Singularity – the Movie – is near


Ray Kurzweil is one of the most exciting thinkers anywhere, and unlike some “futurist advocates” of the past he’s distinguished himself in several fields relevant to those he speaks about.    He’s producing a film based on his book “The Singularity is Near” that will take the form of a narrative storyline featuring cyberterror, nanotechnology, and virtual beings and also a documentary with interviews featuring many leading thinkers about the future of technology.    See the Singularity website for more.

Ironically the early misguided optimism about AI has led even some early AI pioneers to scoff at the notion we are near the brink of conscious computing.  Yet a lot of evidence now suggests we are near reaching the capability of creating consciousness in machines. 

First, the IBM Blue Brain project is within about 8 years of a good working model of the brain.  They are not claiming to seek “consciousness” with the model  – rather they are focusing on brain and disease research – but I see no reason to think they won’t soon attain a conscious computer as the machine approaches the number of connections we have in our own brains.  

Second, the computational power of computers is approaching that of a human brain.   Kurzweil discusses this at great length in “The Singularity is Near”, noting that exponentially improving processing and memory capacity will soon lead to plenty of power in computers to replicate human thinking patterns.

Third, the explosion in profitability for massively parallel computing power – such as that used by Google and Microsoft – will fuel innovation for many years to come.

The question of “Do you believe in a technological singularity” needs to be replaced with “what are we going to do when the singularity happens?”

Hey, I’ve written a lot more about the Singularity , because I think it’s the biggest thing to hit humanity since….ummmm…. the advent of humanity?

Facebook’s Brandee Barker – the web’s most thankless job?


Kara Swisher noted the challenges facing Facebook’s PR head Brandee Barker these days, suggesting she might have one of the most thankless jobs on the web, navigating as she must the frigid and hazardous storm water still swirling in the wake of Facebook’s many recent challenges.

First, Facebook launched “Beacon”, which they foolishly tauted as some sort of landmark in the history of advertising.   Beacon turned out to be more a nasty stain mark as bloggers roundly criticized the approach, and then the New York Times and major advertisers like Coca Cola basically said they were lied to by Facebook.

As if that wasn’t enough bad news, Facebook managed to look like the ultimate hypocrite when they sued a news site for posting too much information about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.    This from a site that had just started an ad campaign to capitalize on the profile information Facebookers provide at sign up, information Facebook had promised to respect and protect from prurient commercialization.

Of course they lost the court case, so now Facebook is maintaining a very high and negative news profile across the board for misleading Facebookers, misleading advertisers, and hypocritically wanting to be treated differently from the way they treat others.

So, hats off to Brandee Barker, PR director at Facebook.   If you make it through this you deserve every penny of your Facebook options value, which hopefully won’t be the next big scandal.

Associated Content monetizing plagiarized content.


update:  I’ve rewritten this post after realizing Mashable is not saying AC did anything illegal.

Mashable is falling just short of charging Associated Content, a well-funded content distribution portal, with plagiarism.   Apparently an AC contributor has lifted a lot of Mashable articles verbatim and posted them at AC.     Mashable argues that since AC claims to edit contributions they should have caught this. 

As Mashable notes what makes this scraping and stealing more conspicuous is that AC is a relatively big online publishing player, not a junky run of the mill “made for adsense” site that would soon be delisted from Google and abandoned.

Of course, few sites screen contributors fairly carefully.  In the rush to create profitable social communities, many sites are willing to turn a blind eye to who is posting what and from whom.    Google’s getting better at delisting plagiarized content, but it’s still a big problem.    The solution is fairly simple but so far few are willing to implement better screening of publishers and writers.   Google adsense, for example, is often run on the lowliest of scraped content websites.   Since Google has a record of payments to those publishers  I find it hard to believe they are doing a careful job of deleting them from the system.    I have not even heard Google claim that they do anything much to ban people from the Adsense program.     With adsense as a prime monetizer of online content both legitimate and plagiarized, it would be nice to see Google blacklist abusers and pass this along to other advertising networks.

However based on my experiences as an advertiser Google is probably the best at following up and creating at least a minimal level of accountability for publishers.   I bought cheap traffic from Enhance and the number of junk sites was very conspicuous in the logs.  Conversion was close to zero and I discontinued the campaign.  

Notebooks, Laptops, and the luggability factor


2008 is shaping up to be a big travel year and I’m dreading lugging my Dell 8.2 pounder around  (not to mention it’s old and sucky) so it’s time to shop for something lighter.    I have a good laptop backpack but even with that I notice my back gets really sore if I lug it around for a conference day.  However I like to live blog sessions so I like to have the laptop available.  Some conferences, like SES, do an amazing job of providing computers in press room and in lobbies, but it’s still best to have one on hand at all times.     Hmmm – I really should look into Treo keyboard interfaces as well.  

 Mark Kyrnin at About.com had a nice little article that helped, especially this breakdown of relative size and weight for the various notebook and laptop classifications (not sure where he got those):

 Ultraportable: <11″ x <10″ x <1.3″ @  <4  pounds

Thin and light: 11-14″ x <11″ x 1-1.5″ @ 5-7 poundsDesktop Replacement: >15″ x >11″ x >1.5″ @  7+  pounds 

Luggables: >18” x >13” x >1.5” @  12+ pounds

Looks like I’ll be OK with a “thin and light” in the lower weight range.