Disappear.
Make promises you don’t keep.
Say it can’t be done.

p-p-p-powerbook

functionkey.jpg

I normally feel sorry when the web swarms around something they want to make fun of but in this case it’s fully justified. If you’ve read about scammers who prey on eBay innocents, you’ll get a kick out of this meme.

A scammer tries to get someone to send him a $2000 PowerBook to the UK with a promise that funds put into a phony escrow account would be released upon delivery. Smelling something phishy, especially when a check on the registered domain of the escrow site doesn’t look legit, the seller goes along. These type of scams usually end up with the seller sending off a legitimate item only to never hear from the buyer again.

The scammer is usually overseas so there is no legal recourse. This happened to my neighbor where someone in South Africa saw his posting for his Volvo, offered to buy it and even sent a cashier’s check for the amount plus $3000 extra for shipping. Because it’s an overseas bank, it takes several days to clear so in the meantime, the scammer’s asking my neighbor to send the car off for delivery and also to wire the “shipper” $3000 real dollars. My neighbor had never heard of the bank which drew up the cashier’s check and grew suspicious. When he asked for further proof, they trail went cold. Of course the cashier’s check finally bounced.

In this case, the guy scams the scammer and writes the whole thing up complete with excerpts from his email conversations. He says the goods are enroute, stuffs a plastic three-ring binder with a bunch of keys from a busted up Windows keyboard pasted on the inside, marks the customs form as a $2000 notebook and sends it off.

But what really makes this a gem is the whole time this is going on, he is posting comments on a newsgroup asking for advice and basically getting egged on by the community. By marking the package as a $2000 computer, this forces the scammer to have to pay something like $200 in customs fees. Posters in London see the thread and check out the delivery address (a barbershop/internet cafe) and even go in for a haircut to stake the joint. The members of the bulliten board track the Fedex tracking number and someone even visits the shop at the time of delivery to try and get a snapshot of the fuming owner as he realizes he’s been had. The didn’t get the shot but they did go into the internet cafe and left “p-p-p-powerbook” on the screensavers.