Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Neural Internet

Reading some papers on the Neural Internet - a new technological advancement in brain computer interface (BCI) research, which enables locked-in patients to operate a Web browser directly with their brain potentials.

Descartes - the man behind 'Cogito, ergo sum' - is also the name a system that uses neuronal signals from the brain and transforms them to binary or multi- dimensional computer commands enabling the patient to surf the Internet and read and send e-mails.

In Descartes (the system), the commands are arranged in a dichotomous decision tree based on a modified Huffman’s algorithm.

For those that really want to know how this is done, google it or here's a short list:

• Electroencephalographically (EEG)-controlled Web browser using SCPs, SMR/beta EEG-rhythms,
or P300 evoked potentials
• Invasive methods using electrocorticographic activity (ECoG),local field potentials or neuronal action potentials
• Metabolic brain activity measured by hemodynamic
methods such as near infrared spectroscopy

But where is this going? Where's this going?

Although the functioning of the neural Internet and its clinical implications for motor impaired patients are highlighted, these techniques will bubble up to the common user within the next 15 years. That's right young moms and pops - your children (and maybe even some of you readers) will be able to access and maneuver within the Internet with thoughts alone.

The ultimate nextgen SecondLife app.

Future studies will have to investigate under which social conditions neural Internet can be offered to a wide range of users that do not suffer from any significant communication impairment. In general, it can be assumed that if a patient can achieve reliable control of any brain signal, which can be used as a binary or even as a multidimensional input signal for a BCI system, any standard Internet functionality can be implemented based on this signal.

As seen above and on Nakazawa Hideki's homepage, applications are already being used in artistic and cultural examples.

Neat but for full fledged use on the Internet, this is in the long-term planning.

In the mid-term, the plan is that we will be using a combination of a voice/neural mash to navigate virtual space. Our minds are naturally able to do simple and routine 'transactions' or 'events' - while voice recognition apps manage the complicated commands.

Here's a scenario:
[voice] 'browser, url wired magazine'
[mind] (following retina reader) scroll down left hand navigation
[mind] (neuronic activity map) click on 'News'
[voice] 'search negroponte'
[mind] (retina reader) click 3rd search result
[mind] (retina reader) click on $100 laptop
[voice] 'bookmark, print and send url to JohnnyG'
[mind] (retina reader) find 'send',
[mind] (neuronic activity map) click 'Send'
[voice] 'back'
This complete set of instructions, with practice, would be done in under a minute - in a 'look ma, no hands' fashion.

We should be planning for this - forget Web 2.0 - this is the new Internet - this is Web N+1

Tags:, , , ,

Labels: , , , ,

Googlish - new language?

... from my moblog via sms ...

Heard a rumor that Google has been working on a new form of mashed language communication, called 'Googlish,' a common denominator to replace all the world’s languages. It will have its own grammar, vocabulary and spelling rules.

Talk about power ...

Tags:, , , ,

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Digital thinking

One recent survey of eight to eighteen-year-olds (8-18 year olds) claimed that children were now spending on average 6.5 hours a day using electronic media.

Could this screen and multimedia culture impact on thinking and learning behaviors? And what does this mean for social change and the work of us technologists?

Obviously, the most notable difference in this age group is the ability to multi-task and, as a tip to Orwell's 'Doublethink' - the death of linear thinking and the integral use of multidimensional thinking.

We don't tend to see the impact but will soon - and todays youth start to excel and show their rising competence and excellence in adapting.

The journalist Kevin Kelly [the founding editor of Wired] summed up the issue very well:
'Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of gossip tidbits, news headlines and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled by the audience.'
When those of the first half of the twentieth century read a book, most usually the author takes you by the hand and you travel from the beginning to the middle to the end in a continuous narrative series of interconnected steps. It may not be a journey with which you agree or that you enjoy, but nonetheless as you turn the pages one train of thought succeeds the last in a logical, linear fashion.

One might argue that this is the basis of modern education. It is the building up of a personalized conceptual framework, where we can relate incoming information to what we know already. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it significance. Traditional education has enabled us, if you like, to turn information into knowledge.

We of the second half then of course compare one narrative with that of another medium (we read a book and then see the movie and then listen to the audio book with our iPods) another. In so doing we start to build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further mental jumps and journeys, which in turn will influence our socially networked lives.

What about those of this generation – the first of the 21st century - the MySpace youth?

Here it is - imagine that there is no robust conceptual framework any more.

Imagine that you are sitting in front of a multimedia presentation where you are unable, because you do not have the experience of many different intellectual journeys, to evaluate what is flashing up on the screen.
The most immediate reaction instead would be to place a premium on the most obvious feature, the immediate sensory content - call it the 'wow' factor or the 'yuk' factor... or the wii factor.

Here's the difference - you would be having an experience rather than learning.

THAT's the difference between us and them. The term 'multidimensional thinking' is equivalent to the idea of 'modal logics' and always requiring an additional dimension for indication and implementation - using feedbacks.

Due to the opportunity for communities to leapfrog technologies – this is happening in both the developed (8-18 yr olds) and non-developed world (all populations under 38).

Surprised? Well read on.

This is exactly what is redefining socio-economic development requirements and is why most of today's ICT and development projects are not producing the results that were expected. Period.

We now have access to unlimited and up-to-date information at the touch of a button, but in this new, answer-rich world surely we must ensure that we are able to pose appropriate, meaningful questions.
Its not that we are asking the wrong questions – its that we are not recognizing the correct answers.

Does this mean that young people are acquiring different skills?

It seems that there is currently no conclusive evidence that reading standards are deteriorating. On the other hand, there is evidence that the enjoyment of reading has declined in the last five to ten years.

Is our world too linear? More visual?

Already the visual icon is often substituting for the written word. Audio - the spoken word - will be increasingly available.

We will soon have voice-interface computers – truly the next paradigm shift - embedded in our clothing or personal effects, you might simply need to ask your watch for the date of the Battle of Vimy Ridge or ask your phone to book you a reservation for two at a local sushi shop.

Why is voice recognition such a big deal? And what about the effect on the educational/economic divide?


That's it.

Memory may no longer be essential for us to 'experience' or 'learn'.

Huh? C'mon Galipeau - what'r you talking about? But listen.

Here's the deal - the ability to remember today may no longer be as essential as it was for those of us who had to remember such dates or had to learn reams of Latin grammar.

Imagination - that mysterious and special cognitive achievement that until now has always made the book so very much better than the film – is taking on a new role. A very prominent role because imagination and reality are mashing in the minds of today's post-2000 crowd. Here's a few question that, if asked and answered empirically, may hold the key:

What are the influences on youth/children today?
Where is the actual evidence of a new type of impact?
What do youth/children need to learn?
And, most importantly, how do we deliver these desiderata?

Is this shift transhumanism? No.

But is this the next level .. let's call it transsocialism? Yes.

Technology is not only changing the individuals role in all our distinct societies - its simultaneously changing all the distinct societies – the two don't sync for us (well .. my generation) but it will for the next and for the majority.

And – for us all - what a wonderful world it will be. Why? Because this shift promotes the ability of science and technology to go beyond the authority and the norm that is accepted in our current mindset - whatever that is - for physical and mental human enhancement.


Tags:, , , ,

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Was LIFT07 a 'Mr. Play-It-Safe'?


Not at all. But what was most interesting about LIFT07 is what it wasn't.

LIFT06 was about talking and there was enough of that at LIFT07 but there's talking - and then there talking with conviction which in my mind equals knowledge.


It's becoming clearer that pervasive personal communication technologies offer the potential for important social benefits for individual users, but there is also the potential for significant social difficulties and costs.

In face-to-face social interaction, ambiguity is often identified as an important cue for resolving social difficulties. At LIFT07, and in the afterclass opportunities and blogs, the 2007 graduating class of LIFT university were overheard discussing concrete actions and reactions - both the fieldwork of commercial systems (Flickr, Wiki, Lee Bryant at Headshift, etc.) and, most notable, unrealized social design concepts.

My play on this is that we are starting to see (and question) how user behavior in social interactions can be influenced by technological issues that result in ambiguity and unresponsiveness. Read: the focus is too narrow on technology and online social tools are not enough to keep a relationship/community ongoing.

We are starting to see the need to balance the utility of social ambiguity against the utility of communicative clarity to get the 'real' value out of all Web 2.0 tools that are being pushed our way. (thx Euan)

Basically, social interaction requires face-work to keep it real. That was more than obvious at LIFT07 (or at any gathering of the social/techno hybrids).

Face-work is used to accomplish goals such as avoiding embarrassment and maintaining harmony in relationships as well as credibility and influence. Face-work involves managing the impressions that other people have of your behavior.

Technology isn't there yet. We talked about it but it just isn't there.

Recognizing this, we discussed the design of social communication tools that can be 'deconstructed' in a way that helps designers in addressing these issues.

Usability for the non-user is a great example of this. I had a short but interesting discussion about this with Jeffery Huang. I think he liked it.

We now realize that not only the users online benefit from being online. In several instances - those 'wrapped around' the online person benefit as well. So designers of social tools should also consider their 'requirements' as well.

I would like to see a 'Snailmail to a Friend' option right beside the 'Email to a Friend' link.

Rather than simply looking at novel social communication tools in terms of their effectiveness in transmitting information, we also need to consider their designs in terms of how they address users' overall social needs.

That (up there) changes relationships.

But this (down there) also changes relationships.

One of my key observation at LIFT07, as well as in my daily life as I travel and interact with people all over the globe in all ways thinkable, is that more interpersonal knowledge often makes managing social relationships harder. Sociologists have long argued that 'strong and valuable relationships presuppose a certain ignorance and a measure of mutual concealment' to function smoothly.

So - is creating identities in Facebook, LinkedIn and SecondLife really increasing the value of my online (and offline) relationships?

We might, then, think of evaluating designs in terms of their support for creating personal space through ambiguity, a goal that may have to be traded off against the goal of clarity that we usually associate with communication.

But that sounds like disconnection. And it is.

This led to a new discussion about going noware.

Adam Greenfield gave a great talk about Everyware but I was thinking about noware - how life will be in the future as people decide to disconnect or decide not to get connected at all.

The concept of disconnection was largely unaddressed - we all tended to focus on tools that allow interactions to begin with greater spontaneity, rather than on facilitating the ability to avoid, pause or escape interactions as needed. However, many situations exist in which it is desirable to delay or avoid an annoying social communication. With all of our information online - how can we get offline?

People are constantly balancing demands on their attention. Even in face-to-face interaction, balancing the attentional demands of quasi-present 'friends' can be difficult. The challenge is much greater as mobile technologies make communication with remote parties more pervasive and intrusive.

You know, (to borrow the attitude of my good friend Richard), the truth is that sometimes I prefer listening to the ring tone more than actually answer my phone.

So Lifters - what's this got to do with you?


We all bitch about the Web 2.0 hype - but we are living the dream/nightmare right now. And, let's be honest, we know that it's not working.

The fundamental problem with the so-called 'social media tools' is that social interaction is an affirmation of a social relationship as well as communication. For this reason, the closing sequence of a telephone call between people with an established relationship often involves an affirmation that they will talk again (and perhaps even when this will happen). Online - we assume - but we just don't know.

Read: Disconnected relationships.

Consequently, a simple SMS or Twitter or invite to the 'new next' tool contains an element of social insensitivity between people who are not well-attuned to each others' behavior or motivations.

Read: Disconnected communities.

The combination of me in SecondLife and in Facebook and in LinkedIn does not create an 'online personality' in a socially acceptable way - either online or off.

Read: Disconnected identity.

All my identities online are just pieces of a puzzle. Not exactly what a few stage-jockeys at LIFT07 were telling us in that 'be here - be there - be everywhere - be everyone' power point presentation, eh? But allot of the break-time discussions were touching on it and that's a good sign.

I think what LIFT07 attempted to do is to strengthen the dialogue between designers of mediated communication systems and socially linked 'users' in a face-to-face interaction.

And, bravo to Laurent and his team, I think it worked.

I hope that LIFT08 will continue to be brave and design discussions that might include explicit consideration of how users make sense of their interactions and relationships at the meta level.

If they do - LIFTo8 will be about the next web - Web N+1

Tags:, , , ,

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Digital divide thoughts

Here's a thought:

Was there a 'color TV' divide in the late 1950s?

A 'telephone' divide at the beginning of the 20th century?

A 'cell phone' divide in 1990?

Can you add to that the microwave-oven divide, the automobile divide, the video game divide, and the video recorder divide?

But seriously, if you were to sit down and compare how much it costs to get on the web in 1995 US dollars (cost of computer plus online service) and today, what would you learn?

This is from in late 1995, for a middle of the road PC: US$2,340 for an OptiPlex XL 5100 slimline 100MHz Pentium processor, with 8MB RAM, a 540MB hard drive, 15LS color monitor, Windows 95 or Windows 3.11, and a mouse.

Memory tells me that a dial-up AOL account account cost about US$22 in 1995. Today, you can get an online account for US$9.95 and buy a new decent laptop that is a gazillion times more powerful and flexible than the desktop I note above for under US$1000 (soon to be under $100!).

If you wanted to buy a used desktop in very good shape your cost is probably close to US$200. And it’s about 100 times better than the 1995 machine.

Oh, I should mention that $2,340 in 1995 money is $2,900 in today’s dollars.

In other words, it’s never been cheaper to get onto the Net than today. Do people need to get their heads on straight about this digital divide thing?

This is whats wrong with this argument:

By definition, the digital divide is the chasm separating the haves and have-nots in digital technology. On one side are people who can afford or who have access to computers, a high-speed broadband connection and the plethora of services from online banking to social networking to blogging. On the other side of the equation are people who cannot afford the technology, cannot get broadband access because of their location, or who have learning or cultural limitations to using the technology.

But it's not only that.

There are many digital divides: Rural and urban; poor and rich, immigrant and native; old and young; disabled and able; developing nation and developed nation.

All these factors have been studied and solutions have been debated for years. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. talked about such a divide in one of his last speeches four days before he died in 1968:

There can be no gainsaying about the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today…That is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation…Modern man through scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance. Through our genius we have made this world a neighborhood. And yet we — we have not yet had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.

(Read more about King and the modern day digital divide on this blog post by Bonnie Bracey Sutton at the Digital Divide Network.)

By definition, the various digital divides are closing over time to some extent. More people are adopting digital technologies as the costs drop and very few people who have computers abandon them completely.

In the U.S., Nielsen/NetRatings found that 78% of residential Internet users had broadband connections last November, up from 65% a year earlier.

But as far as total broadband penetration in the entire population, the U.S. came in 16th place among the top 20 economies worldwide in 2005, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Pew Internet’s most recent survey from December 2006 showed the stark differences in Internet usage among various groups in the U.S. More than 80% of people aged 18 to 49 use the Internet, while only 33% of those older than 65 do. And in racial groups, 72% of whites and 69% of English-speaking Hispanics use the Net, while 58% of African-Americans do. Plus, 59% of those with a high school education use the Internet, while 91% of college-educated folks do.

BUT - If you’re a child growing up in South Korea, your Internet is 10 times faster at half the price than if you’re a child growing up in the Southern Tier or in the South Bronx, New York.

Beyond the political rhetoric and research numbers, there are real people stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide in communities around the nation and the world. It's complex but basically, there are three stages:

Stage 1: Economic Divide

In its simplest form, the digital divide is manifested in the fact that some people can't afford to buy a computer. Although politicians always talk about this point, it's growing more irrelevant with each passing day - at least in the industrialized world. We should recognize that for truly poor developing countries, computers will remain out of the average citizen's reach for 20 years or more.

In areas like North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia's advanced countries, computer cost is no longer an issue. Dell's cheapest computer costs US$379 (with a monitor) and is about 500 times as powerful as the Mac I used to write my thesis. While it's true that a few people can't even afford US$379, in another five years, computers will be one-fourth their current price. Would that all social problems would go away if we simply waited five years.

Stage 2: Usability Divide

Far worse than the economic divide is the fact that technology remains so complicated that many people couldn't use a computer even if they got one for free. Many others can use computers, but don't achieve the modern world's full benefits because most of the available services are too difficult for them to understand.

Almost 40% of the population has lower literacy skills and yet few websites follow the guidelines for writing for low-literacy users. Even government sites that target poorer citizens are usually written at a level that requires a university degree to comprehend. The British government has done some good work on simplifying much of its site information, but even it requires at least a high school education to easily read.

Lower literacy is the Web's biggest accessibility problem, but nobody cares about this massive user group.

Senior citizens face the second-biggest accessibility problem, but again there is little interest in the guidelines for making websites easier for older users. Companies don't even have the excuse that it doesn't pay to cater to this audience, because retirees are rich these days. Even though seniors are the main remaining source of growth in Internet use, companies are still endlessly fascinated by young users and ignore older, richer users who would be much more loyal customers - if only someone bothered to sell to them.

Whereas the economic divide is closing rapidly, I see little progress on the usability divide. Usability is improving for higher-end users. For this group, websites get easier every year, generating vast profits for site owners. Because they now follow more e-commerce user experience guidelines, companies that sell online typically have conversion rates of around 2%, which is twice the conversion rate of the bubble years. That's all great news for high-end users, but the less-skilled 40% of users have seen little in the way of usability improvement. We know how to help these users -- we're simply not doing it.

The digital revolution can create additional barriers for people with disabilities: for example, by creating a digital divide - a widening of the socioeconomic gap - between people with and those without disabilities, rather than helping to close these gaps.

These gaps are highlighted when the disposable income available through the disability pension is compared with the average disposable income of the able bodied. The digital revolution may be at the forefront of a divide between the educational and interrelated disparities of people with disabilities and most of society’s so-called "normal" members.

People with disabilities need a collective and empathetic approach so as not to add to the social exclusion and impoverishment they already feel compared to mainstream society. They need to be regarded as more than just the stereotype of people with lesser abilities. They need collective assurances that using technology to develop new skills is not an elusive dream.

Stage 3: Empowerment Divide

We have the knowledge needed to close the digital divide and I remain hopeful that we'll get the job done.

The empowerment divide, however, is the hard one: even if computers and the Internet were extraordinarily easy to use, not everybody would make full use of the opportunities that such technology affords. In the west - the Internet is seen as a commercial tool - selling - buying - look at my ads. This ideology is being sold in underdeveloped nation as a consumer tool - they don't need it. What they need is an empowerment tool - an education tool.

Because new and inexperienced Internet users lack the initiative and skill to take matters into their own hands, some users remain at the mercy of other people's decisions.


The digital divide, on a global scale, doesn't appear to be in the process of shifting dramatically one way or another. While some celebrate one aspect of success here and there, technology does not slow down - catching up to where others were a few years ago means that those years constitute a digital divide.

The main problem with this is that people working on the digital divide are trying to get everyone up to present day technology when instead they should be preparing everyone for future technology.

The irony is that one of the best ways we can coordinate these efforts is through a website and digital technologies — but it would have to accommodate dial-up users.

What do you think?

Is the digital divide a fading problem or a glaring one that needs to be addressed? What solutions can you envision? If you've got something to say ... drop me a line or if you are in Geneva, Switzerland - come to the panel discussion that I am giving at at LIFT07

Labels: ,