Saturday, December 08, 2007

In every great leap forward, the human groin leads the way, by design.

The Conversational Interface: Our Next Great Leap Forward:
"Let me go on record proposing that the conversational interface will be the single most important technological innovation the average person alive today will witness in their lifetimes (out of a long list of competing innovations, like personal computers, automated supply chains, and cell phones). In terms of broad scientific, technological, economic, political, educational, and social impact on human society, I expect it will make even the emergence of the internet seem minor by comparison. The CI makes both the greatest wisdom of the species and its lowest common denominator distractions perennially accessible to all of us. It will surely be greatly misused in its early stages, but in the long run it will allow what we say, and hear, to bring us to a whole new level of conscious insight about ourselves and the world."
Geeks (such as myself) are so cute when they try and pretend that getting laid is beneath them. I will admit that maintaining such a pose is infinitely superior to geeking on sex in the presence of the opposite. That can get you a very creepy reputation - along with most emphatically not getting laid.

Yep, we may finally become conscious of the fact that the best essences of our humanity are inextricably entwined with our "lower common denominator distractions."

Not that I'm disagreeing with the paragraph quoted. I just find the unstated, but apparent presumptions amusing as all hell, even as I agree that it will absolutely bring us to a whole new level of concious insight about ourselves and our world. Ideally, one hopes, an insight that puts a stake through the heart of Dualism once and for all.

I'm still in the middle of reading through this site, so I may be wrong in translating exactly what they mean by Conversational Interface, but in effect it's creating an interface for your computer (and through it, with other human beings) that is based on human language, including human body language. In other words, you would talk to your computer and it would respond to your inputs exactly as you would expect a human would - only millions of times faster. They also speak of human / computer interfaces that work to meet the computer half-way, wherein we become wirelessly wired into the web.

Try and program a totally genderless, yet broadly comprehensible "conversational interface." Go ahead, I dare you.

I've read a little more of what they are speaking of and the above assumptions were correct - so far as they went, but that wasn't very far. I think it's better to just go to the source:

conversational interface (CI) that is, at least technically, minimally useable by everyone in world, regardless of their education, language, or culture. It will need to be one that is free, or at least affordable to working adults in all nations. It will need to be fast, ubiquitous, reasonably reliable, and at least smart enough for children (and many adults) to access on a frequent basis, whenever their curiosi ty causes them to seek more information about the world in which they live.

We leave more precise definitions for others. It is clear from present developments (todays CIs for directory assistance, flight information, stock quotations, etc.) that there will be many small, domain-specific CIs en route to grander ones. Yet there will come an inevitable time when we will all feel connected, symbiotic with our technological extensions, and thenceforth forever naked outside the matrix.

We know it must be a largely stupid interface at first, speaking back to us in a 'pidgin' language with intelligence only in very circumscribed domains, such as cellphone, basic skills education, tool use, internet surfing, communications and productivity software, and other commonly accessed tasks. Nevertheless, with the entire planet coming to depend upon it on a daily basis, it is also clear that this interface will quickly become a more fluid and knowledgeable information source, for an ever-growing variety of subjects, than most humans we know.

How much would you presently pay for a cellphone-PDA that you did not need to touch to use, one that has no keypad? What would you give for a GPS-linked cellphone that could tell you the closest and cheapest place to find a product or service, one that would allow you to shop a store by video telepresence, and if it was one of those rare things you couldn't do by telepresence, provide realtime driving directions, given present traffic conditions? How about a phone that could relate all the interesting events occurring in your area that night, including what your friends have publicly posted to the "voice board" about their evening activities? Would you like one that could remind you of your calendar, inform, entertain, and enlighten you on any practical subject you don't presently understand?

Would you like a wearable phone-garment you can speak to by name, one that can provide news, entertainment, or ready answers to such questions as "the definition of transmute" (to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature, especially to a higher form), or "the name of that popular book on liberty recently written by that Newsweek guy" (The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria, 2003), or verbal help in fixing any of your technologies when they invariably break? Would you like one that could archive and play back portions of anything you've said, seen, or heard in recent years, for your own edification? Each of these functionalities are add-ons to the basic CI structure, but we see where the system is headed—toward a profoundly empowering and awareness-raising human environment..

While these folks predict the first practical conversational interface emerging in 2020, it's amusing to note that, from a human to human viewpoint, a crude but effective approximation already exists; the various MMORPG simulated realities, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. It is to a true CI what PINE and EMACS were to blogs, wikis and aggrigators, but the first must exist before the second can exits.

But whatever history says and whatever futurists think should occur, the real heavy lifting for creating an inarguable CI or Virtual Reality interface will be done in order to support the "great misuse" of the technology - and further, just as the "misuse" of the internet for disseminating massive amounts of "subversive" and "pornographic" information has resulted in completely counter-intuitive results, such as statistically solid correlations between internet access to porn and the incidence of physical rape, the results will affect society and culture in ways that Repositories of Conventional Wisdom could never imagine. And if they could, they'd try and outlaw it.

Anyway, it's become a truism that sex fuels technological innovation, by pushing it through that awkward point where the energy spent on it is greater than any economically-justified return - unless, of course, it helps you get laid, or at least feel like you want a cigarette.

I don't happen to think that sex, sexual gratification, or sexuality are things that it's good to be embarrassed or shameful about, (though bragging IS tacky) and I don't happen to think that broadening one's reproductive options and strategies is a bad thing at all.

Feel free to check with any evolutionary biologist on that score. The Web has already done that; one of those lowest-common-denominator sites, the "internet dating site" has done more to improve the odds on making the "urge to merge" a viable proposition than any church denomination. I think a lot of that may well be due to the fact that just being there forces folks to admit that they do want to get laid, that getting laid is important to them, and that they have specific preferences in the how, by who, and for how much.

I personally look forward to a future in which the slang term, "doin' the nasty" is no longer emotionally comprehensible. And I expect that it will be rather sooner than any oldfarts like me will expect. My wife tells me that in her interactions with 3d and 4th graders, she has already seen indications that they don't comprehend racism. They see it every day - but they don't comprehend why. It seems stupid to them. Now where the hell did that come from, after 10000 years of standardized xenophobia?

A rhetorical question - but one well worth asking aloud. And I think a predictor that suggests that, in terms of the pace of social change, these futurists, as with every futurist we have the luxury of looking back upon, are rather quaint in their conservatism, rather like Verne predicting the fax machine - as a means of transmitting documents written with quill pens.

And while that culture will be strange and perhaps even incomprehensible to me - it will nonetheless be as strongly and inextricably linked to our hind-brains, our glands and our survival imperatives as our current culture, with it's own, unique and inevitable comedies and tragedies.

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