Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
The inner workings of the internet mind
Meteorologist Lewis Frye Richardson's 1922 paper on modeling the weather
postulated a hyperball computer, with 64,000 nodes made up of computing human beings. His fascinating ideas are now encapsulated in the computer networks that do weather prediction.
Idealized Hyperball network
I got the word "Hypersphere" from a friend last week, savored it, and ultimately googled for the origin, finding a 2003 speech on immortality by Gordon Bell Prize winner
Computing in the future will be distributed on computers interconnected in a hyperball network. The personal computers of the future will primarily be used to access more remote computers that are more powerful than any computer that exists today.
As computing shifts from the computer to the Internet, the World Wide Web evolves into an intelligent superorganisms or "brain of brains," which I will call a superbrain. The superbrain has a hyperball interconnection pattern with billions of nodes. Each node is powered by both a human- and computer-brain.
After reading his speech I kept thinking not about connectivity, but about conversation, about chemistry, about memes like "Political climate" and "blogosphere". I thought about how different transmission speeds were between an idealized hyperball or NUMA computer, a network, and people... The word "web", as in "world wide web", started to bother me. I sat back in my chair, closed my eyes, and tried to visualize what the web really looked like. While the idea of a "web" is hopelessly two dimensional, and a hyperball more appropo', reality remains more complex. "A brain of brains" wasn't quite it, either. An organism of organisms... An organism of thinking organisms... hmm... A thinking organism of thinking organisms...
|Then I discovered the wonderful work being done by the CyberGeography project. This graph represents physical topography of a real network, but it also resembles the virtual topography of the blogosphere. Champion bloggers like Lessig and Searls have influence and connections much like the pattern on the lower right, with a cluster of connections closely intersecting, while the hat pattern in the center is like that of someone using conventional broadcast media.
I like that data flow in this representation appears spherical. (it isn't actually, it's hyperbolic, but I digress) The speed of light around the half the circumference of the earth is as fast as communication is going to get.
|Light can get halfway around the globe in .067 of a second. In this graph it takes me .33 of a second for me to ping china.
Not bad factoring in the innumerable routers, cables, firewalls, and modems between here and there!
Where it once took months for a small packet of information to be brought around the world by sailing ship Everyone on the internet can reach everyone else in seconds. Meatspace has no meaning. We've already lifted free of the physical and entered the virtual.
Each mind on the internet is already in something more complex than a hypersphere, already potentially connected to n minds, where n = the number of users on the net. But we don't have telepathy, what we have is approximations for it (text, pictures, moving pictures, voice) that we've encapsulated in technology that can transmit at nearly lightspeed. We're actually connected in something more like a fractal pattern.
People in israel, australia, and china can get to any article within seconds of posting it, but they don't. Why? While we strive towards communication at the speed of thought, we're still incapable of receiving more than one conversation at a time.
Each net broadcast thought-wave we have has inherent directionality, attenuation, and lag that is perceived only on the receiving side. A ping packet is symmetrical - it has inherent directionality from both the origin and destination, attenuation is measured by loss of multiple pings, not a single one, and the lag is usually the same in both directions. (if I sound like I'm making analogies to particle physics here, I am. The characteristics of spin aren't so well defined on the web, yet)
Metcalfe's law: The usefulness, or utility, of a network equals the square of the number of users.
"Usefulness" is not well enough defined.
|Real networks, of people, of conversations, layered on top of complex physical networks, are more chaotic than can be mapped in 3 dimensions, with any number of colors.
A conversation where everyone talks at the same time precludes listening. That's what the web used to be like. A conversation where everyone listens to a single speaker precludes conversation. That's what broadcast media used to be like. (For imagery purposes, rather than thinking of all these n connections between as a n-dimensional matrix, I'm going to keep using spherical analogies) - Now the two spheres of broadcast and conversation intersect. Sparks fly! Ideas are in flight!
Bloggers act as strange attractors
|While apparently chaotic, webbed conversation is self-organising. It has many of the features demonstrated by simpler systems like Daisyworld and Life, except that people and computers are part of the program. Google relies on people organising the web as much as people rely on google to organise the web. A computer cluster and a people cluster operate in symbiosis. Right around now, this author started thinking of the web, not as a web, but of an organism of organisms. It's a dynamic, living thing. The spread of thought waves is like weather. Each piece of text on the internet is the flapping of a butterfly's wings.
When thinking about people try to remember what you aren't measuring. We've only managed to encapsulate thought as text so far. All the products of the other senses remain out of reach. Unencapsulated.
For all the audio data that's on the internet, there's no search engine that scans an mp3 for what it actually says. There's nothing that can capture the esthetic of a sculpture, the taste of love, or the smell of jasmine - if these are the things you are searching for on the internet, you need to experience them for yourself.
People have tried to visualize how people interact in artificial environments like LambdaMOO:
|If you define metcalfe's law's "usefulness" as the ability to communicate, clearly, two of the purest forms of telepathy are mathematics and programming, but even then, if you don't know the language, you aren't going to communicate. Clear writing in english is no help when speaking to a non-english speaker, either. Movies, especially silent movies, bridge the gap between cultures, but even the best translated talkies can leave foreign audiences puzzled at shortcuts in the visual grammar.
The only people interacting in the game to the left are people that can type, enjoy text-based virtual reality, and were logged in over the sampling period. A very small segment of humanity. Each is the center of their own story, their own n-wide hypersphere of history, connections and communication, and only within this virtual world do some of the points of their personalities intersect.
The most popular networked games today consist of very basic survival strategies - find/kill the stranger being predominant - and have little to do with communication and thought itself. What role would games like these play in a "brain of brains?". Very little. But in an organism of organisms, they make a lot of sense. Survival of an organism makes sense.
Since we don't yet have a jack in our heads for telepathy, what substitutes? Conversation.
I like to think of that initial conversation as an extension of talking to oneself, where thought = talking to oneself. First you engage in personal reflection, then you look for a reflection from someone else. It's rare that you submit that first thought to someone you don't like. Sometimes you get good feedback, and the conversation extends. Depending on the strength of the thought/meme/blog you revise it, and send it out into the ether to be devoured by your eager listeners/readers.
a thought's influence over time
|Pre-blog/pre-google there it would sit, unlistened to, unread. Oh, if you posted to usenet news, you might get a group of people that were already interested in what you said, but just to the web? Nothing. If you were a newspaper columnist you had readers in syndication, but outside that? Nothing. It's a bigger world than that now.
In it, everyone's talking, and few are listening. When a conversation takes place (people comment on other sites) the amplitude of a thought wave rises above the background noise.
Strange attractors (champion bloggers) redirect and reflect and amplify the thought. Ultimately a search engine listens in, and the conversation is stored in global long term memory. Sometimes a thought gets amplified so loud that it makes a jump from the internet to conventional media - I've been really struck lately, by how often the economist picks up on a web trend two-three weeks after it passes by in conversation.
Visualize yourself as a cluster of competing thought-waves, as lightweight and as transparent as an atom, amid other clusters of competing thoughtwaves... a one of 6 billion passing in space and time within the hyperball surrounding the earth... think about the parts of you you've pushed into cyberspace, and how much you depend on the part of others. Think of how your ideas would have spread in the days of the Conestoga
wagon, or in the days of city to city phone service.
When worlds collide
A bassist in SF may play a jazz gig one day and classical the next - the various spheres co-exist in the same space (music), but rarely intersect. What a chess player does in New York has no noticible effect on the bass player in San Francisco, so long as they are playing simultaneously.
But it would be really difficult to play chess in New York if you could hear the bass player in San Francisco - and every musician in-between the cities, which is where attenuation comes in. Thankfully, sound attenuates in air. Text attenuates in the web.
Now - as soon as their efforts are transferred into a transmission medium (the musician gets on radio, the chess player in the paper) they *can* affect one another... but no matter the medium, over these distances, it's directional. The receiver has to tune in.
Books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, the web, email, blogs, and instant messaging all are partial encapsulations of telepathy - ideas in flight - and if you wonder why is it that it's so hard to change the world? The connections between our minds demonstrates hysteresis.
I'm going off to hang with a couple other strange attractors at LinuxWorld, and see if I can get this thought reflected, refracted, or amplified. I'm trying to describe how the web - an organism of thinking organisms - thinks. While I've tried to demonstrate today that the speed of thought around our shared globe is plenty fast, it ain't nothing compared to the speed of reflection around a shared beer.
Four for today
It's a beautiful day, I have other things to do, but here's:
Zen and the art of corporate productivity
The wireless doc
wrote in . We have a lot of interests in common - wireless, thin clients, medical devices. One of the coolest things he pointed me to was WANDA
: a handheld reference platform with integrated GPRS, 802.11b, and bluetooth. Voice, wireless, and computing technologies are
Via Evan Hunt
Some issues in group dynamics
from Clay Shirky. It's a little thick in the beginning, but as you wade through it he raises interesting questions.
Dave Pollard talks about the process of blogging
For some bloggers, just writing is enough. For most of us, though, we're looking to the blogosphere to provide us with useful and interesting information, education, entertainment and/or inspiration for our writing, and feedback, a critical audience, and help with the creative and publishing process. That process looks (to me at least) something like this:
Dead on. He talks later about rationing your intake vs writing time... and that's what I'm doing today. Later!
Netizens rebel against direct marketing
According to the Economist
Over 27 million phone numbers
got registered on the US government's new Do Not Call
website, in less than one month. I don't know how many real people this is... plenty - more people than voted libertarian in the last election, easily....
The article goes on to claim that 80% of the signups were via the internet, and that the FTC thinks that 60 million phone numbers - 1/3 of all the phone numbers in the US
- will be registered as "Do not Call" by the end of the year.
There's metcalfe's law for ya. The usefullness and power of a network system equals the square of the connected users. There's a whole lot of angry, fed up people connected to the internet right now...
Now, given that there are multiple exceptions
to the do not call rules, perhaps it is time to push harder - making the default "no calls" - from these exceptions, too. I'd be willing to introduce "choice" to the registry - allowing calls from entities like the above if you so chose - so long as the default is: "No calls, thank you very much, please don't bother me at all, I'm too busy living life."
I wrote last month: Wouldn't it be wonderful if every time you picked up the phone
the call was from somebody you wanted to talk to?
Wouldn't it also be great if we could also stop the flood of 4th class mail into our physical mailboxes?
In other news, my system administrator installed the anti-spam tool spamassassin
last month. Result: over 400 spams caught (and deleted!). I received 150+ emails that I wanted to receive. Spamassassin's flippin wonderful. (It's more passive than what a russian minister did recently
I got multiple emails from strangers that I got to immediately, instead of languishing in my main mailbox waiting time for me to sort for them. (I already filtered for friends and business associates) I spent (easily!) half the time dealing with email that I used to. I stopped polling for my email and set up a bell for incoming mail instead. This is the first time in 10 years I've been able to cut my email load to less than an hour a day, and I love it.
The silence of the spams is not a horror movie, but a liberation from pointless distractions.
Shouting back at newspapers, radio or television was increasingly pointless. The rise of these broadcast media drowned out the voices of ordinary citizens. Finally, via the internet, the people can be heard again across the nation, and across the world. I feel ever more confident that this time, next year, the Net will truly reshape the face of politics and business.
Kite shot down over Ashdod
On July 25th, Hanan Cohen, of Israel, wrote me a beautiful letter, entitled "Why kites are better than helicopters". He quoted from Maxwell Eden
A wind from the north blew steadily. I opened the tube, removed the kite, and put it together. In an instant, the kite caught me off-guard. It leapt from my hand, tugging and pulling until it wrestled free. As I stood there holding the line and watching the kite soar upwards, a totally unanticipated euphoria overcame me. I was elated and puzzled. I felt in balance, simultaneously grounded and elevated. Enthralled with what I had thought was merely a child’s toy, I lost all track of time and flew the kite till sunset. I pedaled home that evening, feeling weightless, harmoniously sandwiched between yin and yang, knowing there was more to kite flying than met the casual eye.
***Love and Peace***
On July 26th, Hanan went and flew a kite on the beach of Ashdod. On the kite he'd written "Death does not justify Death" in both Hebrew, and Arabic. I guess he had read Uncle Bill's Helicopter
. I imagine he launched that kite with hope in his heart, and the same sense of elation he described to me the previous day.
What happened next? Two individuals took the kite down and destroyed it - and he was beaten up. Here's his story about the violence at the beach
Dear Hanan: while kites and helicopters can crash, and you feel like hell about it, you still have to get up, and try again, no matter how hard it gets. It may take you a while to come back from this:
But: Pain shared is reduced, Joy shared is increased. The same day you wrote me, here on the other side of the world, connected by this amazing thing called the Internet - I parked at a beach near Santa Cruz, and watched the kite-sailers surfing the waves, and meditated on your first letter. Watching them, I felt the same simple joy and freedom you felt on the 25th. Daedalus and Icarus
made a legendary flight, but Icarus flew too close to the sun and crashed.
You and I and Icarus have flown too close to the sun, but we still live, we still try. I'll fly a helicopter, thinking of you. Others will fly kites. Still others will come up with something else to do. More people have now seen your kite fly on the web than did at the beach. Your dreams will fly again. Rest up.
There are pundits out there who take a theme, run with it, hype it for a few weeks, beat it to death, and the next month, manage to forget about how wrong they were. I'm told, if you do it well, it can be a high-paying gig. The newsletter biz is a classic example. Hype, Hype, Hype - forget, forget, forget - Hype Hype Hype - forget, forget, forget - every month, like clockwork. Readers eat it up. Or, at least they used to. The web has a history now, it's possible to peer into someone's published past in the face of their present, and judge them by their work. Do normal people do that? I don't know. I
Now - I'm no stranger to the newsletter biz, I once spent quite a few months enabling a newsletter publisher called Dick Davis Publishing
to move their newsletters to the web. We pioneered internet chat between publishers, but no-one cared. Pdf after pdf came out of the publishing department... There was no historical viewpoint between quarters or years.... because, at least in part, there was no easy way to correllate last year's issue with this year's. PDF files don't lend themselves to that, and it wasn't in the publication's percieved self interest to analyze itself like this.
As the internet exploded, and interactive services like Quote.com
took off, the demographic for the financial newsletter slid rapidly up the geriatric investor scale. I became certain that the paper newsletter, converted to read-only pdf, was dead, dead, dead. I left for California soon afterwards.
Recently I've been thinking and talking and googling about where Moore's Law intersected with Metcalfe's law
(also Gene's law
, POGE, Michael's Law... there's a few other trends that don't have "laws" associated with them that I'm working with, too, more later). I discovered Gilder had been exploring moore's law before me...
damnit. With a pdf file. No interactivity: no chat, no blog, no means to discuss, no way to move the viewpoint forward or backward in time, no means to transclude the charts for further discussion... (note, I used to read Gilder a lot, I'm NOT damning Gilder here, just the interactivity). Doing that web search also pointed me to a nicely webatized version of Nicholas Negroponte's Unleashing the Killer App
, which I spent an enjoyable hour re-reading.
I'm uncomfortable with punditry myself, I'm full of questions, mistakes, and doubts, and I know
the web has a history
. However... I like to think aloud and I'm not afraid of being wrong, or sounding stupid. I'd like to be interesting - I'd like to be funny - I'd like to be readable - and I'd like to be right - but I'll settle for one of the four in a blog entry. Maybe someday I'll be posting "finished" pieces on what, exactly, I think about what the future holds for everyone, but here, for now - with no word limit - no editor - I can say what I want - and live with it, later. I'm convinced, that somewhere in my half-formed thoughts is an idea or two that will resonate with others.
I'm only under one NDA now, and I didn't learn anything from that encounter. I keep meeting with potential employers/clients, all in search of "secret sauce". I know I have a few ingredients for that. I'm keeping the pot simmering.
I keep thinking if I finish writing up what I thought I understood 10 years ago maybe I'll get a handle on what the next 10 will look like - and get a jump start on it. I have a lot of writing ahead of me this year. Words fail me often when I talk about the future, I'm forced to resort to graphs. Moore later.
Know someone that says browser innovation is dead, that IE rulz? Show them how to use tabbed browsing
on mozilla or konqueror (especially on a slow modem connection) for a few minutes and watch them salivate
. There's still plenty more innovations where that came from...
Now, as a certified tabbed browsing addict, I have a blogging shortfall.... Blogger's "BlogThis" utility only lets me blog one item at a time. Usually I'm exploring multiple themes and links at the same time as I construct an essay. BlogThis is oriented towards "one link, one blog entry". What I'd like to be doing is taking ALL the tabs... ALL of them - and be able to easily dump them into the blog.
I'm staring at 200+ tabs right now, in six different incarnations of the browser, on three themes. I don't wanna do this by hand... I don't wanna... I can bookmark them all, then drag and drop them (title-less), if I want to...