The rumors, of course, are true. Starting immediately, over at Technology Report, I’m covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with “pre show” coverage. In January I’ll be there roaming the halls in real time looking for the next big thing in Consumer Technology. One of the fun things about CES is that it’s something of an “industry insiders” show, so you have pretty good access to folks that might otherwise be hard to talk to. This photo is from the 2009 conference where I had a chance to ask Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally if Ford would be taking bailout money from the US Government.
Photo Credit @JoeDuck Technology Report. Use with attribution OK.
Mulally told me he did not think so, and very much to Ford’s credit he has remained true to that comment. In fact Ford recently pulled a commercial, some say in response to White House pressure, where they noted this as the commercial takes a big dig at the other places that did take bailout money.
In an industry with what generally seem like a lot of lackluster intellects, Mulally was a very impressive speaker during his keynote talk as well as an impressive “real time answers” guy in the give and take after the event (pictured here). An aerospace engineer by training, Mulally is clearly a key factor in Ford’s apparently successful efforts to recover despite many global economic obstacles. But Auto technology is not my specialty. However in theory if not in practice I really *am* an expert at “social media” since I do have a …. wait for it…. Masters degree in the Social Sciences and about 20 years in various technology fields, mostly relating to using the internet to promote travel, tourism, and destination marketing.
But ome to think of it, NOTHING is really my speciality. I’m a jack of some trades and master of none, except maybe table tennis, and then only for somebody of anglo saxon heritage. That said, most of what I’m hoping to report on at the show will be the latest and greatest computing devices and social media trends. CES is not really focused on the content and programming portions of internet technologies, but there are always great examples of presentations and programming at the show. In fact one of the most impressive tech things I’ve seen *anywhere* was at CES 2010 – Intel’s “Web Cube”, a superb blend of fast hardware and clever real time internet information flow where you could have the system go out and find people talking online about something and then pull those comments and information about them into the cube. It was visually, conceptually, and informatively striking and I only hope they don’t just strand that technology in the exhibit. Need to check as they may have this in use in other online places already.
Hat’s off to IBM for what could be a milestone in building faster computers. They are making great progress with Silicon Nanophotonics – moving data using light pulses. This technology could speed up current wired chips by a factor of 100, bringing supercomputer power to your … desktop computer.
Kurzweil is smiling about this, and this is yet another indication we are likely to have conscious computers by about 2020. Then, everything is going to change in ways we cannot even imagine.
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?
Tim Berners-Lee, the closest thing we have to an “inventor” of the web as we know it today, is calling for more integrated, broad studies of the internet rather than the mostly piecemeal academic work being done now. He’s right. The internet is arguablly the most profound change in human communication in history, and it’s just getting started. As social networking explodes into the dominant socializing mechanism for humans we are experiencing many new opportunities and many challenges, especially as the online environments create new relationships between people, generations, and cultures.
Universities would be well advised to heed this call from Berners-Lee and offer more “web centric” courses, but more importantly academics should be spending a lot more time studying the complex, changing structure of the web. The technical aspects of the internet are fairly well studied in commercial circles. The sociological side is poorly/rarely studied in academia and the commercial sector is still struggling to understand the implications of the massive shift of human activity online.
Update: I think Nick (and I) may owe Newsvine an apology, because Newsvine does not really practice sharecropping. The members own their own content and this means a lot more control than otherwise. Obviously the landscape is complex with any social media but I don’t think I can object to Newsvine’s model. My concern is where the site takes ownership of the member content.
Nick Carr has a good post today noting how the Newsvine aquisition, and other deals like this, can lead to some information “sharecropper” dissent. As I pointed out yesterday social media is a great thing, but it seems to be dramatically failing to fund the very forces that make it a great thing – the hardest working content providers that often form the backbone of these entities. Kevin Rose is worth tens of millions because tens of millions of diggers work for him – for free. Sure, he’s smarter than most of his minions and he pulled it all together which means he should get a big digg payday some day, but should he, the founders, and the VC funders get *all* of the money when even they’d all agree that digg is valuable primarily because of all the people that do the digging.
Newsvine was a superb project that was beautifully implemented, but like Nick I wonder how long those who helped make Newsvine such a great site will keep working for nothing. Is Web 2.0 simply a new twist on feudal economics?