Yeah, this one's all futurism. Try to ignore the political tone if it grates on you. It's not the central theme, it's just setting the stage.
Today I was not listening to the inauguration. To be specific, it wasn't that I simply wasn't listening, it was that I didn't want to listen. Political speeches are, by their very nature, almost completely devoid of anything resembling meaning. I didn't want to hear the speech and definitely didn't want to weather the teeth-grittingly obvious televangelist-adapted speaking techniques. Memetic infection vectors, if you want to be suitably super-nerdy.
But I was interested in understanding what the speech meant and, perhaps more importantly, how people were reacting to it. So I watched the Twittering. I got my piecemeal analysis of the speech. And then, just to verify, I read a transcription and verified that, in fact, the analysis was correct.
There were some parts I cared about. Not a fan of letting an ancient death cult with a coat of paint determine my future, still not much actual separation of church and state going on there. But his paragraph about science was most promising. If he means it.
But the speech was more or less unimportant. The Twitter feed was more important. Because those people are pretty good indicators of the pulse of the nation, and I'm hoping are pretty good predictors of future trends.
For example, after he said "and non-believers", virtually every post for thirty seconds was about how great it was that he gave "us" a "shout out". We'll politely ignore the paragraphs where he talks about following god's will and being guided by scripture, since that sort of crap is mandatory for US politicians and we are easily quieted by table scraps. But it means that, at least for a while, the nonbelievers - who outnumber the American Jewish and Muslim contingents combined - are going to be very happy with our new president. That's probably not an analysis you'll see much in more mainstream news sources, and it's not something you could get just from reading the speech.
The point is that the analysis was more important than the content. So instead of doing the analysis myself, I allowed thousands of people to do the analysis and then picked out the best bits I could find. Open source analysis, I guess.
Things come to light when you do this. Correlations and details not in the actual event but brought up in the analysis. Trends that may predict future political activities... for example, based on the Twitters I saw, I would predict that African aid is going to be an extremely low priority in the upcoming four years. I'm not saying that because I've analyzed the variables or made any logical connections, I'm saying it because it was the only part of his speech that I didn't see one Twitter about. It's possible they were just lost in the staggering number of posts, but it's statistically unlikely that there were very many.
But it's possible. There were a staggering number of posts. They might have been out of synch with my rabid refresh-clicking. What I would have preferred to do is to read all the twitters, but as they were coming at roughly 100/second, that wasn't going to happen.
What I really needed, you see, was an analysis of the Twitter posts in the same way that the Twitter posts were an analysis of the speech. With the goal of reducing the posts down to a reasonable number, either by displaying only the most trend-representative posts or by simply describing the trends in the posts.
Humans couldn't do it: even if we put ten thousand more people on analyzing the first ten thousand people's posts, there's too many posts, too quickly. It requires software.
A software agent. A piece of personal software that reads all the Twitter posts and tells me what to think about them.
... what? ...
"Wait! You want software to think for you?"
Well, DUH. There's a lot of information analysis scut-work. I don't have time to keep up with all the information, even if I wanted to. It's going to require us to outsource our thinking, to create a layer of abstraction between us and the original data.
Of course, I'm not interested in letting just any old program do my thinking for me. It has to be software that I can trust and that I can dive into and make sure it really is thinking like me. I'm not going to buy "MS Brain Replacement", but I might get "Neuralinux" or whatever. Properly understood and under my control, this software would be able to parse the high-volume information streams, understanding what my personal values are. It would also be able to leverage other infomorphs' analysis: for trend analysis, for saving computation, and for trusted analysis on restricted information.
This method of extending the human mind has been talked about a lot in the more futuristic segment of geekhood. Some people talk about outrigger brains that will directly interface with our own, but at least in the forseeable future, it's more likely to be this kind of software agent. I can see, looking further ahead, that the line would become blurred - where our mind ends and the software begins. I don't see that as a problem, as long as our software is our software.
After all, we trust our cars. We trust airplanes. We trust our banks. We do a lot of trusting of external agencies, and these agencies radically enhance our capabilities. Our brain is no different, except that we're only now starting to take hold of the reins. Until recently, we've been forced to trust news agencies, politicians, and other rather questionable sources of analysis. But connectivity works in our favor: our personal software agents will be able to "see" a huge number of sources and get millions of opinions.
I look forward to it, personally.
I look forward to being in the voting booth and seeing names I don't recognize. Pull up my infomorph. It tells me what I think of their politics, their scandals, and so on. No reason to blind-vote or go the party line.
I look forward to posting an essay like this one and suddenly getting a rash of highly educated specialists poking holes in it.
I look forward to the capabilities I can't even imagine.
How about you?