Douglas Engelbart at Google and the future of collective intelligence

September 26, 2007 12:03 am 0 comments

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Douglas Engelbart is the person who pioneered Augment, which we covered a little while ago in the “mother of all demos”. Augment and the work from the Stanford Research Institute in the 1950’s and 60’s is still considered ahead of mainstream internet technology today, and the possibilities of this are deeply interesting.

I received an email from Mei Lin Fung from CIE Institute recently to let me know that the very next day after we posted the mother of all demos, Doug Engelbart presented and spoke at Google about these technologies and in potential mainstream commercial applications that can be derived from that.

Here is the video – I recommend seeing it entirely, especially the Q&A section to get a better feel for why this is “much more than HCI” as one of the slides mention.

Authors@Google: Douglas Engelbart

The concepts of collecting human intelligence and in finding ways to becoming better in a group are somewhat in line with some of the things we do at Green & White and also with some work being done in Pakistan. Read on for some more analysis of the video

The A,B,Cs
At a fundamental level, the idea of the A, B, or C level activities presented is something that a lot of technology firms seems to have taken out of their responsibilities.

If history is any guide, it has been technology that has further improved the production cycles (e.g. rapid assembly lines) or technology that further inspires people to build on top of that and improve (e.g. APIs or Frameworks) that have had the farthest reaching impact on the evolution of society’s state of being.

Today, as well as a few years ago, the focus for product companies has been “need fulfillment” (remember the ‘find a need’ argument?). Tech companies in general seem to have forgotten their bigger role in creating frameworks that then inspire people to make even richer or better solutions.

About CoDIAK

CoDIAK is a concept that seems to be very closely in line with the concepts that we want Green & White to be based on. CoDIAK stands for the “Concurrent Development, Integration and Application of Knowledge”, or in other words to “give high priority to the collective capability for a distributed community to develop, integrate and apply new knowledge”

That pretty much sums up what a coffee session is — that a fully-democratic process of identifying knowledge, structuring it and presenting solutions to challenges would be much more effective when taken in the context of a long-period of those discussions.

The challenge isnt so much identifying what the solution would be, but in creating a technology that blends and supports the underlying social and human behavioral patterns that define activities around knowledge in general.

That is why I sometimes cringe when people refer this as “Osama’s blog”. It’s not. This is Green & White — I dont own it, you do. Every author who writes materials contributes to the thought process that guides us. Every commenter who expresses his thoughts adds to the “better perspective” of the things we discuss – perspectives that would otherwise just not be possible if we spent the time to think about them in isolation.

What’s more, we can begin to look at these discussions within different contexts or ‘views’ – That huge tag list, as ugly as it may seem, allows people to segment information based on company name (e.g. Union Bank) or by solution (Mobile Transactions) – I can segment information based on author, or a certain date-range or otherwise.

Is this what Doug wanted? Probably not, but the environment that a blog provides for fostering the collection of better perspectives is certainly better than a page.

The second challenge is in getting the community to participate constructively, which is a constant evolutionary process — if you notice on Green & White, the most commenters jump in when the topic is controversial and when people can take quick jibes… pour in a deeper mug of coffee and everything is silent. How do we move to the point where we recognize that “Even a dumb idea that was contributed through group participation is a great idea”? Any ideas? Sound off in the comments.

Future Thinking
So how would a world look without pages / webpages or linearly constructed information? From the talk it seems that it is hard to imagine one and harder still to explain it. But some companies in Pakistan are looking at this problem as well.

We do this at CDF, or Core Digital Frameworks. We are always exploring the art of defining complex frameworks that define the technology, the people and the process behind solutions that bring enormous definitive value to people that experience them. We apply what we find in (1) experience design — whether that comes from features, UIs, video concepts, or marketing messages (2) Consulting on Product and Marketing strategy — this would be by taking ownership of the experiential evolution of your copmany’s products, brand or marketing messages. In all of this, we work on some very very challenging technological problems (usually involving inventing a completely new platform / API / framework or other technological piece that allows people to create even better and bigger solutions on top of them).

As Douglas Engelbart writes — “Someone once called me ‘just a dreamer’… that offended me, the ‘just’ part… being a real dreamer is hard work”.

There are a number of other companies and research projects going on in Pakistan that handle specific parts of the larger umbrella of work. Do contact me if you’re interested in working in these areas (to build practical real-world solutions, not just research) and I can get you in touch with the people here or with Mei Lin at CIE.

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