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Archive for January, 2014

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Certain activities are fundamental to the human endeavor.

The list:
Acquisition of food, shelter and water
Mate attraction and selection
Procreation
Acquisition or forage of information regarding the first three
Acquisition of goods and services that may make it more efficient to get the first three
Exchange of above three

Only software that deals directly with these activities flourishes into profitable, long term businesses.

I define software here as computer programs running on severs and personal computers and devices.

The race to the bottom in the pricing of information and software and hardware that runs that software ensures that only software businesses that scale beyond all competition can last. Scale means massive and efficient data centers, massive support functions and a steady stream of people talent to keep it all together. And the only activities in the human world that scale enough are those things that are fundamental activities to us all.

Sure there’s a place for boutique and specialist software but typically firms like that are swallowed by the more fundamental firms who bake the function directly into their ecosystem and then they give it away. And this is also why the boutique struggles long term. Those fundamental software builders are always driving the cost down. So even if a boutique is doing ok now it is not sustainable if it is at all relevant. It will be swallowed.

Open source software only reinforces this. In fact it takes this idea to the extreme. The really successful open source projects are always fundamental software (os, browser, web server, data processing) and further drive the price of software to zero.

Scale is the only way to survive in software.

This goes for websites, phone apps, etc. All the sites and apps that focus on niche interests that don’t deal with the fundamental activities above directly either get assimilated into larger apps and sites with broad function or they whiter and die unable to be sustained by a developer.

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What is art?

Art isn’t anything.  It’s everything and nothing.  Art is pattern.  It’s narrative.  It’s expression.  Anything we do someone else could consider as art.

What’s most important is that someone else can experience us, this art, the source of art.   And art doesn’t suppose an audience in its creation.  We all create art, constantly, regardless of whether we think someone else will view it, watch it, hear it, taste it. And everyone we interact with directly or indirectly (though culture, rules, laws) influences our personal art.

Is there ART?  that is, is there something that we’d all say that’s a clear expression of art?  No.  No there isn’t.  Even when people start out with the intent to make art and they make it clear they are making ART it’s no more or less art than anything else anyone does all day.  Art is simply that which we do that becomes noticed.

The key is Does Someone Notice.  Even if that someone is YOURSELF.  Art is that thing that makes you notice, that makes you change your perspective.   That’s it.  and that’s everything.

Art’s role in life is to be noticed.  Art is about creating audience.  The more entities that notice a new perspective because of it the more relevant the art (in American culture terms).

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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there isn’t one.

or

every gui will be available.

I receive a lot of resistance when I suggest that the future of graphic user interfaces doesn’t exist.   Here’s why I think this.  The graphical interface is soon to become a completely personalized experience.  That is, the machine will optimize the interface for you.   Sure, there will need to be some uber designer that sort of sets up some initial styles and maybe set some basic parameters but ultimately the machines are going to decide WITH YOU the best way to integrate.

This should be an unsurprising prediction considering this is how us humans interact.  We constantly adjust ourselves to each other.  We change language, fashion, body language, cultural norms, etc to improve our understanding.  So as machines increase in sophistication we ask that the interfaces changes with our desires (values/ideals/patterns).

Beyond GUIs though the technical world moves ever towards an intelligent web of computational services instead of a hyperlinked HTML web of linked presentations.  That means things are moving quickly to a semantic, computational approach where everything (interfaces and data!) are objects for computation and able to be input into whatever connects to it.

The problem of user interface design now is that it’s happening mostly in art and production circles instead of through a real collaboration between artists, behaviorists and computer scientists.  What’s ideal is a group of people that all understand the arts, behaviorism and computational theory.  You can’t really do solid UI design without at least those types.

In the very near future we will not obsess with and talk about GUIs.  We will talk about experiences in the world and with concepts and art and characters.  And all very naturally with machines and their “senses.”   This interaction with the machines will inform the presentation.

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HER is a great, great movie.  Why?  It’s simple, it asks important, timeless questions about identity, mind/body, what’s real, love and fate in a way that a modern audience can really consider.

No doubt the photography and vision of the near future and ideas of technology are incredibly compelling and fun.  Those are not the types of things that haunt the human experience though.  Our experience is always one of disruption and changing culture due to some new found mobility and supposed control that reimagines who we are and how we should be.

No, this movie is much more direct about what it means to be alive and be real and to engage.   Samantha (her) is decidedly figuring that out right in front of us.   And she does so, while rapidly, convincingly.  And just like our children become aware and grow up and leave us right before our eyes so will all things that self actualize.  Is the ending really that surprising?

You should see HER not because it will repaint computer interfaces or make us wonder what the future will be like but because it will make you think what the hell it means to be alive period.   And if you can figure that out you might be able to dig into the love story and all that… which i believe only becomes relevant once there is something to love.  That is, once there are two entities that really are actualized and can connect.

HER is real.  and it’s worth every second you spend.

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I have an hypothesis that the key ability of humankind that evolved over the millennia is learning.   Broadly speaking this means the awareness, recognition, and synthesis of patterns.   This doesn’t refer just to academic learning or book knowledge, but instead to the more generalized concept of pattern recognition.   We are learners.   

 

Everything we do is about foraging for new patterns or confirming previously learned patterns.   Of course, we forage for patterns to survive – to eat, sleep, find water, mate and avoid predation.   While in the modern world it can be hard to see how everything we do is about these basic survival aspects so far removed is our daily experience from pulling food from the ground and running from sabre tooth tigers, no doubt our homes, transportation, logistics networks and so forth have been built up to provide essentials for increasing populations.   And the one common behavioral thread from how our pre history ancestors likely lived and how we live today is Learning.   This is the biological strategy developed from our interaction with the world over time.

 

Our physiology compared to the rest of the animal kingdom favors us using our large brains and capable senses to forage for and use patterns vs. terrifying strength or built in camouflage, etc.  A baby can do very little physically for a very long time while it is learning.   Our period of growth to adolescence and self sufficiency is very long.   There is a lot to learn to become surviving human.

 

Certainly all living things learn to some degree.   The simplest creatures all of have some sorta of biological memory that helps them find food and avoid destruction – though that memory is often quite different from ours and may not even be anything we’d recognize.    The difference is the sophistication and complexity of that learning made possible by our complex nervous system.   As individuals we learn a great deal.   As a species we learn a great deal.  Over time we are able to store and retrieve an increasing amount of learning that we pass on to our descendents through culture, written records, and now the internet and digital technology.   There is simply no other animal we’ve found that does this to the scale we do it.

 

Plenty of literature suggests it’s language or consciousness or art that makes us “human” or “different that the rest of animals.”   Rather than saying learning makes us a superior life form or different than other animals I’m merely suggesting that this our evolutionary strategy that developed and that all of those other things people mention come from this ability and need to learn.   We are constantly in search of more efficient ways to discover and transmit patterns that help us survive.   Music, language, art, writing, sport, etc all of this are varied, efficient and robust ways to teach other patterns.   Yes, they often have more pragmatic and immediately practical effects like making us attractive to mates, etc.   but they also are transmissions of patterns we’ve found interesting or useful or they help unearth other patterns.

 

Now, this being per speculation as so much of evolutionary biological thinking is, it’s quite possible that everything that allows us to learn was simply evolving in response to other things than learning.   Perhaps that’s true, but the emergent effect is that we happen to be extremely powerful learnings and we have yet to devise anything that can learn more effectively.   It’s unsurprising to me that our key enterprise is developing non human machinery to help us learn and that might learn better than us.  This is literally what we must do, it’s all we do do.

 

Why is any of this important?   It is a perspective that might put various aspects of organizing our lives, societies, countries, world, technology in a new, more resilient light.   If learning is the key ability we have to survive should we not organize around this and NOT do things that reduce learning?   Should we not amplify our ability and scope of learning?   

Maybe that’s too directional of a way to think about it.  Perhaps it matters not if there’s something we OUGHT to do and rather we Do What We Do and that’s the whole lot of it.   EIther way, as an individual looking to find better ways to survive and thrive I find it useful to think through and understand what might be underlying it all.   You know, seems like I should learn.

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