How the Internet is Really Evolving

Sometimes really smart people, perhaps because they are harried or busy, help perpetuate badly flawed models of important ideas. Memes that get traction because they are easy to repeat, not because they are right. One that I’ve noticed a lot in recent times is what I call the sequential fallacy in talking about the Internet. This fallacy is at the heart of the story that goes ARPANET…Web 1.0…Web 2.0…Web 3.0/SemWeb. Here is how to get away from the fallacy and think more accurately about how the Internet is really evolving.

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Mousetrap 2.0: A Comicbook

[Newsflash: this comic-book story has now appeared in print: in Massively Multi-Agent Technology in the Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science series. If your institution has access to this publication, you can view the “official” version of the paper  here (you may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser). Yay! I am now a published comic-book author].

A few months ago, Paul Scerri, an AI researcher at Carnegie-Mellon, got in touch to ask if I wanted to contribute a chapter to a book he was editing — an academic volume on “massive multiagent systems,” or systems comprising very large number of simple autonomous devices that interact with each other and humans. Somehow, that conversation led to me producing a comic-book format, quasi-fictional story. I scripted and rough-sketched the story, and a local Rochester artist, Brian Petty, turned them into finished illustrations. So here, for your merriment and technical-visionary thought-provocation, is my first graphic novelette and the story of how it came to be.

Comic cover

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The Deeper Meaning of Kindle

The Kindle ebook reader, the Wacom digitizing tablet, and a variety of scanning digital pens. Add it all up, and you get a possible revolution in one of the oldest technologies of humankind: written language. Only an impact on fire or the wheel could top a serious revolution in reading and writing. This is not a product blog, and for a technophile (but not gadget-phile) engineer, I am surprisingly behind the times. While my wife is all about the iPod, personal DVD players and electric toothbrushes, I am still at two-bladed shaving. But reading and writing (and drawing) get to the core of who I am, and constitute possibly the only sphere of gadgetry where I am willing to be an early adopter. So here are some deeper thoughts on what this potentially perfect storm of technologies might mean for us slaves of the written word.

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Open Innovation, or is Business War?

The catchphrase of Henry Chesbrough’s work on innovation (a doctrine called “open innovation” and described in Open Innovation, 2003, and Open Business Models, 2006), is “not all the smart people work for you.” The key operational message that corporations seem to take away from it though, is “buy and sell intellectual property vigorously and throw some money at universities.” Somewhere along the way unfortunately, a sophisticated reconstruction of the logic of innovation becomes reduced to quick-money recipes. Part of the blame rests with Chesbrough himself, for raising and framing a very important subject, but then being somewhat timid about running with the idea to some daring conclusions. In this article, I am going to rush in foolishly where, apparently, Henry Chesbrough fears to tread. I’ll interpret the idea of open innovation as business is not war, and you’ll see where that line of reasoning takes us. [Read more…]

The Fifty-Foot Rule Reconsidered

I have heard cited several times the so-called fifty foot law of sociology, which says that most collaborations happen among people who work less than fifty feet apart (the idea is generally credited to Tom Allen of MIT; the primary reference seems to be his monograph, Managing the Flow of Technology, MIT Press, 1977, which I admit I haven’t actually read). Let’s generalize and assert that most relationship interactions happen among people who live/work 50 feet apart, plus or minus an order of magnitude, say 5-500 feet. This being a probabilistic, phenomenological law, it should be interesting to mull how it is changing in Tom Friedman’s flattening world, and to what extent lives are getting transformed in terms of changes to this law.

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Disruptive versus Radical Innovations

Clayton Christenson’s seminal The Innovator’s Dilemma is now 10 years old, and its central idea of “disruptive innovation” is now part of the everyday language of innovation. Recently, I finally read the book after having loosely tossed the term around for a few years. I was shocked to discover that I had misunderstood the concept and made glib assumptions based on sloppy journalistic references. Properly penitent, I began using the term correctly and discovered, to my further shock, that nearly everybody else around me was also using the term incorrectly. By misunderstanding this one critical term, we lose much of the understanding of the innovator’s dilemma discovered by Christenson. Here is a cheat-sheet to help you understand and remember the implications of ‘disruptive.’ Should help elevate your next profound discussion on the nature of innovation. If you already knew the difference, you get to say “Ha ha!” to me.

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Book Review: Competing on Analytics

I read Competing on Analytics because my boss began swearing by it, and my conversations with her were starting to get seriously confusing. So I bought a copy, and was plowing diligently through it at a local Rochester coffee shop, when a friendly woman — your inevitable next-table laptop warrior — noticed the book, came up to me, and struck up what turned out to be a very interesting conversation (which ended with her heading off to the nearest book store, to buy herself a copy). Since I’ve only ever struck up conversations over a book with random strangers twice before in my life, that struck me as an important piece of evidence in favor of the book. So here is my review-slash-summary.

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The Third Dimension is Not Simple

Ever since Einstein got us thinking about the fourth dimension and string theorists got us worried about ten and eleven dimensions, we have not really given serious thought to the mundane old third dimension. Several things, ranging from the emerging three-dimensional Internet over at Second Life, to the delightful modern religion of Parkour and the Nintendo Wii controller, have made me think seriously about the third dimension in recent weeks. It isn’t just badly-developed characters in movies and books that are two dimensional — you and I are as well, in fundamental ways.

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