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Archive for the ‘intelligent agent’ Category

I love Robin Williams.

Robin Williams is a hero of mine. But that’s not really a deep enough concept to express his role in my life. I have absolutely shaped my approach to life around what I perceived of him as a hero. I never met him. I never received fan mail back from him or did a stand up routine next to him. I don’t have any remarkable story about him – except that I stayed up late, rented, borrowed my way into every piece of work he put out. From Mork and Mindy to the Comic Relief stuff to all of his movies to every late night appearance… I took in all of it as some source-book of how to interact, how to think, how to absorb the world so fully you can be in all of those situations and BE REMARKABLE.

As a high school senior I thought deeply about the idea of Julliard because of him. I imagined a future in which I could go out to the world and say things he said… not because I rehearsed it but because I was speaking honestly in my synthesis of everything I was taking in. I wanted to be that good only better… even faster on my feet. Even quicker with my wit. Even deeper with my knowledge. Anywhere, in any circle, at any moment.

And make no mistake, I’m not delusional about Performance vs. Real Life. I read anything I could of his non-performance experiences – from his activism and social engagement to his personal struggles to his ideas about comedy to his appreciation of J. Winters. Robins Williams life, in all its facets, speaks profoundly to me.

For most of my life the person I’ve been mostly compared to in my approach to everything, even from my own mouth, is Robin Williams. (and I not only don’t hate it, I love it. I want to be that.) I’m drawn to this engagement with the world:

KNOW EVERYTHING YOU POSSIBLE CAN

LISTEN TO EVERYTHING (EVERYTHING!) and EVERYONE (EVERYONE!) AROUND YOU

SYNTHESIZE VERY QUICKLY

TRY ANY IDEA

10000000 jokes (ideas) is bound to deliver 1 GOOD ONE, SO KEEP GOING

ENGAGE EVERYONE SINCERELY and SERIOUSLY

WALK A BILLION MILES IN EVERYONE ELSES SHOES

SWEAT

Yes, Dead Poets Society is one of my top 5 movies. Good Morning Vietnam is also in the top 5. Good Will Hunting is such an important movie to me….. …. …. All these things are quite obvious. Robin Williams dealt with and engaged and seriously considered the entirety of the human experience. For me he is the ultimate synthesis of this absurd and beautiful world.

The vortex that is postmortem analysis will never change the strange loop that lives on through me and others. Posit what we want about mental illness and depression and comedy and hollywood or whatever else we will try to make it all tidy, it doesn’t matter. Robins Williams is a buddha. He’s one of those rare convergences of vitality that infuses many other souls with purpose. I love you, Robin. Thanks for helping make me, me.

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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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Dr. Tim Maudin posits in his “BIGTHINK.COM” article, that there is not much procedural difference between how one arrives at philosophical axioms for life and scientific ones.

However, let’s not wax Pollyannaic to the gods of ‘blog’; there are major processes that are different.   The philosophical axioms of life that one distills along the way are private and not amiable to testing or any type of validation or falsification.  That’s good for the individual according to those that traffic in concepts, metaphors, mysticism and similes, but it is not so relatively good for the species and the universe.  Those philosophical interpretations, rules, axioms and beliefs die with the owner.

Scientific ones may have, but don’t necessarily have, a similar etiology.   But scientific content is converted from private to public by the bridging of communication that can be scanned for a value proposition by anyone exposed who is attending to it and, in so doing, gets to tests the content in their reality as well as the public reality that science serves.

Our belief frame out behavior and when those beliefs don’t have any course correction available they can lead to good and less good consequences for the owner and the community that owner inhabits.  We all are stuck with some very outdated concepts; mostly tied to the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian World view, as some have pointed out responding to philosopher Maudlin’s article. No attempt or clue is offered how we all have these albatross’ of folk science, folk psychology and folk folklore and that, for some, make this Dr. Maudin’s video an opinion piece rather than an information piece.

What is unbounded is the need for explanation of relationships in ways that are general or conditional.  Private or covert neural patterns that equal what we call “cognitive” is not been a productive place to look to find out what the heck is going on in the world.  It is unbounded because of the complexity.   Staring at our belly button is one relationship that, while interesting to many philosophically, medically or technically, is not particularly relevant scientifically other than how it fits into existing context of those who value understanding a broader set of relationships. A scientific “explanatory crisis” is critical only because there is so much to do and behavior is complex. The philosophical procedures that have been around for 2500 years have left us wondering and wanting.  Scientific approaches have provided the Gore-Tex to suit the astronauts on the moon, if you get the difference in meaning. The differences are literally mind boggling because we’ve spent so much time in the ‘mind’ idiom that is marginal if not, blatantly unfruitful.  Current philosophical journals and entries validate this one-liner’s contributions to “our ordinary life”.

in starts and sputters science handles the changes in content understanding.  Philosophical approaches hang on using the metaphors and mysticism that was oh, so trendy in 1200 BC (interesting way to reference, ah!?). Thus, we have a similar explanatory crisis in our individual daily lives right now.  It could be called a dichotomy between those that ‘Get it” and those that “Don’t Get it” concerning myth, gods, premonitions, intuitions, feelings, motivations and the private axioms we treat as real (reification).  These reified concepts keep us ginned up recycling tattered messages rather than focused on the infinite simple relationships that make up the complex relationships that contribute to figuring out what the heck is going on out there.  Many people just gave up, are giving up, to become atheists, agnostics or vaccumists musing the antics of the “–isms” which are the stock and trade of philosophy as well.  But the quest to make sense of things is valuable and will find a course it finds rather than one based on ‘should-ought,’ or truth, beauty, right, wrong, etc., ad nauseum.

It is ironical that those that want to disagree with this piece are right now looking for a scientific-looking way to frame their Judeo-Christian-Newtonian folklore arguments to make them so strong that it will launch their careers… as philosophers.   Lol.

  1. Thursday, June 23, 2011; http://bigthink.com/ideas/24170

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What? How could that be?… Here are some more dazzling examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:

First, here’s the good news…

Brain’s blood surge doesn’t match activity

  • Based on the 28 January 2009 article by the same name by David Robson
  • All [….. ] are comments and edits of jhb

CONTRARY to popular belief, a rush of blood to a certain brain region [as seen in an fMRI study] is not always linked to neural activity there, a finding that may guide future brain scan experiments.

Functional MRI scans measure blood flow in the brain. Neuroscientists interpret this as a sign that neurons are firing, usually as someone performs a task, [observes or senses the environment in some way] or experiences an emotion [implied due to reports and periphery recordings]. This enables them to link the emotion to the brain region where there was [a change in the area’s] blood flow.

Now, Aniruddha Das from Columbia University in New York and colleagues have shown that blood flow can occur without accompanying neural activity. Das used separate techniques to measure blood flow and neural activity in the visual cortex of two macaques trained to carry out a visual task.

Sitting in darkness except for a light that switched on at regular intervals, the monkeys were trained to look away if it was red, and fix their gaze on the light if it shone green.

When the timing [interval] of the pauses between the light flashes [were] changed, blood flow still increased when the macaque expected [would have normally received the timed] flash, but [without a colored light cue] there was no [‘escape’ or orientation movement] or subsequent increase in electrical activity from firing neurons [in those neural areas that were shown to be involved] (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature07664). Das suspects that the brain sent the rush of blood in anticipation of the neurons’ firing.

Christian Keysers from the BCN Neuroimaging Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, does not believe the result is relevant to the design of previous fMRI experiments and so is unlikely to have an impact on their results. But Das says care needs to be taken in future to ensure that this misinterpretation does not lead to errors.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Journal of Neuroscience, December 31, 2008, 28(53)

BOLD (blood oxygenation level-dependent) Signals Do Not Always Reflect Neural Activity

Behavioral/Systems/Cognitive (see pages 14347–14357)

Anna Devor, Elizabeth M. C. Hillman, Peifang Tian, Christian Waeber, Ivan C. Teng, Lana Ruvinskaya, Mark H. Shalinsky, Haihao Zhu, Robert H. Haslinger, Suresh N. Narayanan, Istvan Ulbert, Andrew K. Dunn, Eng H. Lo, Bruce R. Rosen, Anders M. Dale, David Kleinfeld, and David A. Boas

Each year, thousands of publications present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data that suggest that a particular brain region is active during a particular cognitive task. Casual readers [casual readers and some less casual readers] of such papers might forget [presume or not attend to the fact] that this technique does not actually measure neural activity, but rather blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrasts.

Synaptic transmissions require large energy expenditures, and increased energy metabolism has been hypothesized to act directly on blood vessels to increase blood flow and alter BOLD signals.

This week (Feb-09), however, Devor et al. report that this hypothesis is not always the correct one. [One can only imagain that new neural pathways being laid down show somewhat different blood flow than neural activity from repetitive or redundant activities as measured by neural activity.]

As expected, stimulating the forepaw of rats increased blood oxygenation, vessel diameter, glucose uptake, spiking, and synaptic release in the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex [associated with sense reception on the forepaw]. In the ipsilateral cortex, however, neural activity and glucose uptake increased, but blood oxygenation and blood flow did not.

These results indicate that blood flow is not directly tied to metabolism, and BOLD signals do not always reflect neural activity as recorded by various fMRI devices.

~~~~~~

Conditioning works even if you don’t know about it…

The brain, as a physical organ, has shown classical conditioning without an agent, autonomous man or the need for an interpreted purpose.

Some other experiments have shown that monkeys fire “anticipation” neurons in different areas before they perform a movement itself. There must be some neural circuits that cause vasodilation in these areas of the brain in anticipation of the light. Reducing things down to cell membrane transport to find the ‘cause’ starts to get a little like trying to find the soul or the personality when those things are mere metaphors that allow us to communicate and, after use and misuse, come to be personified and be the thing we are trying to understand rather than the behavior of the organism.

All in all this type of reduction approach has led us to some strange interpretations for headlines in magazines and pop science-shizzle articles to attract readers but not many have the cohunes of NewScientist, a normally damn good resource who boldly stated on their recent cover: Darwin Was Wrong!

More examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:

http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/04/10/bad-brain-science-boobs-caused-subprime-crisis/

http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/11/wired-for-belief/

To Trust or Not to Trust: Ask Oxytocin

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan 49 participants who were given…
July 15, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Mauricio Delgado

Monkey Mating Requires Lots of Brainpower

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the brains of male marmoset…
February 02, 2004 – News – By Sarah Graham

Is Your Brain Thinking on its Feet?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor their subjects’ brain…
November 09, 2000 – News – By Harald Franzen

Escape from the Insipid: Our Brains May Be Wired for Daydreaming

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While the subjects were not performing…
January 18, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Why the Brain Follows the Rules

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to see what parts of the brain…
June 10, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Caroline Zink

Scientists Identify Brain Region Responsible for Calculating Risk versus Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how 14 healthy subjects…
June 15, 2006 – News – By David Biello

Right Brain May Be Wrong

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As a first step, psychologist Markus…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By Steve J. Ayan

MRI Study Shows Lying Brains Look Different

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of volunteers…
November 14, 2001 – News – By Sarah Graham

Politically Correct: Why Great (and Not So Great) Minds Think Alike

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Researchers focused their examination…
March 19, 2008 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

The Dope on Dopamine’s Central Role in the Brain’s Motivation and Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to examine the normal human brain…
September 15, 2008 – News – By Tabitha M. Powledge

The Political Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows where in the brain the…
June 26, 2006 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

Can You Believe Your Shifty Eyes?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), if the behavior she had observed was…
April 19, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Your iBrain: How Technology Changes the Way We Think

…placed. To make sure that the fMRI scanner was measuring the neural…
October 08, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Thinking about Morality

…a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural…
July 29, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Adina Roskies, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Searching for God in the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Beauregard seeks to pinpoint the brain…
October 03, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By David Biello

Neuroscientists Take Important Step toward Mind Reading

…on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers as they looked…
May 29, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Christopher Intagliata

Saying no to yourself: The neural mechanisms of self-control

…button press). On each trial of the fMRI study, subjects were given three…
September 11, 2007 – 60-Second Science Blog

Five Ways Brain Scans Mislead Us

…at the capabilities and operation of fMRI, perhaps the most commonly…
November 05, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Michael Shermer

Brain-Scan Cell Mystery Solved

…until now the mechanism underlying fMRI’s robust success has been a…
October 06, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Nikhil Swaminathan

BRAIN TERRAIN

…resonance imaging (fMRI). Unlike other imaging methods, fMRI allows…
March 21, 2000 – Scientific American Magazine – By Carol Ezzell

Fact or Phrenology?

…magnetic resonance imaging–or fMRI–has made quite a splash since its…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By David Dobbs

Freeing a Locked-In Mind

…with the advent of functional MRI (fMRI) scans, it became possible to…
April 04, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By Karen Schrock

Are You a Liar? Ask Your Brain

…Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine whether someone…
November 15, 2007 – News – By Larry Greenemeier

Hypnosis, Memory and the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They carefully selected 25 people to…
October 07, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Amanda J. Barnier, Rochelle E. Cox, Greg Savage

Can brain scans read our minds?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze changes in the flow of blood…
December 12, 2008 – 60-Second Science Blog

Does fMRI See the Future?

…magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to chronicle the brain in action….
January 22, 2009 – 60-Second Science

Can fMRI Really Tell If You’re Lying?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) purports to detect mendacity by seeing…
August 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Gary Stix

The Brain Is Not Modular: What fMRI Really Tells Us

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We have all seen scans with…
May 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

The Sound Track of Our Minds

…headphones while lying in an fMRI machine; each of the musical tapestries…
August 03, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Brain Images Make Inaccurate Science News Trustworthy

…magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI)—the tool that creates a…
April 07, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Partial Recall: Why Memory Fades with Age

…imaging magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine whether those…
December 05, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

When Craving Is Better Than Getting

In a recent article about brain cells, Joshua Freedman a U.C.L.A. neuroscientist, noted that a monkey feels maximal reward not when he eats a grape but rather when he gets it in his possession, anticipating he can eat it. Reward anticipation is very strong and can have a negative impact, (think: addiction), according to researchers from Rutgers and New York universities. They studied the effect of cognitive therapy on the physiological reactions to anticipating positive reward, and the results are published in Nature Neuroscience this week. To get a handle on these cravings, researchers presented human subjects with cues for a monetary gift. For each presentation, they were asked to either think of the reward or think of something calming  that was the same color as the cue (which was blue).   The calming strategy cut the physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance response) nearly in half. Additionally, they found marked reductions in the activity of the left and …
June 30, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Magnetic Revelations

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become the leading research tool…
October 16, 2001 – Scientific American Magazine

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They’re at it again. Yes they are… As part of the Rube Goldberg contingent from Mythinformation Central. From the people that brought you “you’re fat because of your friends” you are now presented with: “your genes influence who will become friends.”

They set up the straw man: that it is an error to suggest people are a function of a “simple model for the metabolic, neural and Internet networks, and the same model is applied to human beings — that all parts of the network are identical and interchangeable”.

They never knock it down but extrapolate beyond the data with innuendo of their own PR. One can only imagine that Christakis and cronies will be doing collaborative work with Steven Pinker soon on the topology of the mind, call it science and write another book on the mind’s influences in support of Pinker’s postulate that the reason the Chief justice misquoted the oath of President Obama was a “blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling Or was it a Freudian slip? Hmmm… Science, huh... How very canny for the Language Don Dr. Pinker to point that out as he knows so much about both people’s histories, relevant factors and ‘mindful’ homunculi like those “inherent characteristics that govern where we [as individuals] gravitate to in the social network.”

“A second implication is that the [current] study suggests that if we really want to understand how things [?what ‘things’?] diffuse in social networks, we need to take into account people’s locations in the social networks, which are due in part to their genes,” Christakis pontificated while showing no data or peer reviewed research.

Please see the Baloney Detection Kit submitted for consideration for those reading content from any media channel, including Buzz Creation or Mythinformation efforts by mainstream print media to get more subscribers and kooks to buy their fading printed words.

I am looking forward to more “sharper predictions” from the Christakis Mythinformation crew.

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[warning: This is a fairly “duh, I know all this” post for some people.  I just wanted to get out an accumulation of thoughts on the topic.  The interesting stuff is closer to the bottom. ]

It’s pretty safe to say that Google is the current king of technology and innovation.  No it doesn’t have everything figured out and it isn’t even as big as HP, IBM and Microsoft, but it does currently have one of the most ubiquitous product on earth, Google.com.

Competitors and up and comers want to catch some of that Google fire or at least it’s riches.  Most of them are trying to beat Google at its core -Web Search.  Some of that is out of fear that Google can encroach on their core business and some of it is out of envy of the profits Google created.  These are real factors.  Real big money is at stake… but…

Google can’t be beat at web search.

But wait!

It doesn’t need to be done!

Beating web search won’t happen with better web search, we don’t need a better way to search web pages or YouTube videos. Google can be beat in business and will be “beat” when the environment is right for the next big shift in info tech.

Consider that no one tech company has managed to be number 1 in more than 1 major aspect of the modern info tech chain.

Server OS is linux/unix

Database is Oracle/MySQL

Enterprise connectivity are the big infrastructure companies

Consumer connectivity are the cable and phone companies

Server hardware is HP, Dell, and Sun

Consumer OS is windows

Browsers are IE and Mozilla

Web server software is apache

Productivity software is Adobe and Microsoft

Web Search is Google

Email is your ISP, business or prefered portal

Social Network is MySpace or Facebook

and so on…

The point is while most everyone chases Google on Web Search (and Search Advertising) they are missing the point that the cost to make a competitive product and maintain competitiveness is just not going to be worth it.  Users will always search the web, but by now it’s just like everything else in the digital chain – it’s one of the functions that will steadily grow in use each year but the massive usage and monetization explosion is over.   You can see this in Google’s financial trends.  Anyone who jumps into the fray at this point is just going to be swept up in the general trend of steady growth. (i.e. the cost of entry is still high, but the upside isn’t high like it was before)

The key to massive wealth generation in technology is to create the next function that users aren’t already using but will need/want as soon as the tools/technology/culture reinforce it.

A classic example is the Operating System.

Microsoft whipped everyone at the consumer OS.  However, Microsoft’s tech dominance didn’t come to an end (some will claim it hasn’t ended) because someone built a better OS (even though Apple did in many eyes). OSes all got to a certain usefulness and now they are practically given away (on netbooks, phones, etc.).  Few people pay full price for an OS any more because it just is part of the package.  The OS isn’t the killer app anymore, no matter who makes it.  Microsoft’s dominance was done in by the accumulation of improved hardware, connectivity, great web apps, reliance on non pc devices, web servers, more savvy user bases, open source… literally, the OS just became another low margin part. (yes, I know they still make billions on it, but really it’s not the big margin it used to be and its getting MORE expensive to remain competitive).

Recent Examples of this concept include Social Networking leapfrogging AOL and chatrooms, Twitter and Facebook overtaking IM, search targeted text ads dominating banner ads, timeshifting and on demand doing in TV guides and one time broadcasting…

Google has shown that it can no longer build the Next Thing.  It can buy or extend the Next Thing once others have built, but raw creation is not going to happen again at Google.  Its web search (and related Ad Sense) business takes most of its energy and contributes 97% of its revenue.  Maps, Earth, Picassa, YouTube, etc. etc. are neat, but they weren’t invented or dramatically improved by Google.  Sure, Google’s mass in web search made these products runaway hits, but none of these products make Google profits.  It’s 20% rule for engineers is legendary, but that 20% has generated products that mostly a revisions on what others have done.

This is true of Yahoo and Microsoft and Apple and HP.  And it’s all good.  They are incredibly profitable businesses that will continue to generate profits and make strides in their products.  They just will never again generate the massive insta-wealth that they did when their core products made a splash in the market.  The fact that they are all now established businesses with product, marketing and shareholder obligations keeps a good amount of creative energy tied up in just maintaining the core business.  Start ups don’t have these pressures and so they usually make the killer apps.

What’s the next big thing?

One thing that’s becoming clear is that we have so much data (even our data generates data) that just finding data is not going to be enough.  We needed web search as soon as the number of web accessible resources outgrew the directory approach.  We wanted better social functions when chat rooms and IMs couldn’t give us the disired threaded discussions and access to media.  We now have access to millions of scanned books, every piece of video media created in the last 10 years, everything our friends are doing through out the day, all our IM conversations, all the emails we send, every SKU, all academic papers, code, genetic data… etc. etc.  Finding is not the issue.  Any of us can FIND relevant data.  None of the innovations after Google search have been much more than ways to digitize data and provide a way to find it. (Facebook, YouTube, GPS, Wikipedia and so on are just specific implementations of the basic digitize and make findable)

The next problem to solve is DOING something with this data.  The technology has to start DOING stuff for us.  Not just presenting summaries of options for data or links to more data or a list of more media.

What should I watch? Not, just what can I watch.

What should I buy? Not just what can I buy.

Who should I vote for? Not just who’s on the ballot.

What does life expectancy and cost of health care trends imply and what should I do about it? Not, here is are the latest numbers.

Some might call this artificial intelligence, others call it smart computing, others call it computation.  Call it whatever you want.  The technology needs to start doing things, not just sorting and filtering.  Analyzing, deciding, contacting, buying, reserving and so on.  In small ways it does do that.  Music playlist systems, spam filters, virus protection, news alerts, tivo, algorithmic stock trading all compute on the data and take action.  These are terribly complicated functions nor do they dramatically impact how we live, but they are glimpse of what’s to come.

When you think about advertising (which is what pays for Google’s technology), that’s what it’s about getting you to make decisions and take action.  Both the user need and advertiser need come together at the point in which data is sythesized and acted upon.  Although a commercial flop, Facebook’s beacon was a daring attempt to bring advertising closer to this vision. Unfortunately for Facebook the user need wasn’t quite there and the implementation didn’t really DO anything other than create more data for users to look at.

To bring it all together – I hope internet innovators stop trying to help us index and find more data.  Google and the other providers do that well enough.   Personally, I don’t want to spend my time searching for info.  I’d rather be creating or doing, not just sifting, browsing, surfing, filtering.  And I want to be creating and doing interesting things, not mundane things like scheduling, routing through city streets, paying bills and so on.

P.S.  Slightly off topic but relevant if you want to think through why Google can and will be overtaken by another tech company as king of the hill… it’s built on arbitrage.  30% of it’s revenue comes from Ad Sense ads it runs on other sites.  However, most of those other sites generating that 30% get 50-80% of their traffic from searches on Google leading to their pages.  Facebook, MySapce and Wikipedia are the rare exceptions that don’t need Google’s traffic and don’t generate big revenue (Facebook and Wikipedia don’t carry Google Ads at all and it pisses Google off).  This is unsustainable.  The marketing is just stuck for now ituntil advertisers demand more than tiny text links on mostly bad web pages.  For now, that’s the best way to advertise online.  It won’t stay that way.  The banner ad gave way to the search ad.  There will be something else.  Even if it doesn’t replace the search ad, it will chew into its profitability.

Worse though is that the majority of the google ads are purchased by professional arbitragers.  SEM firms, ad agencies, traffic specialists.  They know how to buy clicks on google for .20 and charge advertisers/clients 1.00.  As the tracking tools get better and more clients increase their knowledge, this scheme will breakdown.  The prices for advertising are going to come way down making the arbitrage game very difficult.  Without professional arbitragers playing on google, Google will lose a lot of revenue.

You can uncover this for yourself.  Trace when Google’s revenues shot through the roof.  It will coincide with them releasing ad features like “keyword replacement” which allowed big advertisers to insert the search keyword into generic copy.  This meant that millions of search ads went online that really weren’t all that useful, but they had the right search keyword in the copy.  You can see this at play today when you search for bizarre keywords and you’ll find and Amazon.com or Ebay ad.  Click on it and see if there’s a real page there.   Or consider an advertising like the one in this article.  The worst possible scenerio – a professional arbitrage outfit that does reverse mortgages.  They do $100,000 a month in ad words with Google.  Do we really think this is going to last?

You can also correlate the google revenue growth with the advent of SEO firms who put up tons of worthless pages and helped legit publishers put up tons of worthless pages.

Lastly, because of how important Google’s traffic is to many online businesses, the general functionality of the web is less than it could be because everyone tries to make their pages Google search friendly.  Google has actually significantly stunted the growth of useful web functionality.  However, that trend is reversing with runaway, non Google supported successes like the iPhone, Facebook, Wikipedia, widgets, twitter and wordpress.  Google is very slowly losing it’s grip as the only way to get traffic.  And with experiences like Facebook and Twitter we’re seeing better functionality.

I’m not holier than thou.  I’ve made plenty of money playing with Google traffic.  I use Google non stop personally.  It’s not going to go away.  It’s not going to one day be running at a loss.  It’s an essential company providing much needed and wanted services.  My point in this post and the PS is that the margins and valuation they have isn’t sustainable at all.  2009 will showcase some of cracks as the ecosystem they’ve helped create begins to morph under the drastically different world we live in.  This isn’t like after dotcom crash.  This is bigger and Google’s one revenue stream is not market proof.  It benefited from Google.com being the only game in town for finding stuff and Ad Sense being the only reliable source of paid advertising online.   Advertisers aren’t going to pay the same amount for ads AND Google’s dominance on web traffic isn’t going to remain.

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