Tackling human intelligence

I was drawn to the semantic web and semantic technologies because of the potential benefit to each of us.  There is no debate about the growing volumes of data – be that in our personal digitally recorded lives, our business lives or more generally. on the World Wide Web.  So tools/ solutions which assist in processing/analysing or making sense of some of this data seem attractive to me. Part of the challenge is trying to have software do some of the heavy lifting.  Much of the data which is potentially subject to heavy lifting has originally been published for human consumption and is not ideally formatted for consumption by software.

So semantics has its place.  Can we deal with the ambiguity in the data?  In Australia a reference to football may mean ‘Australian Rules’ football, in England may mean ‘soccer’,  in Ireland my mean ‘Gaelic football’.  So if I have a piece of software doing some heavy lifting across the web to analyse performances of ‘football full backs’ during on the weekend of the third month in December 2009 my software may be confused – may mix up different codes, etc.  I may be able to define my search/query in great detail but perhaps the data as originally published does not provide the required clarity – risking ‘a question of semantics’.

I was quite taken by the piece ‘Paul Allen: the singularity is not near’ published this week in MIT’s Technology Review.  Ray Kurzweil’s thoughts on computer systems bypassing human intelligence in the near future are well known and documented.   Paul Allen and Mark Greaves argue strongly that Kurzweil is being over optimistic (depending on your viewpoint).  They include a number of examples from neuroscience and artificial intelligence arguing that we will be a long way sort of Kurzweil’s vision in 2045 – Kurzweil’s date.

Much of this took me back to the simplicity of what we are trying to achieve in semantics/ semantic web – the heavy lifting.  And it’s not proving very simple.  Yes, the search engines and various semantic tools are presenting improved, cross referenced, even multi-correlated data – but we have an awfully long way to go.




What about those not using social networking?

Twice today I was asked by people who are infrequent or non users of social networking solutions (and blogs) – how do you avoid leaving the non users out?  Or, when you are looking at a restaurant recommendation ot a wine recommendation – how valuable is the recommendation, given it is only based on information supplied by social network users, who may or may not be the best judge of the specific appeal of a restaurant or a bottle of wine for me?

If there are large groups of people who do not participate in social networking what is the impact for me, as a social networker and for them as non users?  Is a new elite being formed?  Even if people arecurrently  joining networks such as facebook in their millions, what about all of those users who cease to use the application some time after their initial registration?

Perhaps it’s a little (more than a little) like people choosing not to use a phone or not to use a mobile phone.  They are being left out, but may feel that overall quality of life is improved (or at least maintained) by not participating in a technology enabled, driven, environment.  And that environment is worse off for their non participation.

I tend to believe that social networking (when enabled by technologies/ standards such as SIOC) will prove to be a medium of communication and/or collaboration that people, for the most part, will need to join.  As the networks begin to work together and integrate the case fo participation will become greater.

It’s not all positive on the social networking side – lots of poor quality communication/ idea sharing/ workload sharing.   But grow it will – and opting out will gradually become less of an option for our citizens.

Semantics – for data and for documents

No doubt about it – linked data seems to be where it ia and will be for some time.  CEOs traditionally have one eye on the external and one eye on the internal – relying on COOs, CFOs etc to drive the inside efficiently while they figure out the positioning, the alliances, the competitive advantage.  Most of the CIO work has been focused on providing the systems to enable the COO, CFO, etc run the organisation efficiently.

The CEO needs linked data.  She needs to be able to compare and contrast using external data, preferably in conjunction with internal data.  That’s all about linked data – in spite of the data being held in completely different structures. (Enter semantics, tags, RDF, etc).

Have spent a lot of time in the last 18 months working with companies figuring out their document management strategies for the first time – down to detailed taxonomies.  Now, in the context of linked data and semantic web am looking at ontologies.  Without doubt thinking through the ontology questions forces people to figure out processes, relationships and different types of structures.  Seems to me now that the linked data and the document management imperatives are not separate – rather they require a more holistic approach to the analysis and design.

I would expect linked data, content management, mashups, collaboration – all to become part of the same thinking and solutions.  Indeed wikis and blogs are part of this – as they challenge the traditional role of wordprocessing type documents – through providing greater interactivity/ collaboration.  Even developments such as wiki enabled web based training soltions (cf DERI and pergamon) are further examples of this merging of tools, environment and solutions.

So you may come at this from a collaboration and document management perspective or from a BI and data useability/ refereneabililty perspective.  But much of the thinking and problem solving are common, interlinked and overlap.

Explaining the semantic web

We’ve just had the great semantic web conference, semtech, on West Coast.  Lots of interest, new initiatives, buzz.

Have been fielding more questions from the general populace – what is the semantic web?  Have tended to focus on the difference between being able to access data rather than documents over the web.  I think the other key is explaining that the semantic web is designed to enable computer software to aggregate, analyse, present data from the web – without human interaction.

@mirkolorenz on twitter brought my attention to a short 5 minute video from the last Davos conference which gets the essence across.  For the next number of week I will be directing my friends and colleagues to this video for a snappy, relevant, dynamic explanation of semantic web…if a picture can paint a thousand words..

Thanks Tom Llube – i think you nailed it.

linked data – lots of upside but major rethinking required

Linked data poses some interesting questions for us as individuals and in our organisations. Traditionally we have held that information is power – and therefore have guarded our information. Much of the time this has included guarding our data. To make linked data work we are looking to encourage much greater publications and sharing of data.

I was recently looking to complete some research on behalf of a client. It required me to review financial and operational information (including annual reports) for approx. 50 global companies. After some google work I ended up looking through a whole series of pdf files – available on the internet – and compiling my own analysis. And I have no easy way of updating this analysis.

However if this data were published in a different format – to facilitate its being read and analysed by computer applications – then this analysis would have been available to me instantaneoulsy. And updating the analysis would be trivial.

Back to safeguarding our data and/or information. If you have invented coca cola and have the secret formula then you want to keep this secret. Your concern is that you have a fantastic product and you want to maintain your competitive advantage.

If you are a soft drinks manufacturer you probably also know what percentage of nine year old males, living in any particular catchment area, drink your product more than once per month. This data is also of value to you – perhaps in terms of planning marketing campaigns, advertising initiatives, pricing plans. But perhaps you would be willing to share this information – in order to be able to correlate it with information that other groups may have about habits of youth in a particular neighbourhood.

Is there any real point in people the world over wasting time effectively completing the same analyses – in private companies, government bodies, voluntary organisations? Is it not an incredible waste of time? In fact, in an era when we have finally begun to concern ourselves with energy waste can we not recognise that this duplication (many times over) of effort is a major societal waste of time?

We have driven some of the sharing of data through initiatives re disclosure – to protect shareholders, citizens, etc. However we have not yet got to the point where we are rewarding companies and organisations for making more of their data available in useable formats. There are major potential savings and benefits if we can change the mindset.

I do not underestimate the challenge faced. Our business training and experience has been to develop and maintain competitive advantage through having greater insights, knowledge, etc. What the semantic web is suggesting is that to succeed we should be much more generous with our own data – in order to gain access to far richer and deeper data, while at the same time serving the common good. We now need to see real sample models for people and companies adapting and succeeding with this approach.

Distinguishing Web 3.0, Semantic web and Data Linking

I had commented some time ago on the differences/ advances between web 1.0, web 2.0 and web 3.0.

Earlier this month Greg Boutin published an excellent series of three postings in which he has looked at web 3,0, semantinc web and data linking in consdierable detail – in an attempt to ensure that we have a common understanding (ie get the semantics right).  His postings alos cross reference to some of his own previous postings and an excellent TED talk by Kevin Kelly.

Kelly talks about the interent becoming the ‘One’ computer – and therefore topics such as ubiquity, transparency, personalisation and globalisation.  It is a fascinating look into the future – and challenges us all to think about how we would interact with this large ‘organism’ or system.

Boutin is also very much up for the challenge and the opportunity.  However he is relatively cautious in his assessment of the situation in his third posting.  While not doubting Berners Lee, he does seem to suggest that the hype may be a little ahead of the reality – as evidenced by the lack of commercial applications exploiting linked data (there being a shortage of linked data).

twitter v. google for (re)search

Where would we be without google (search)?  It has opened up a world of information for all of us.   But what now as twitter gets a real foothold.  It feels a little like the difference between listening to an hourly nes bulletin and reading a daily newspaper.  Perhaps with Google I can find the more comprehensive and more considered answer.  But with twitter I feel like I ma getting the current answer – like a news alert.

Interesting times.  Particularly becasue the nature of search/ research is changing – as web 3.0/ semantic web emerges.  Google, as expected, has been quick to look to leverage more effective ways of searching/ indexing data.  But these techniques are also availabel to twitter.

Semantic web in Ireland

Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 and then some!

On a day of doom and gloom – the emergency budget in Ireland – was lucky enough to spend a couple of uplifting hours in the Institute of European Affairs, Ireland (www.iiea.com).

I was listening to and interacting with Liam Moran, business development manager, Digitial Enterprise Reseach Institute (Galway, Ireland).  DERI (www.deri.com) is the type of thing this country needs (‘The vision of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute is to be recognised as the leading international web science research institute interlinking technologies, information and people to advance business and benefit society’).  Set up with some real foresight, backed by the Irish government and Europe, real leadership (including Tim Berners Lee) and lots of brilliant minds.

Very exciting applications emerging from the research – the latest being SIOC to be adotped by the US government.  Visit the site (www.deri.com) for a better insight.

Liam gave a comprehensive review of Web o, 1, 2 & 3 and painted some great images of what could happen.

One particular observation caught my attention – how do we avoid getting bogged down in simply copying (even plagiarising) others to the exclusion of original, creative, thought?  Not being a music composer I often wonder where song writers continue to come up with new ideas?  Reminds me in some wasy of being back in school – when you were studying Shakepeare did you try to understand Hamlet for yourself and provide your own analysis/ commentary or did you simply buy ‘Coles Notes’ and regurgitate the standard bumph?