Tag archives for robotics

Google the World

Google achieved dominance in the search engine market through a simple algorithm, PageRank, that made it easy for people to find information in an increasingly complex and deep internet. I remember the early days of the web, and compared to Altavista, Ask Jeeves, and Yahoo! Search, Google’s ability to track down what I was thinking of seemed like magic. These days, Google has morphed from a Silicon Valley start-up into a behemoth, clashing with the other titans of computation for our clicks and devices. But if there’s anything that sets Google apart, it’s its willingness to bet on the long-shots, and on the transformation research. This New York Times piece goes inside Google X, where they’re developing driverless cars, space elevators, and the internet of things.

“Other ideas involve what Google referred to as the “Web of things” at its software developers conference in May — a way of connecting objects to the Internet. Every time anyone uses the Web, it benefits Google, the company argued, so it could be good for Google if home accessories and wearable objects, not just computers, were connected.

Among the items that could be connected: a garden planter (so it could be watered from afar); a coffee pot (so it could be set to brew remotely); or a light bulb (so it could be turned off remotely). Google said in May that by the end of this year another team planned to introduce a Web-connected light bulb that could communicate wirelessly with Android devices.

One Google engineer familiar with Google X said it was run as mysteriously as the C.I.A. — with two offices, a nondescript one for logistics, on the company’s Mountain View campus, and one for robots, in a secret location.”

Freaky. Awesome. The last well-known corporate Skunk Works was Xerox PARC, which invented the graphical user interface and the mouse. It took Steve Jobs to see these ideas through to commercialization, put Xerox laid the foundation for computers that anybody could use.  It’s still far to early to see what the social implications of Internet of Things and common-place robotics will be, but it’s sure to be interesting.


In A World of Rapid Change, What Kind of Critter Do You Want to Be?

There are two kinds of critters on this planet. One produces zillions of offspring, then pays scant attention to them, playing the odds that some will survive. The other produces few offspring, but nurtures each lavishly to increase their chances of being the best they can be.

Each strategy has its plusses and minuses. The upside of having few progeny is that you can shape them to most highly adapt to their existing environment. The downside is, if you lose one, the result is devastating. The upside of having lots of ankle-biters is that if the world they are born into is up for grabs, such heirs as make it to adulthood are likely to be adapters, capable of rapidly evolving. The downside is that in periods of stability, we tend to view them as under-evolved vermin – as weeds.

There are lessons here for human enterprises. If the world we’re heading into is on tumble-dry, which kinds of critters do we want to be?

Our friend Jamais Cascio of OpenTheFuture.com offers a very Prevail-ish answer: both.

Cascio notes we are in a period in which even instability is not stable. If instability were constant, then it would clearly favor the high-reproduction throw-everything-at-the-wall and see what sticks mode, even if the outcome is not optimal. But, he says, it’s not. It is punctuated by periods of consolidation. Think Silicon Valley. A new innovation produces a flood of startups striving for advantage. But eventually, a small number of highly-evolved dominant players emerge.

Therefore, it is dangerous to rely on strategies that assume the continuation of either stability or instability. “Neither relying upon scale and incumbency nor relying upon rapid-fire iteration will succeed as fully and as dependably as we might wish,” says Cascio. “We can’t rely on either the garage hacker or the global corporation to push us to a new phase of history.”

What we want is resilience. The way to get it is by having the two kinds of critters collaborating with – and feeding off – each other.

To Prevail, then, is to create a new ecosystem that we can push in the right direction. For that we need rapid humanistic social bottom-up response to rapid technological change. It doesn’t take a genius to see that states and corporations can’t seem to figure out what to do, or how to plan for tomorrow, using only their slow, legacy, top-down means. In a period where the patterns we’ve seen before don’t seem to be working right, the answer is lots of small and large components in dense networks, bringing the wisdom of the edge to the core, or even bypassing the core, and fast.

Humanistic response means ideas and decisions that take into account the unique, individual values of every human being. It means organizations that allow people to flourish and grow, rather than grind them down and burn them out. Bottom-up means humans self-organizing as useful flocks, capable of rapidly creating powerful change without relying on the merely ambitious. Think of the hundreds of millions on eBay organizing extremely complex behavior without leaders, or YouTube helping swing an American presidential election, or even Twitter, heaven help us – if it terrifies tyrants, it must be good for something. Rapid technological change means transformative revolutions like genetics, robotics, information and nanotechnology, increasingly aimed inward at modifying our minds, memories, metabolisms, personalities and progeny – and thus, what it means to be human.

Thus, our goals: quickly forging community, integration, foresight, and wisdom. It will not be easy to achieve, but all are necessary if we are to prevail.

May we start building all this here, now.