Google your brain

You hardly go a single day without googling an idea, thought, interest, question? Right? Sure, you might use another search engine, but the fact that the word googling has entered the vernacular, and that we do all google is a dead give-away that something big has happened.

But to be honest, it wasn’t until I recently read Turing’s Cathedral: the Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson, that I really stopped to sniff the revolution and feel the digital sizzle in the air.

The staggering potential of our information and knowledge web is built on an intricate history of science, mathematics and the genius of a handful of men and women, and a bigger  pool of  quite brilliant people. What is staggering is the way data  and data connection has now become a major factor of knowledge. It is impossible to have one without the other, and it is becoming less and less obvious which side of the data/knowledge equation is driving the other.

Thirty years ago, networks developed for communication between people were adapted to communication between machines. Since then we’ve gone from transmitting data over a voice network to transmitting voice  over a data network. Google started buying up “dark fiber”, awaiting a time when it would be worth the expense of connecting it at the ends. This is now being lit, and the “last mile” problem – how to reach individual devices without individual connection costs – has evaporated with the arrival of wireless. Google is a force to be reckoned with.

There was a time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of “search” still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of “arduous quest” that invariably involved “wandering” and “seeking” and “traversing”. Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps.

But one of the most interesting news around Google Search last year was the introduction of Knowledge Graph, in May for English queries and in December 2012 for many other languages. Now the Knowledge Graph “covers 570 million entities, 18 billion facts and connections, and about three times as many queries globally as when we first launched it”. To refresh how Knowledge Graph works, it’s worth (again) watching the video :

In the chapter The tale of the Big Computer my mind was riveted by the potential of the future:

Virtual machines never sleep. Only one-third of a search engine is devoted to fulfilling search requests. The other two-thirds are divided between crawling (sending a host of single-minded digital organisms out to gather information) and indexing (building data structures from the results). The load shifts freely between the archipelagos of server farms. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, algorithms are systematically converting the numerical address matrix into a content-addressable memory, effecting a transformation that constitutes the largest computation ever undertake on planet Earth.

Google..has been executing precisely the strategy that Alan Turing had in mind: gathering all available answers, inviting all possible questions, and mapping the results.

We celebrate the open communication that the web has come to make possible. The capacity to share and build knowledge.  But the reality is that the machines are doing the building for us almost more rapidly than humans. I want to believe that this will all end well! We want a global knowledge cathedral – a glorious repository that celebrates out humanity.

How will Google instil wisdom into it’s machine-made disembodied neural knowledge networks? Or will we just be assimilated so we can google your brain?

I really loved reading Turing’s Cathedral (the title refers to the significant contribution to theory known as the Universal Turing Machine), to know more about the origins of the digital universe, and the shape of things to come. The visionaries who laid the foundations saw the future, and sometimes the peril. We see these too, and the topic is covered over and again in Fantasy and SciFi books and movies, almost as if our global subconscious is pondering this technological revolution and it’s impact on humanity. Look for it, and you’ll see it everywhere.

Never mind. I have faith in the best scholars and creatives amongst us in getting us through the knowledge assimilation process.

Mashable reported the story of Kaleb Lechowiski, who at 22,  thanks to his short science-fiction film R’ha, is off  to Hollywood.

He created the story of an alien race betrayed by its machine army in search of independence, R’ha centers on a single interrogation scene between an uprising computer and its sentient captive. Looking to break free of the limitations of their design–and carry out total elimination of their creators–the machines use some particularly nasty “motivation protocol” to extract key information from their prisoner.Most things were done in Maya, like animation, rigging, shading, and rendering (Mental Ray). But he modeled almost everything in Blender for speed,  using Brush to sculpt the alien and paint a lot of objects. Post-production was done in Nuke and After Effects.

Enjoy!

Image: Turing cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Leo Reynolds

Tagging my Technology and Teaching Practice

This week sees me concluding a year of academic activities by participating in graduation, and other professional events at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. It is always a pleasure to celebrate the big graduation day with a new batch of happy graduates!

Meanwhile, much of the discussions back in the ‘academic halls’  hinge around technology and teaching practice, one way or another. Much planning for 2012 as a result!

As educators we are always looking for yet another way to bend an online tool to our purpose. Thursday will see me contributing to the Technology and Teaching Practice Research Group 2011 Symposium. The focus is on the communicative affordances of online tools. My spin is really just a futuristic focus on the changing context of the web, and the deepening issues for educators around search strategies and information retrieval.

Just a 20 minute discussion starter – so what could I do that introduces something new?

You can see the presentation slidedeck for From Web 1.0 to Web 3.0: A wolf in sheep’s clothing or a new culture of learning. You’ll notice a QR code on the front slide. This QRcode created at TagMyDoc points to a supporting document – and this code will download that too directly from TagMyDoc to your e-device!

The presentations throughout the day will have a series of papers included in a print document,  to provide supporting information and material for the presentations.  While I thought that this was useful, I also thought it would be interesting to show how to provide access to the electronic file directly from within  that printed document – or from where it is attached to the front of the slideshare presentation (that I have embedded in this post).

Now, it’s available to all ~ either at the Symposium, or anywhere else on the planet!  I do like this way of enhancing a slideshare presentation, and the ease of being able to share an electronic file.

Image: cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by opensourceway

Metaweb adds Semantic search value!

Google has  acquired Metaweb, which indexes things or “entities” in the world.

In a video explaining what they do, Metaweb talks about how the internet is not just words and for search to be the most relevant, it should be able to determine the context of the search term.

Last year PC World authors even called Google’s approach to search “aging” and talked about the search giant’s strategic moves to revamp its algorithms using semantic search.

via Perfect Search

Semantics: a keystone of learning on the web

Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web is the development of the web as data are given meaning (semantics) which enable computers to look up and eventually “reason” in response to user searches. It’s early days yet, but because of that, it’s particularly interesting to delve into these changes to see how the Semantic Web might  affect education.

The Semantic Web holds three key features that are of interest to me.  The first is the capacity for effective information storage and retrieval. The second is the capacity for computers to augment the learning and information retrieval and processing power of human beings. The third is the resulting capacity to ‘mix and match’ that will extend and expand knowledge and communications capabilities of humans in multiple formats.

The Semantic Web is a vision of information  that is immediately  understandable by computers, so computers can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, combining, and acting upon information on the web. As the Semantic Web becomes more of a realization, new technologies will also continue to enhance the learning process making flexibility and adaptability a keystone of learning. The unlimited mashup of dynamic information, all portable and tailored to your preferences will be the vehicle for learning in the future.

Linked Data is powering the web but mostly outside of libraries, so libraries and those that deal with information (educators) need to catch up.

Technology is evolving extremely quickly, and consumers are driving delivery methods – “get it to me on my device”. Live Serials explains:

The information industry is all about helping people to find things and linking students to the resources that they need. We need to rethink how we do this, bringing the information directly to the user, in the format that they want. There should be no need to bounce the user via resolvers and multiple URLs to a site that eventually proclaims “Here it is!”. It should just be delivered.

Education needs to link students to resources and search is only one way of doing this, but an essential way nevertheless.

When a 16-year-old student writes about a new Semantic Search Engine and provides an extensive review of it – at a time when most teachers are even oblivious of the sort of choices that are ‘out there’, I begin to worry for teachers and be excited for our students.

Take the time to read Xavier’s review of  Kngine at Kngine: The Smartest Search Engine Ever? which he says

aspires to be the next leader of the Semantic Web or commonly known as Web 3.0.  The Washington-based revolutionary Semantic search engine functions similarly to Wolfram Alpha, but much better (based on my personal opinion).

Cool review, cool search engine!