Singularity University - It's Official

February 03 2009 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

The Singularity University, which our own Alvis Brigis got an early scoop on, was made official today.  The venture has the support of Google, NASA and an All-Star team of the singularity cognoscenti.  The announcement received widespread coverage in the media from the likes of Businessweek, AP and Forbes, which demonstrates just how far this meme has come over the years.

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I'll never forget a great night owl session at the first Accelerating Change Conference held by John Smart's Accelerating Studies Foundation in 2003 with Ray Kurzweil holding court and about 20 of his most ardent fans (many of whose works I had read) in attendance.  Eliezer Yudkowsky, Ben Goertzel, John Smart et al were listening in earnest to what Ray had to say and it was pretty cool.  I heard sometime later that it was also a treat for Ray to have been in such an intimate setting with such a knowledgeable and passionate crew.

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Google Maps Now Predicts Traffic

April 17 2008 / by Accel Rose / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 4 Hot

Google Maps has now added a traffic feature that allows you to see the level of expected traffic for a given time on a given day. This marks the first of what I believe will be many prediction components or layers to the Earth platform.

I expect we’ll soon see more robust traffic forecasts displayed by Google. Later on, I’m betting the company will integrate visual forecasts of local crowd traffic, business hours and even recurring annual/holiday events at given locations, perhaps using a combination of time of day, Google Street View footage and geo-tagged flickr photographs to build up these prediction composites.

Eventually, it seems rather likely that Google Earth will develop a robust time toggle feature, as predicted by David Gelertner in his seminal work Mirror Worlds (an absolute must-read if you’re interested in Google or the future), that will save us all a great deal of travel time, gas money and grief; not to mention point us in the direction of useful and fun events.

Uncle Ballmer Wants Your Eyeballs! - Microsoft to Offer Search Rebates

May 22 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2008   Rating: 4 Hot

Google lost nearly 5% of its market value yesterday when Microsoft announced that it will begin offering rebates to consumers who use its Live Search to discover and purchase products. The action marks the beginning of a new phase in the online battle for our attention which will gradually return more and more value to the user.

It is significant and a bit surprising that Microsoft, a company known for squeezing every last bit of value out of its dominant position in operating systems, and not Google (which is using a very similar tactic vs. Wikipedia by creating a competitor, Knol, that returns ad revenue to contributors)is leading the charge to return capital to its users. Though I’m sure Google has similar options readily available (having so much familiarity with revenue splitting via its AdSense program and development of Knol) this goes to show the company is confident in its ongoing development of search and content to react to Microsoft’s moves and let the market do the talking.

The Main Takeaway: As the value of human attention allocation continues to rise and more competition essentially commoditizes current web applications, we can expect that companies will be forced to either 1) return value directly through revenue share, 2) return value through a superior product and/or network,or 3) a combination of 1 and 2. We should expect these trends to transform our web experience over the coming years as search companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Fledglings), Semantic Web Companies (Twine, Adaptive Blue), social media (Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon), social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), prediction markets (Predictify, InTrade, ZiiTrend), social web browsers (Medium, Flock), etc. all try to garner human participation.

Microsoft being forced into the value-added game is a strong indication that the rise in value of attention allocation is quite real.

Update: Some thorough and spot-on analysis of the situation by Michael Arrington here.

Is Google The Ultimate Context Miner, Refiner, and Producer?

August 08 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Government   Year: General   Rating: 4

This past June, Google-owned YouTube launched a new way to search for political videos on its YouChoose page:

Using speech recognition technology, the new function allows users to search for videos based on keywords that are spoken in the video. The resulting videos include yellow markers on the play bar to indicate where the keyword is uttered inviting the user to jump to that spot in the video. And if the user mouses over the highlighted area, a small overlay pops up with the phrase that includes the keyword, to provide some context.

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What's Holding Back Enterprise Prediction Markets?

September 15 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Economics   Year: General   Rating: 4

Enterprise prediction markets have been growing in popularity, but face three major hurdles to success: 1) lack of access to all relevant information, 2) regulatory concerns, and 3) adoption / sticky use. As these are resolved, new-age prediction markets will increase in value, diffuse more quickly and make us smarter as a species.

1. Lack of access to relevant information: My big takeaway from Wisdom of the Crowds, the prediction market bible by journalist James Surowiecki, was that a large group of humans can consistently out-predict individuals, but only if all the brains are knowledgable of the given topic area. For example, farmers won’t be great at predicting next year’s fashion colors – that will be left to the those with more direct exposure to the appropriate industry trends.

Prediction market guru Chris Masse points out a similar flaw plaguing most, if not all, enterprise prediction markets: lack of access to ”’experts’ and other ‘business leaders’”. Masse argues that minus this crucial top-level information a company’s internal “prediction markets would be clueless, useless, and worthless.”

Solutions: The obvious but eminently unpalatable solution is for corporations like Google, GE, and Microsoft that already utilize prediction markets to open-up access to more of their top-level data to employees or even the public. This would immediately result in better predictions, but would obviously benefit their numerous cut-throat competitors. It will take some time for big businesses to implement such transparent practices, though I can imagine the right start-ups could successfully implement such an open strategy and then scale.

On the flip side of coin, companies could up the incentives for successful predicting in external but vastly larger markets, essentially throwing more money and brains at the process. They could then make use of the growing # of top rated performers and ideas (would be shocked if they’re not already mining such data). It seems like this will gradually occur as 1) companies increasingly look to the web for ideas, 2) the semantic web and better search makes everyone smarter faster.

Then again, a more immediately plausible middle road could involve bringing on a group of professional predictors, say 40 – 100 diverse individuals, and then give them access to the highest level information. Of course, they would be required to live in a cave and never again communicate with friends or family…

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The Growing Impact of Towns and Cities in Google Earth

July 28 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 3

In its effort to catalog and effectively share the world’s information, Google continues to improve its dynamic representation of earth and has now extended its reach to cities and towns.

The first time I experienced Google Earth, I was pretty impressed. Accessing satellite information, I was able to navigate most any location on the planet that I was interested in, from a bird’s eye view. Of course the first thing I did was check out my street, the homes of my past, and landmarks around my town.

Next I was introduced to Street View, a visualization composed of photos taken from automobiles that allows full 3D street navigation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when Street View was at last integrated with Google Maps, that I could travel down my street take a glance at my house and my car parked neatly on the curb. That was really cool to me. I found myself wondering where I was the time the photos was taken, and being thankful they hadn’t caught me outside my house in an early morning stupor.

After some light research I found that Google isn’t just concerned with satisfying my curiosity. It has found ways to make money with this technology while expanding its functionality for important, decision-making parties.

Google introducing advanced versions of the platform with Google Earth Pro ($400/year), a collaborative tool for commercial and professional use and Google Earth Plus ($20/year) for everyday map enthusiasts. It also provides non-profit organizations with Earth Outreach, a program that allows organizations to map their projects to help engage users.

In March 2008, Google Earth introduced Cities in 3D which is unsurprisingly a complete 3D visualization of numerous cities. To contribute to this effort, users can submit and share renditions of structures and buildings using Google’s SketchUp. The program primarily relies on city governments to submit their 3D information electronically (for free) and invites them to review the benefits.

The benefits for local governments seem rather extensive. They include: engaging the public in planning, fostering economic development, boosting tourism, simplifying navigation analysis, enhancing facilities management, supporting security and crime prevention, and facilitating emergency management.

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Office Online: Too Little, Too Late

August 09 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 3

Robert Scoble recently sat down with Chris Capossela, Senior Vice President of Information Worker Group at Microsoft, and asked him about some of the new Office features that they are planning for the future.

To sum it up, Microsoft believe that since so many people are buying their product, they are the real powerhouse when it comes to information exchange. They base this on the fact they make billions of dollars and have millions of customers. Did that sound sarcastic? It was. Microsoft is coming late into the game of online collaboration and feels they can make up for lost time by forcing people to buy their product with every new PC that gets released.

This kind of mentality may have worked a year ago, but with Windows Vista sucking wind world-wide people are looking into better alternatives. Mac sales are up, Firefox continues to grow against Explorer, and more and more people are trying out rival operating systems like Linux or Fedora. With Google already releasing over 300 templates for free through their Google Docs program, as well as the growing sentiment against Microsoft products, Microsoft might just fall flat on their face with this one. In other words, why pay ridiculous amounts of money for something that you can already get for free?

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Teaching Computers Through Gameplay

August 12 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Entertainment   Year: General   Rating: 3

Human computation, the basis of which is discovering what tasks humans can do to make computers smarter, may someday be responsible for making computers not only smarter, but significantly smarter than humans.

Luis von Ahn, a Computer Science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and the inventor of the prevalent internet tool CAPTCHA, has made it his life to study human computation.

Human computation has many applications. For example, computers aren’t very good at identifying what appears in an image, but humans are. To make online image searches more accurate, von Ahn developed the ESP game, which led to the creation of Google’s Image Labeler, and finally the compilation of five different games: Games With A Purpose (GWAP.com).

The model of game play works well. The games are fun, foster bonds and competition, and are free. These are all qualities that have attracted high numbers of players – thus, creating a strong effort to make not only image searches more durable, but also bring computers closer to thinking like humans.

The question is, when will all our game playing lead to a smarter computer that no longer needs our help?

In June 2006, von Ahn was invited to the Google campus to give a TechTalk lecture on human computation and brought up some interesting points about the bond and tension between humans and machines:

At one point von Ahn jokes that the interactions he’s created through GWAP could lead to a world similar to the one depicted in The Matrix; that is, one in which machines rule the universe and generate power from human brains.

Although his speculation appeared light-hearted, when I ask von Ahn what he thinks now, he asserts: “I completely believe computers will become every bit as intelligent as humans, possibly even more intelligent. I don’t see why not: the brain is a machine, we just don’t understand how it works yet.”

When will computers be able to think like humans?

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Google Earth Adds News, Baby-Steps Forward

May 21 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 2 Hot

Google Earth took another baby-step into the future yesterday with the integration of geographically pertinent news feeds.

“By spatially locating the Google News’ constantly updating index of stories from more than 4,500 news sources, Google Earth now shows an ever-changing world of human activity as chronicled by reporters worldwide,” wrote product manager Brandon Badger .

I took the new layer function for a spin and found it to be rudimentary and moderately useful. But it’s clear the service will gradually become more valuable as Google adds more geographically tagged stories/feeds, filtering options and sub-layers that I can toggle on or off at will.

Ultimately it seems likely that the new feature will work hand-in-hand with search, possibly even showing up on Google’s main results pages alongside maps, pictures and video which were added earlier this year.

My main take-aways: Google’s inexorable march toward an information-dense and variably sortable Earth platform continues. As the company continues to systematically add physical and information “resolution” to its Earth application, I expect it will evolve into a resource that I and billions of others use on a daily basis and become one of Google’s top money makers.

Where McCain and Obama stand on Science and Technology

August 01 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Government   Year: General   Rating: 2

Over the past few months Americans have been trying to grasp what each presidential nominee will bring to the table once inaugurated as our Commander-in-Chief this coming January.

With looming issues that include the economy, the war in Iraq, and gas prices, there has been little emphasis placed on how either John McCain or Barack Obama feel about the government’s role in science and technology despite a growing group of citizens who want the issue debated.. These individuals believe that the future of America’s science and technology sectors are crucial to the success of our economy, world image, and ultimately our well-being.

I found this table presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), useful but not definitive.

The table compares the decisions made by McCain and Obama regarding policies on science and technology spanning energy, health care and innovation.

It is clear through this table that Obama has given each issue some more thought: his calls for change include concrete numbers and percentages, while McCain’s do not.

With some more research, I found that much of the same was reflected in McCain and Obama’s campaign websites and other articles written about their stances.

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FCC Frees Up White Spaces, Signals a Wireless Revolution (Google is Very Happy)

November 05 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Gadgets   Year: 2011   Rating: 2

On the eve of the election, the FCC approved the use of the wireless spectrum left void by the national switch to digital television (commonly referred to as “white space”) for tech company use.

“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today adopted a Second Report and Order (Second R&O) that establishes rules to allow new, sophisticated wireless devices to operate in broadcast television spectrum on a secondary basis at locations where that spectrum is open. (This unused TV spectrum is now commonly referred to as television “white spaces”). The rules adopted today will allow for the use of these new and innovative types of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.” – FCC Website

Google, a long proponent of developing the strong white space spectrum for wireless internet, is ecstatic. Having lead the fight to free up the white space spectrum with other partners such as Dell, Microsoft and HP, Google must be feeling like they’re on top of the world.

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Microsoft Cannonballs into Social Networking and a User-Centric Future

November 13 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 2

Not content to be outdone by the pesky likes of Google, Yahoo and Facebook, Microsoft finally walked the plank last night, cannon-balling into the tumultuous social media sea with the conversion of its live.com property.



In a single brazen move that augmented my long defunct Hotmail account with a smart new MySpace-ish application, Live, the 4th most trafficked website on the planet (trailing Yahoo, Google, and YouTube – just ahead of Facebook, MSN, MySpace and Wikipedia), upgraded itself to a full-fledged social network chock full of the usual friending, photo sharing, blogging and events coordination features, as well as a very interesting Cloud storage play called Sky Drive.

It’s a necessary and nearly inevitable reaction as the major players jockey for web users that can fuel advertising revenue and, more importantly, core application usage.

Most significantly it reinforces the trend of web companies providing ever more user value through applications that help them manage their online world. Even the Big Bad Wolf has now succumbed to the new market reality by launching a cuddly (sky blue theme) social network that cleverly integrates email-to-blog publishing, RSS import from all of the biggest platforms, 5 GBs of free file storage and super-easy sharing of photos and other data.

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