The clips below are taken directly from my highlights as I read this book. Reference below to ‘I’ is referring to the author. I will mark any comments I add as my own thoughts in bold beginning with Note:.
I mean inevitable in a different way. There is bias in the nature of technology that tilts it in certain directions and not others. All things being equal, the physics and mathematics that rule the dynamics of technology tend to favor certain behaviors. These tendencies exist primarily in the aggregate forces that shape the general contours of technological forms and do not govern specifics or particular instances.
Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself. Once we invented the scientific method, we could immediately create thousands of other amazing things we could have never discovered any other way.
In our new era, processes trump products.
I’ve waded through the myriad technological forces erupting into the present and I’ve sorted their change into 12 verbs, such as accessing, tracking, and sharing. To be more accurate, these are not just verbs, but present participles, the grammatical form that conveys continuous action. These forces are accelerating actions.
These forces are trajectories, not destinies. They offer no predictions of where we end up. They tell us simply that in the near future we are headed inevitably in these directions.
In this era of “becoming,” everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever. That should keep us humble. That bears repeating. All of us—every one of us—will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up.
We are stretching our boundaries and widening the small container that holds our identity.
A world without discomfort is utopia. But it is also stagnant. A world perfectly fair in some dimensions would be horribly unfair in others. A utopia has no problems to solve, but therefore no opportunities either.
The flaw in most dystopian narratives is that they are not sustainable. Shutting down civilization is actually hard. The fiercer the disaster, the faster the chaos burns out. The outlaws and underworlds that seem so exciting at “first demise” are soon taken over by organized crime and militants, so that lawlessness quickly becomes racketeering and, even quicker, racketeering becomes a type of corrupted government—all to maximize the income of the bandits. In a sense, greed cures anarchy.
Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better. It is incremental improvement or mild progress. The “pro” in protopian stems from the notions of process and progress. This subtle progress is not dramatic, not exciting. It is easy to miss because a protopia generates almost as many new problems as new benefits.
Protopia is hard to see because it is a becoming. It is a process that is constantly changing how other things change, and, changing itself, is mutating and growing.
Unlike the last century, nobody wants to move to the distant future. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we’re stuck in the short now, a present without a generational perspective.
The other alternative is to embrace the future and its becoming. The future we are aimed at is the product of a process—a becoming—that we can see right now. We can embrace the current emerging shifts that will become the future.
The revolution launched by the web was only marginally about hypertext and human knowledge. At its heart was a new kind of participation that has since developed into an emerging culture based on sharing. And the ways of “sharing” enabled by hyperlinks are now creating a new type of thinking—part human and part machine—found nowhere else on the planet or in history. The web has unleashed a new becoming.
The last 30 years has created a marvelous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. But what’s coming will be different, beyond, and other. The things we will make will be constantly, relentlessly becoming something else. And the coolest stuff of all has not been invented yet. Today truly is a wide-open frontier. We are all becoming. It is the best time ever in human history to begin. You are not late.
To begin with, there’s nothing as consequential as a dumb thing made smarter. Even a very tiny amount of useful intelligence embedded into an existing process boosts its effectiveness to a whole other level. The advantages gained from cognifying inert things would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than the transformations gained by industrialization.
the first genuine AI will not be birthed in a stand-alone supercomputer, but in the superorganism of a billion computer chips known as the net. It will be planetary in dimensions, but thin, embedded, and loosely connected. It will be hard to tell where its thoughts begin and ours end. Any device that touches this networked AI will share—and
The arrival of artificial thinking accelerates all the other disruptions I describe in this book; it is the ur-force in our future. We can say with certainty that cognification is inevitable, because it is already here.
Three generations ago, many a tinkerer struck it rich by taking a tool and making an electric version.
The entrepreneurs didn’t need to generate the electricity; they bought it from the grid and used it to automate the previously manual. Now everything that we formerly electrified we will cognify. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or more valuable by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.
Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think.
The scientific method is a way of knowing, but it has been based on how humans know. Once we add a new kind of intelligence into this method, science will have to know, and progress, according to the criteria of new minds.
What are humans for? I believe our first answer will be: Humans are for inventing new kinds of intelligences that biology could not evolve. Our job is to make machines that think different—to create alien intelligences.
The greatest benefit of the arrival of artificial intelligence is that AIs will help define humanity. We need AIs to tell us who we are.
It’s hard to believe you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived—appliance
To demand that artificial intelligence be humanlike is the same flawed logic as demanding that artificial flying be birdlike, with flapping wings. Robots, too, will think different.
“Right now we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.”
understand how robot replacement will happen, it’s useful to break down our relationship with robots into four categories. 1. Jobs Humans Can Do but Robots Can Do Even Better
can weave cotton cloth with great effort, but automated looms make perfect cloth by the mile for a few cents. The only reason to buy handmade cloth today is because you want the imperfections humans introduce. There’s very little reason to want an imperfect car.
computerized brain known as autopilot can fly a 787 jet unaided for all but seven minutes of a typical flight.
We’ve accepted utter reliability in robot manufacturing; soon we’ll accept the fact that robots can do it better in services and knowledge work too.
Jobs Humans Can’t Do but Robots Can
We aren’t giving “good jobs” to robots. Most of the time we are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone.
Jobs We Didn’t Know We Wanted Done This is the greatest genius of the robot takeover: With the assistance of robots and computerized intelligence, we already can do things we never imagined doing 150 years ago.
In a very real way our inventions assign us our jobs. Each successful bit of automation generates new occupations—occupations we would not have fantasized about without the prompting of the automation.
Jobs Only Humans Can Do—at First
The one thing humans can do that robots can’t (at least for a long while) is to decide what it is that humans want to do. This is not a trivial semantic trick; our desires are inspired by our previous inventions, making this a circular question.
Here are the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:
- A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
- [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.
- [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
- [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
- [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
- [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!
- [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now. [Repeat.]
This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.
Many of the jobs that politicians are fighting to keep away from robots are jobs that no one wakes up in the morning really wanting to do.
They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were. It is inevitable. Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.
We are currently entering the third phase of computing, the Flows. The initial age of computing borrowed from the industrial age.
The second digital age overturned the office metaphor and brought us the organizing principle of the web.
Now we are transitioning into the third age of computation. Pages and browsers are far less important. Today the prime units are flows and streams.
in order to operate in real time, everything has to flow.
The first industry to be steamrolled by the switch to real time and the cloud of copies was music. Perhaps because music itself is so flowing—a stream of notes whose beauty lasts only as long as the stream continues—it was the first to undergo liquidity. As the music industry reluctantly transformed, it revealed a pattern of change that would repeat itself again and again in other media, of books, movies, games, news. Later, the same transformation from fixities to flows began to overturn shopping, transportation, and education. This inevitable shift toward fluidity is now transforming almost every other aspect of society. The saga of music’s upgrade to the realm of fluidity will reveal where we are headed.
A universal law of economics says the moment something becomes free and ubiquitous, its position in the economic equation suddenly inverts.
When nighttime electrical lighting was new and scarce, it was the poor who burned common candles. Later, when electricity became easily accessible and practically free, our preference flipped and candles at dinner became a sign of luxury.
When copies are superabundant, they become worthless. Instead, stuff that can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.
When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied? Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk.
Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy-saturated world.
Why would anyone ever pay for something they could get for free? And when they pay for something they could get for free, what are they purchasing?
I call these qualities “generatives.” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction.
Here are eight generatives that are “better than free.”
Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released—or even better, produced—by its creators is a generative asset.
Personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time-consuming. Marketers call that “stickiness” because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset and will be reluctant to switch and start over.
The lines of free code become valuable to you only through support and guidance.
You might be able to grab a popular software application for free on the dark net, but even if you don’t need a manual, you might want to be sure it comes without bugs, malware, or spam. In that case you’ll be happy to pay for an authentic copy. You get the same “free” software, but with an intangible peace of mind.
Ownership often sucks. You people, myself included, will be happy to have others tend our “possessions” while we lazily subscribe to them on the cloud. I
At its core the digital copy is without a body. I am happy to read a digital PDF of a book, but sometimes it is luxurious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper bound in leather. Feels so good. Gamers
Deep down, avid audiences and fans want to pay creators. Fans love to reward artists, musicians, authors, actors, and other creators with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect with people they admire. But they will pay only under four conditions that are not often met: 1) It must be extremely easy to do; 2) The amount must be reasonable; 3) There’s clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) It’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators. Every
The previous generatives resided within creative works. Discoverability, however, is an asset that applies to an aggregate of many works. No matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen.
Success in this new realm requires mastering the new liquidity.
The superconductivity of digitalization had unshackled music from its narrow confines on a vinyl disk and thin oxide tape. Now you could unbundle a song from its four-minute package, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, mess with it. It wasn’t only that it was monetarily free; it was freed from constraints. Now there were a thousand new ways to conjure with those notes.
A big fat paper book is the very essence of stability.
Here’s my rendition of how books stay:
- Fixity of the page—The page stays the same. Whenever you pick it up, it’s the same.
- Fixity of the edition—No matter which copy of the book you pick up, no matter where or when you purchased it, it will be the same (for that edition), so its text is shared between us.
- Fixity of the object—With proper care, paper books last a very long time (centuries longer than digital formats), and their text doesn’t change as they age.
- Fixity of completion—A paper book carries with it a sense of finality and closure. It is done. Complete.
But while book lovers will miss the fixities, we should be aware that ebooks offer four fluidities to counter them:
- Fluidity of the page—The page is a flexible unit. Content will flow to fit any available space,
- Fluidity of the edition—A book’s material can be personalized.
- Fluidity of the container—A book can be kept in the cloud at such low cost that it is “free” to store in an unlimited library and can be delivered instantly anywhere on earth at any time to anyone.
- Fluidity of growth—The book’s material can be corrected or improved incrementally.
What has happened to music, books, and movies is now happening to games, newspapers, and education. The pattern will spread to transportation, agriculture, health care. Fixities such as vehicles, land, and medicines will become flows.
These are the Four Stages of Flowing:
- Fixed. Rare. The starting norm is precious products that take much expertise to create.
- Free. Ubiquitous. The first disruption is promiscuous copying of the product, duplicated so relentlessly that it becomes a commodity.
- Flowing. Sharing. The second disruption is an unbundling of the product into parts, each element flowing to find its own new uses and to be remixed into new bundles.
- Opening. Becoming. The third disruption is enabled by the previous two. Streams of powerful services and ready pieces, conveniently grabbed at little cost, enable amateurs with little expertise to create new products and brand-new categories of products. The status of creation is inverted, so that the audience is now the artist. Output, selection, and quality skyrocket.
We have only started flowing. We have begun the four stages of flowing for some types of digital media, but for most we are still at the first stage. So much more of our routines and infrastructure remains to be liquefied, but liquefied and streamed they will be. The steady titanic tilt toward dematerialization and decentralization means that further flows are inevitable. It seems a stretch right now that the most solid and fixed apparatus in our manufactured environment would be transformed into ethereal forces, but the soft will trump the hard. Knowledge will rule atoms. Generative intangibles will rise above the free. Think of the world flowing.
The old way of reading—not this new way—had an essential hand in creating most of what we cherish about a modern society: literacy, rational thinking, science, fairness, rule of law.
The fate of books is worth investigating in detail because books are simply the first of many media that screening will transform. First screening will change books, then it will alter libraries of books, then it will modify movies and video, then it will disrupt games and education, and finally screening will change everything else.
Today the paper sheets of a book are disappearing. What is left in their place is the conceptual structure of a book—a bunch of symbols united by a theme into an experience that takes a while to complete.
Think of a book in all its stages as a process rather than artifact. Not a noun, but a verb. A book is more “booking” than paper or text. It is a becoming. It is a continuous flow of thinking, writing, researching, editing, rewriting, sharing, socializing, cognifying, unbundling, marketing, more sharing, and screening—a flow that generates a book
Right now the best we can do in terms of interconnection is to link some text to its source’s title in a bibliography or in a footnote. Much better would be a link to a specific passage in another passage in a work, a technical feat not yet possible. But when we can link deeply into documents at the resolution of a sentence, and have those links go two ways, we’ll have networked books.
In the goodness of time, as all books become fully digital, every one of them will accumulate the equivalent of blue underlined passages as each literary reference is networked within that book out to all other books. Each page in a book will discover other pages and other books. Thus books will seep out of their bindings and weave themselves together into one large metabook, the universal library.
The resulting collective intelligence of this synaptically connected library allows us to see things we can’t see in a single isolated book.
The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years. You are anonymously marking up the web, making it smarter, when you link or tag something.
what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas?
First, … works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near zero audience they usually have now.
Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked.
Third, the universal networked library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority.
Fourth and finally, the full, complete universal library of all works becomes more than just a better searchable library. It becomes a platform for cultural life, in some ways returning book knowledge to the core.
Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking. A new idea or unfamiliar fact uncovered while screening will provoke our reflex to do something: to research the term, to query your screen “friends” for their opinions, to find alternative views, to create a bookmark, to interact with or tweet the thing rather than simply contemplate it.
Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote. Screening encourages rapid pattern making, associating one idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day.
Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever.
Five deep technological trends accelerate this long-term move toward accessing and away from ownership.
- Dematerialization The trend in the past 30 years has been to make better stuff using fewer materials.
- Digital technology accelerates dematerialization by hastening the migration from products to services.
The tangible is replaced by intangibles—intangibles like better design, innovative processes, smart chips, and eventually online connectivity—that do the work that more aluminum atoms used to do.
I predict that by 2025 the bandwidth to a high-end driverless car will exceed the bandwidth into your home.
The first stand-alone product to be “servicized” was software.
TV, phones, and software as service are just the beginning. In the last few years we’ve gotten hotels as service (Airbnb), tools as service (TechShop), clothes as service (Stitch Fix, Bombfell), and toys as service (Nerd Block, Sparkbox). Just ahead are several hundred new startups trying to figure how to do food as service (FaS). Each has its own approach to giving you a subscription to food, instead of purchases. For example, in one scheme you might not buy specific food products; instead, you get access to the benefits of food you need or want—say, certain levels and qualities of protein, nutrition, cuisine, flavors.
Other possible new service realms: Furniture as service; Health as service; Shelter as service; Vacation as service; School as service.
The general approach for entrepreneurs is to unbundle the benefits of transportation (or any X) into separate constituent goods and then recombine them in new ways.
The downside to the traditional rental business is the “rival” nature of physical goods. Rival means that there is a zero-sum game; only one rival prevails. If I am renting your boat, no one else can.
intangible goods and services don’t work this way. They are “nonrival,” which means you can rent the same movie to as many people who want to rent it this hour.
Sharing intangibles scales magnificently. This ability to share on a large scale without diminishing the satisfaction of the individual renter is transformative.
For better or worse, our lives are accelerating, and the only speed fast enough is instant. The speed of electrons will be the speed of the future. Deliberate vacations from this speed will remain a choice, but on average communication technology is biased toward moving everything to on demand. And on demand is biased toward access over ownership.
Decentralization We are at the midpoint in a hundred-year scramble toward greater decentralization. The glue that holds together institutions and processes as they undergo massive decentering is cheap, ubiquitous communication.
Turns out you can decentralize money, and the technology to do this may be instrumental in decentralizing many other centralized institutions. The story of how the most centralized aspect of modern life is being decentralized holds lessons for many other unrelated industries.
Bitcoin may be most famous for its anonymity and the black markets it fueled. But forget the anonymity; it’s a distraction. The most important innovation in Bitcoin is its “blockchain,” the mathematical technology that powers it. The blockchain is a radical invention that can decentralize many other systems beyond money.
An important aspect of the blockchain is that it is a public commons. No one really owns it because, well, everyone owns it. As a creation becomes digital, it tends to become shared; as it becomes shared, it also becomes ownerless. When everyone “owns” it, nobody owns it.
For a long time there were two basic ways to organize human work: a firm and a marketplace. A firm, such as a company, had definite boundaries, was permission based, and enabled people to increase their efficiency via collaboration more than if they worked outside the firm. A marketplace had more permeable borders, required no permission to participate, and used the “invisible hand” to allot resources most efficiently. Recently a third way to organize work has emerged: the platform.
A platform is a foundation created by a firm that lets other firms build products and services upon it. It is neither market nor firm, but something new. A platform, like a department store, offers stuff it did not create.
Dematerialization and decentralization and massive communication all lead to more platforms. Platforms are factories for services; services favor access over ownership.
Clouds The movies, music, books, and games that you access all live on clouds. A cloud is a colony of millions of computers that are braided together seamlessly to act as a single large computer.
The web is hyperlinked documents; the cloud is hyperlinked data.
If McLuhan is right that tools are extensions of our selves—a wheel an extended leg, a camera an extended eye—then the cloud is our extended soul. Or, if you prefer, our extended self.
There are practical limits to how gigantic one company’s cloud can get, so the next step in the rise of clouds over the coming decades will be toward merging the clouds into one intercloud. Just as the internet is the network of networks, the intercloud is the cloud of clouds.
A counterforce resisting this merger is that an intercloud requires commercial clouds to share their data (a cloud is a network of linked data), and right now data tends to be hoarded like gold.
In the coming 30 years the tendency toward the dematerialized, the decentralized, the simultaneous, the platform enabled, and the cloud will continue unabated. As long as the costs of communications and computation drop due to advances in technology, these trends are inevitable.
Nearly every day another startup proudly heralds a new way to harness community action. These developments suggest a steady move toward a sort of digital “social-ism” uniquely tuned for a networked world.
While old-school political socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state.
unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, this new digital socialism runs over a borderless internet, via network communications, generating intangible services throughout a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme.
social, social action, social media, socialism. When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that new socialism.
In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, media theorist Clay Shirky suggests a useful hierarchy for sorting through these new social arrangements, ranked by the increasing degree of coordination employed. Groups of people start off simply sharing with a minimum of coordination, and then progress to cooperation, then to collaboration, and finally to collectivism. At each step of this socialism, the amount of additional coordination required enlarges. A survey of the online landscape reveals ample evidence of this phenomenon.
- Sharing The online public has an incredible willingness to share.
Sharing is the mildest form of digital socialism, but this verb serves as the foundation for all the higher levels of communal engagement. It is the elemental ingredient of the entire network world.
- Cooperation When individuals work together toward a large-scale goal, it produces results that emerge at the group level.
Collaboration Organized collaboration can produce results beyond the achievements of ad hoc cooperation.
generate high-quality products from the coordinated work of thousands or tens of thousands of members.
the work-reward ratio is so out of kilter from a free-market perspective—the workers do immense amounts of high-market-value work without being paid—that these collaborative efforts make no sense within capitalism.
Rather than viewing technological socialism as one side of a zero-sum trade-off between free-market individualism and centralized authority, technological sharing can be seen as a new political operating system that elevates both the individual and the group at once. The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood goal of sharing technology is this: to maximize both the autonomy of the individual and the power of people working together.
Black Duck Open Hub, which tracks the open source industry, lists roughly 650,000 people working on more than half a million projects. That total is three times the size of the General Motors workforce. That is an awful lot of people working for free, even if they’re not full-time. Imagine if all the employees of GM weren’t paid, yet continued to produce automobiles!
If it were a nation, Facebook would be the largest country on the planet. Yet the entire economy of this largest country runs on labor that isn’t paid. A billion people spend a lot of their day creating content for free. They report on events around them, summarize stories, add opinions, create graphics, make up jokes, post cool photos, and craft videos. They are “paid” in the value of the communication and relations that emerge from 1.4 billion connected verifiable individuals. They are paid by being allowed to stay on the commune.
the coders, hackers, and programmers who design sharing tools don’t think of themselves as revolutionaries. The most common motivation for working without pay (according to a survey of 2,784 open source developers) was “to learn and develop new skills.”
How close to a noncapitalistic, open source, peer-production society can this movement take us? Every time that question has been asked, the answer has been: closer than we thought.
The shift from hierarchy to networks, from centralized heads to decentralized webs, where sharing is the default, has been the major cultural story of the last three decades—and that story is not done yet. The power of bottom up will still take us further. However, the bottom is not enough. To get to the best of what we want, we need some top-down intelligence too.
This is true for other types of editors as well. Editors are the middle people—or what are called “curators” today—the professionals between a creator and the audience. These middle folk work at publishers, music labels, galleries, or film studios. While their roles would have to change drastically, the demand for the middle would not go away. Intermediates of some type are needed to shape the cloud of creativity that boils up from the crowd.
Platforms like the internet, Facebook, or democracy are intended to serve as an arena for producing goods and delivering services. These infrastructural courtyards benefit from being as nonhierarchical as possible, minimizing barriers to entry and distributing rights and responsibilities equally. When powerful actors dominate in these systems, the entire fabric suffers.
It’s taken a while but we’ve learned that while top down is needed, not much of it is needed. The brute dumbness of the hive mind is the raw food ingredients that smart design can chew on. Editorship and expertise are like vitamins for the food. You don’t need much of them, just a trace even for a large body. Too much will be toxic, or just flushed away. The proper dosage of hierarchy is just barely enough to vitalize a very large collective.
even though a purely decentralized power won’t take us all the way, it is almost always the best way to start. It’s fast, cheap, and out of control. The barriers to start a new crowd-powered service are low and getting lower. A hive mind scales up wonderfully smoothly.
We have barely begun to explore what kinds of amazing things a crowd can do. There must be two million different ways to crowdfund an idea, or to crowdorganize it, or to crowdmake it. There must be a million more new ways to share unexpected things in unexpected ways.
At this point in our history, sharing something that has not been shared before, or in a new way, is the surest way to increase its value.
There has never been a better time to be a reader, a watcher, a listener, or a participant in human expression. An exhilarating avalanche of new stuff is created every year.
The vastness of the Library of Everything quickly overwhelms the very narrow ruts of our own consuming habits. We’ll need help to navigate through its wilds. Life is short, and there are too many books to read. Someone, or something, has to choose, or whisper in our ear to help us decide. We need a way to triage.
We filter by gatekeepers: Authorities, parents, priests, and teachers
We filter by intermediates: Sky high is the reject pile in the offices of book publishers, music labels, and movie studios.
We filter by curators: Retail stores don’t carry everything, museums don’t show everything, public libraries don’t buy every book.
We filter by brands:
We filter by government:
We filter by our cultural environment:
We filter by … schools, family, and society
We filter by our friends:
We filter by ourselves: We make choices based on our own preferences, by our own judgment. Traditionally this is the rarest filter.
The danger of being rewarded with only what you already like, however, is that you can spin into an egotistical spiral, becoming blind to anything slightly different, even if you’d love it. This is called a filter bubble. The technical term is “overfitting.”
some researchers from Yahoo! engineered a way to automatically map one’s position in the field of choices visually, to make the bubble visible, which made it easier for someone to climb out of their filter bubble by making small tweaks in certain directions.
A third component in the ideal filter would be a stream that suggested stuff that I don’t like but would like to like.
in 1971 Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize–winning social scientist, observed, “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Simon’s insight is often reduced to “In a world of abundance, the only scarcity is human attention.”
The maximum potential attention is therefore fixed. Its production is inherently limited while everything else is becoming abundant. Since it is the last scarcity, wherever attention flows, money will follow.
It seems we have some intuitive sense of what a media experience “should” cost, and we don’t stray much from that. It also means that companies making money from our attention (such as many high-profile tech companies) are earning only an average of $ 3 per hour of attention—if they include high-quality content.
We have not yet explored all the possible ways to exchange and manage attention and influence. A blank continent is opening up.
The future forms of attention will emerge from a choreography of streams of influence that are subject to tracking, filtering, sharing, and remixing. The scale of data needed to orchestrate this dance of attention reaches new heights of complexity.
Our brains were not evolved to deal with zillions. This realm is beyond our natural capabilities, and so we have to rely on our machines to interface with it. We need a real-time system of filters upon filters in order to operate in the explosion of options we have created.
The only things that are increasing in cost while everything else heads to zero are human experiences—which cannot be copied. Everything else becomes commoditized and filterable.
Personal coaches dispensing intensely personal attention for a very bodily experience are among the fastest growing occupations.
More filtering is inevitable because we can’t stop making new things. Chief among the new things we will make are new ways to filter and personalize, to make us more like ourselves.
he acquired an additional heightened sense of location, of where he was in a city, as if he could feel a map. Here the quantification from digital tracking was subsumed into a wholly new bodily sensation. In the long term this is the destiny of many of the constant streams of data flowing from our bodily sensors. They won’t be numbers; they will be new senses.
If we could personify bits, we’d say: Bits want to move. Bits want to be linked to other bits. Bits want to be reckoned in real time. Bits want to be duplicated, replicated, copied. Bits want to be meta.
There is a one-to-one correspondence between personalization and transparency. Greater personalization requires greater transparency. Absolute personalization (vanity) requires absolute transparency (no privacy). If I prefer to remain private and opaque to potential friends and institutions, then I must accept I will be treated generically, without regard to my specific particulars. I’ll be an average number.
The trancelike state we fall into while following the undirected path of links could been seen as a terrible waste of time—or, like dreams, it might be a productive waste of time. Perhaps we are tapping into our collective unconscious as we roam the web. Maybe click-dreaming is a way for all of us to have the same dream, independent of what we click on.
I believe the conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one of the greatest things this new invention has done. Isn’t the whole idea that in a highly evolved advanced society work is over?
even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially. In other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge.
So at the end of the day, a world of supersmart ubiquitous answers encourages a quest for the perfect question. What makes a perfect question? Ironically, the best questions are not questions that lead to answers, because answers are on their way to becoming cheap and plentiful. A good question is worth a million good answers.
A good question is not concerned with a correct answer. A good question cannot be answered immediately. A good question challenges existing answers. A good question is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked. A good question creates new territory of thinking. A good question reframes its own answers. A good question is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario. A good question skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious. A good question cannot be predicted. A good question will be the sign of an educated mind. A good question is one that generates many other good questions. A good question may be the last job a machine will learn to do. A good question is what humans are for.
What is it that we are making with our question-and-answer machine?