January 14, 2005

Brain SPA

Steve's post, Thank for the Memory, a recent discussion about easy access to documents on the Net and one of the traditional predictions for the New Year driven a special interestof mine to surface.

It would be nice to collect your opinions on the subject. First of all, read Steve's post. I think that what allowed the connexion of the two subjects was : The issue though, is not the amount of memory, but the need for massive and dynamic interconnect..

Now, a small historic of the elements that made me predict the building of what I named the Semantic Internet.
While following Steve Jobs keynote presenting Spotlight, a tool included in the next Mac OS X edition, Tiger. Spotlight's subtitle is "Find Anything, Anywhere Fast". I show applications for my job immediately, for building assistants based on this. What was a little bit tricky was the anywhere. I never considered my hard disk to be everywhere. What would be nice would be to really search everywhere, at least where shared resources are available.
In early 2003, with a few friends, we experimented the shared resources trough Apple's iDisks, a distant storage space, featuring a public space and password protected sections. That's a great way to share documents and each iDisk's index allow for fast searching, not as efficient as Spotlight should do, but good enough for us.
Some time after the presentation of Spotlight, Google announced the Google Desktop Search and I show Light ! ;-) What if...

  • The desktop search tool creates an index pointing to every available document, including those available in the "Shared documents" folder, then send to a central facility the subset concerning the shared ones.
  • Every index collected is compiled in a database conserving the accession data (probably a serial of the software rather then an IP, to be able to adjust to mobility),
  • then make this database available for searching via a simple interface, as Spotlight's or Google's

That means that a search would go through every available and shared document over the Net. Whaou!

Is that possible, interesting, economically sustainable, culturally acceptable and what would be the applications?

It seems so. Shared documents could be identified by DOIs [Digital Objects Identifiers] or something equivalent and tracked the same way as BitTorrent made usual.

Economically sustainable
As much as Google actually, as the same business model could apply, maybe combined with a "larger" Flickr-like service including sharing of every kind of document.
Computers are cheaper and cheaper, you can even get a Macintosh for $500 [o_O]
More and more people is connected via high-speed services, and stay connected permanently.
One point that is so obvious that it seems hidden, is that this is distributed computing! Each computer being charged with the creation of the index of the Shared Content, a task that would be to onerous to be carried out by a central facility.

culturally acceptable
As much as Lawrence Lessig describes it here, with people used to BitTorrent, Flickr, Common Content, Open Access, PLoS etc.
And Ideas would fly around as they actually do in blogs.

I skipped this one to put it near the applications. While dreaming about the way to use Spotlight I imagined a fully linked text application for "intelligent" reading of scientific papers, automatically linking every relevant document to keywords spotted by the reader and constituting an aliases collection within the document. Imagine yourself in front of a review paper tagged this way, intellectual heaven :-)
For the moment I use an Applescript that transforms the selected word to a Google Search :
or http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=keyword&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&btnG=Search. That could be made automatically for every document, and include pertinent Shared Documents.
What do you think of it ?

Now, the second level would be to consider what you can build with such a facility: feeds. Aggregated content following your thoughts. If you have the right keywords, you may be willing to get new material as is made available, either as a notification (via an RSS reader or an e-mail alert) or even by direct download to a specified folder, limiting to some files formats virus free [this isn't paranoia, just protection].
Then you may be willing to share your feeds with other people as you can do already with Bloglines, distributing collections of links to pertinent documents covering some topic on which you have expertise, including your stuff, maybe some kind of review of the domain. That is for loops :-)

There are two elements I would like to see added.
First, the possibility to add keywords and abstract describing the document itself; probably using something like RDF, to be accessible for machines. Second, the possibility, not obligation, to sign in when you use one of the shared documents, in order to start building a web of awareness and bonds between the users of the system, something like the FOAF but rather named UOYR : User Of Your Ressource, or something like that.
The Semantic Internet would be born.

Do you see the parallel with Jeff Hawkins' model of the human brain ?

Memories : documents
Meta-memories : RSS feed for DOI collections
Interconnexion : the Net, it was build for that after all
Loops : Feeds of Feeds of ...
my addition: Specialized Neural Centers : UOYR webs

Now, as I said elsewhere, if my guess is wrong and Google, Apple, Yahoo! or whoever else aren't heading this way, someone should start working on that. As soon as possible. A year is a short lapse of time and I would like to see my prediction being realized.

There is a final consequence I would like to present for discussion.
Most experts are connected people. And they could decide to include on their Shared Documents Folder some reviews on specific terms, the same way they would write an encyclopedia entry. And tag it with a special tag, say Interpedia [for Internet Encyclopedia].
That would be one kind of an encyclopedia I would like to have handy :-)

Please, comment abundantly. And somebody have to print that and stick it there. I would like to here from those people at Redwood. Steve say that is a fine place for a brain spa... I do need something like that.

copy posted at my main blog, but I don't expect much discussion there

1 Comments: (go down to newest )

  • Blogger epp ::

  • Hello Old Cola,

    Do not expect an important response to me, since computers are not my expertise. But I do see a kind of an interesting progression of thoughts and ideas here. I intuitively sense that you are on the right track. I would like to support this process with something rather elementary but it might still help others picture what both you and Steve are working on - each from a different perspective. While Steve seems to be focusing on AIs, you seem to be focussing on the development of the global brain itself, which is why I have decided to contribute specifically to this post.

    The following is a quote from a video (The Global Brain) made by Peter Russell, oh, maybe twenty years ago:

    "Through the whole information explosion there's coming a meeting together of minds. We're beginning to exchange information and connect together mentally. Through the birth of computer networks, people are beginning to link up mind to mind. We are beginning to link up mentally as well as physically

    "This growing flow of information suggests that humanity may be the equivalent of a growing planetary brain. We, the billions of nerve cells of this planetary brain are linking together much as the billions of tiny nerve cells in our own brains have linked up.

    "The growing human brain passes through two major growth periods very early in life, while still in the womb. The first is fantastic population explosion - brain cells are produced at the rate of millions per minute.

    "If you can imagine yourself to be a nerve cell in your own brain - at first there is plenty of space, then very quickly there's this massive population explosion of nerve cells. And you'd probably think - hell, this is getting dangerous. There's not enough oxygen to go round, we're going to be short of blood soon, but what happens suddenly at week 13 the explosion stops.

    "From then on the whole process of the development of the nervous system is the growth of complexity, the growth of connectivity between these nerve cells.

    "What we are now seeing is a similar process happening on the planet. We've had this massive population explosion but it's now beginning to slow down and level out - the latest forecasts suggest it will stabilise somewhere around the ten billion mark in the next hundred years. This number it turns out is also the estimated number of nerve cells in the cortex of the human brain.

    "We are now moving into the next stage which is the linking of human minds in this planetary brain. Through the written word, the post, telephones, tlevision, satellites and computer networks, information is beginning to flow around the planet. We are beginning to link mind to mind, increasing the connectivity and linkage of the cells in the global brain"

    Russell goes on to mention how important it is to maintain the health of the environmental web, the life network, which supports and sustains this global brain...

    3:52 AM  


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