T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). See his work The Rock
A year ago, April 5, 2015, we published what some consider the e-Discovery Team’s best essay, even though it had little to do with e-discovery: Information → Knowledge → Wisdom: Progression of Society in the Age of Computers. We wrote about the rapid changes in society caused by personal computers and set out our theory of three stages of social development.
The Information → Knowledge → Wisdom blog included twelve predictions to test the accuracy of our social-technological hypothesis. The predictions concerned the transition of society from an Information Age, in which we believe we now live, to a society based on Knowledge. The transition from mere Information to Knowledge is seen as a necessary survival step for society, not an idealistic dream.
The next Knowledge Age is also seen as a transition step to the ultimate goal of a society based on Wisdom. Our predictions did not address this last step to Wisdom because this step is, in our opinion, too far out time-wise for any meaningful predictions. It is possible for some individuals to make this step now, but not enough for a whole society to be centered in Wisdom. We have a long way to go to move from an Information to a Knowledge Society before we can make predictions on how a Wisdom based society will arise.
Our time-line for the first transition from Information to Knowledge is already pretty “far-out.” We thought the predictions would come true in five to twenty years. In this blog, a year later, we check the predictions (in bold) and provide a short report on how well they are doing.
Bottom line, our predictions are holding up remarkably well, especially our top prediction of new kinds of cyber education environments and VR. It is very encouraging to see how far society has progressed in just a year. Our technological civilization is still in danger from Information overload, and lack of processed Knowledge, to be sure. The political events of the last year underscore the serious threats. Still, our technology is evolving as predicted and, overall, society is moving in the right direction.
Here is our first prediction.
Top Prediction – VR Community Education
1. Several inventions, primarily in insanely great new computer hardware and software, will allow for the creation of many new types of cyber and physical interconnectivity environments. There will be many more places that will help people to go beyond information to knowledge. They will be both virtual realities, for you or your avatars to hang out, and real-world meeting places for you and your friends to go to. They will not be all fun and games (and sex), although that will be a part of it. Many will focus exclusively on learning and knowledge. The new multidimensional, holographic, 3D, virtual realities will use wearables of all kinds, including Oculus-like glasses, iWatches, and the like. Implant technology will also arise, including some brain implants, and may even be common in twenty years. Many of the environments, both real and VR, will take education and knowledge to a new level. Total immersion in a learning environment will take on new meaning. The TED of the future will be totally mind-blowing.
Although we said five to twenty years for these predictions, as it turns out the first prediction is much further along than we knew. On the new inventions front, we now know that Sony will release a PlayStation VR in October 2016 for $399. Also see 7 Virtual Reality Highlights From the Game Developers Conference (NYT, 3/19/16).
We also now know that Microsoft is releasing new technology in 2016 that it calls Windows Holographic, and modestly describes as “the most advanced holographic computer the world has ever seen.” It allows for both VR and augmented reality. That means it can add holograms to the real 3D world around you. Microsoft is also reportedly working on a related 3D communications technology that simulates teleportation using the HoloLens augmented-reality glasses that it has dubbed ‘Holoportation‘ (shown in picture above). That looks really cool.
There have been a host of other inventions as well, including improved VR hand sensors, animated ebooks controlled by the speed of your voice, Samsung phone display holograms. Virtual reality is taking off for a number of small and large companies. Virtual reality trips were, for instance, everywhere at the South by Southwest conference in 2016. Many VR communities are in various stages of development, including a VR City that is well along, which has many social-educational components, called Hypatia.
Facebook’s long-awaited Oculus Rift (shown right) began shipping at the end of March 2016. Right now it costs $599 and you need a souped-up PC to use it. First reviews of the Oculus hardware are praise-filled, although the device itself is well ahead of the software designed to use it. All of these new VR headsets are expected to trigger many new apps, some of which will likely have educational components.
The New York Times give-away of Google Cardboard VR viewers was also a big deal in late 2015. I got one included with my Sunday paper. I was surprised by the quality of both the free cardboard headset and the content the Times created for it. All you do is put your cell phone in the cardboard box that has lenses in it. It’s simple and works well. This is good start to a new type of total immersion journalistic reports. I highly recommend you try one of the Google cardboard viewers, especially since they are still very low cost. Most of apps, including games, designed to work on them them are also free or low cost.
On the importance of VR to education, and thus the transition to a Knowledge based society, a noteworthy conference was held in Paris in October 2015, sponsored by the Sorbonne and the Smithsonian called IMMERSION 2015. One of the modules of the conference was Immersive Education: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Immersion. VR Education group. Also see Two students hope to help explain complex 3D math and science concepts through virtual reality enterprise. I am sure if we kept researching we would find many more examples like that.
The first prediction is moving into reality faster than we expected. That is good news. Larissa Bailiff, the senior editor of education and content for WoofbertVR (shown right) wrote in her article When Virtual Reality Meets Education:
In what may turn out to be an immersive education game changer, Google launched its Pioneer Expeditions in September 2015. Under this program, thousands of schools around the world are getting — for one day — a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take their class on a virtual trip …
And with VR platforms like AltspaceVR and LectureVR (an initiative of Immersive VR Education), entirely new possibilities are available for teachers of all kinds, as the technology of making avatars and supporting “multi-player” sessions allows for an exponentially scaled level of socialization and outreach.
The use of VR for educational environments in global communities is already far along. When the even better technology just released is developed in the marketplace, and prices come down, this should scale quickly. The Sony, Microsoft, Samsung, and Facebook (Oculus) hardware coming out in 2016 will enable thousands of software entrepreneurs to enter the market. So too will new projects coming out by Google, Apple, etc., in 2017. These new technologies will allow education and art content creators to have the kind of impact needed to push us into a Knowledge-based Society.
The use of implants that is part of the first prediction is also progressing rapidly. See Eg. Grinders, Cyborgs & Transhumanists; Scientists propose ‘cortical modem’ implant; DARPA is sending brain implants on a voyage round the body to power artificial limbs; Do-it-yourself biology: Biohackers implanting rice grain-sized chips under skin. I question the balance of people experimenting with body augmentation at this early stage, but some people like dangerous things, such as the hand implant shown by the thumb in the x-ray photo above.
New applications for the i-Watch and other wearables will hopefully come out soon too. (The iWatch to date has largely been a dud, thanks to poor sensors and app development delays.) Increased sensor abilities should also come soon. When that happens it will be easier to personalize information in a holistic manner and so hopefully facilitate self-knowledge.
There is at least one-far out type of technology research now underway that involves the targeted stimulation of the peripheral nervous system to facilitate learning in a wide range of cognitive skills. It sounds bogus, but for the fact it is sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Departments Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA calls the project Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT). According to the DARPA announcement of 3/16/16:
“Recent research has shown that stimulation of certain peripheral nerves, easily and painlessly achieved through the skin, can activate regions of the brain involved with learning,” said TNT Program Manager Doug Weber (shown here) adding that the signals can potentially trigger the release of neurochemicals in the brain that reorganize neural connections in response to specific experiences. “This natural process of synaptic plasticity is pivotal for learning, but much is unknown about the physiological mechanisms that link peripheral nerve stimulation to improved plasticity and learning,” Weber said. “You can think of peripheral nerve stimulation as a way to reopen the so-called ‘Critical Period’ when the brain is more facile and adaptive. TNT technology will be designed to safely and precisely modulate peripheral nerves to control plasticity at optimal points in the learning process.”
DAPRA chart by Dr. Weber
You can follow Dr. Weber here on Twitter. We are.
In an article on this project by Kurzweill News, DARPA’s ‘Targeted Neuroplasticity Training’ program aims to accelerate learning ‘beyond normal levels’ (3/23/16), they state:
DARPA already has research programs underway to use targeted stimulation of the peripheral nervous system as a substitute for drugs to treat diseases and accelerate healing*, to control advanced prosthetic limbs**, and to restore tactile sensation.
But now DARPA plans to take an even more ambitious step: It aims to enlist the body’s peripheral nerves to achieve something that has long been considered the brain’s domain alone: facilitating learning — specifically, training in a wide range of cognitive skills. …
The program is also notable because it will not just train; it will advance capabilities beyond normal levels — a transhumanist approach. …
The engineering side of the program will target development of a non-invasive device that delivers peripheral nerve stimulation to enhance plasticity in brain regions responsible for cognitive functions.
Obviously the military is interested in the potential of brain stimulation, they say to train super-spy agents to rapidly master foreign languages and cryptography. If this works (a big if right now), it likely would go much further than that. What would a commando unit of super-quick learners look like? Could they beat robots (another DARPA project)? I hope we never find out.
If TNT neurostimulation is really able to enhance learning, as DARPA thinks, then it could have many non-military applications too. What if anybody could study law for just a few months, or a week, and pass the Bar exam? What if the same applied to most PhD programs? What if you could learn to speak a new language in a week? Write in a new software code? New martial arts moves as in The Matrix? What if you could learn anything you wanted, when you wanted, really really fast? Or, what if it was just fast, say half the time, or a tenth the time, that it would normally take to learn a complex skill?
What if electro-stimulation (or some other method) could hack your brain into a super high-gear that was once the exclusive province of rare geniuses? If genius becomes commonplace, could a knowledge society be far off? The TNT project has the potential to accelerate our transition to a knowledge based society very rapidly, especially if there is wide-spread distribution of this new technology. The twists and turns that could come out of this are mind-boggling. Let’s just hope we do not become overwhelmed with idiot-savants.
To be honest, the whole theory of simple nerve stimulation triggering freak learning abilities sounds more than a little ridiculous to us. Too easy. Nevertheless, the DAPRA funding and Doug Weber give it credibility. One of DARPA’s past projects included ARPANET that later became the Internet. Indeed, many common place things once seemed ridiculous, such as a computer in every home.
Four Predictions on Social Media and Dissemination of Expertise
2. Some of the new types of social media sites will be environments where subject matter experts (SME) are featured, avatars and real, cyber and in-person, shifted and real-time. There will also be links to other sites or rooms that are primarily information sources.
The Pope is now on Instagram. What more need we say? There has been real progress in this area, although we still have a long way to go. See eg. What Do These Top Industry Experts Use Social Media For?; How Social Media Can Help Students Study; Connecting a Classroom: Reflections on Using Social Media With My Students. Still, when a Pope like Francis use media for educational, inspirational purposes, we have made real progress. Everyday people are doing it too in their own way, even us. See the Team community growing on Twitter.
3. The new SME environment will include products and services, with both free and billed aspects.
Slow and steady development, but, as expected, has not taken off yet. See Eg. PrestoExperts (online hook-up to experts in many fields); www.experts.com; Experts Exchange; and the site for legal services, AVVO.
4. The knowledge nest community environments will be both online and in-person. The real life, real world, interactions will be in safe public environments with direct connections with cyberspaces. It will be like stepping out of your computer into a Starbucks or laid-back health spa.
Universities with old-timely, all too linear professors still rule the roost. Although some colleges are becoming more online and digital oriented, real innovation is still a few years off. Penn Study: Massive Open Online Courses Not a Threat to Traditional Business Schools; edX – Free online courses from the world’s best universities; The 30 Most Innovative Online Colleges; COURSERA.
Most of the professors and other professionals, including law and medicine, have yet to step out of their comfort zone and into cyberspace, much less non-traditional education zones. As the technologies improve we expect that they will be more motivated to do so. Real progress and innovation will follow after that happens. We do note, however, that Amazon has just opened its first physical bookstores and see this an encouraging step. It may seem retro, but it is really a step forwards toward knowledge based communities. We may see more high-tech libraries constructed soon that also fill that purpose. We expect they will be more about space than books.
5. The knowledge focused cyberspaces, both those with and without actual real-words SMEs, will look and feel something like a good social media site of today, but with multimedia of various kinds. Some will have Oculus type VR enhancements like the StarTrek holodeck. All will have system administrators and other staff who are tireless, knowledgable, and fair; but most will not be human.
This prediction depends in large part on the actualization of the first four. These kind of mature multidimensional cyberspaces will come later, when the other predictions come true, and when AIs are more developed as discussed next.
Predictions on AI
Seven of our predictions as to how society will likely transition from an Information Age to a Knowledge Age involved the use of new and improved kinds of artificial intelligence entities. Although this was a big year for AI PR, there were no major break throughs. Not yet.
The big news this year in AI is that Google created a deep learning based AI system for playing the world’s most complicated game. The AlphaGo software was able to beat a reigning Grand Master in GO in four out of five games. AlphaGo, Lee Sedol, and the Reassuring Future of Humanity (The New Yorker, 3/15/16). Many thought that it would take a decade for a computer to learn how to beat a Grand Master at the world’s most complex game.
It was an impressive victory. Still, Google’s AlphaGo, which used deep learning algorithms, can only do one thing, play GO. AlphaGo and the Limits of Machine Intuition (Harvard Business Review, 3/18/16). To overuse the word, the fact that this was the big news in AI development this year, shows that we still have a long way to go. Moreover, no AI yet born, much less conceived, would appreciate why you are now snickering, or annoyed, or both.
It may be that new hardware development was the big news last year, computers designed to help run AI code. See Devin Coldewey, Nvidia announces a supercomputer aimed at deep learning and AI, (TechCrunch, April 5, 2016). The new Nvidia computers are designed to run deep learning systems a/k/a neural networks. They are due to be released in June 2016 and will sell for $129,000. These Nvidia supercomputers could also become the gold standard in VR machines.
Coldewey in his Tech Crunch article explains that:
These are programs that simulate human-like thought processes by looking very closely at a huge set of data and noting similarities and differences on multiple levels of organization.
This is how Nvidia explains the new technology: (emphasis added)
Computer programs contain commands that are largely executed sequentially. Deep learning is a fundamentally new software model where billions of software-neurons and trillions of connections are trained, in parallel. Running DNN algorithms and learning from examples, the computer is essentially writing its own software. This radically different software model needs a new computer platform to run efficiently.
Nvidia claims to have created a supercomputer designed to fill that platform need. It uses what they call GPUs instead of CPUs. I think this will soon be a crowded field.
Here are the seven AI related predictions made last year. Again, we do not expect to see these advances for at least five years, and as many as twenty.
6. The admins, operators and other staff in these cyberspaces will be advanced AI, like cyber-robots. Humans will still be involved too, but will delegate where appropriate, which will be most of the time. This is one of my key predictions.
The only development I am aware of along these lines is on Facebook. It now has an AI that is automatically writing photo captions. If you hear of anything more, please let me know. It would not seem that difficult to do on at least a rudimentary level, so I still expect to see this advance soon. Much easier than an adult Turing test. See Edge.org contributors discuss the future of AI.
7. The presence of AIs will spread and become ubiquitous. They will be a key part of the IOT – Internet of Things. Even your refrigerator will have an AI, one that you program to fit your current dietary mood and supply orientation.
The IOT is spreading fast as expected, but not yet the communicative AI. Since our cybersecurity is so poor, we are not so sure that is a bad thing. Still, the recent advances in Amazon’s Alexa are promising, and do doubt Siri will get also get lot smarter in the next few years, so too will Google Now and Cortana, so too might a new personal assistant startup called Viv. There are many like this in the works. See Virtual Personal Assistants: The software secretaries (The Economist, 9/12/15).
8. The knowledge products and services will come in a number of different forms, many of which do not exist in the present time, but will be made possible by other new inventions, especially in the area of communications, medical implants, brain-mind research, wearables, and multidimensional video games and conferences.
See our prior comments to the related predictions two through five. Until the AI improves, and/or human inventors take off with great new ideas and products, this prediction of innovation remains conjecture. The creative diversity here predicted requires a developed market that is still several years out. Still, we are seeing early forms of this in things like online mental health counseling using video connections and the like.
9. All subject areas will be covered, somewhat like Wikipedia, but with super-intelligent cyber robots to test, validate and edit each area. The AI robots will serve most of the administrator and other cyber-staffing functions, but not all.
This kind of super-librarian AI still seems decades away. But, we recently found out that Wikipedia is already working on something like this. Artificial intelligence introduced to improve Wikipedia edits (“The Wikimedia foundation is embracing machine learning to make the editing process more streamlined and forgiving for new contributors.”) That is a good start.
10. The AI admins will monitor, analyze, and screen out alleged SMEs who do not meet certain quality standards. The AI admins will thus serve as a truth screen and quality assurance. An SME’s continued participation in an AI certified site will be like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
We see nothing like this yet on the horizon, although we do see some physician and attorney ranking systems that work on crowd-sourcing. We do, however, remain confident that this prediction will come true within our outside time range of twenty years.
11. The AI admins will also monitor and police the SME services and opinions for fraud and other unacceptable use, and for general cybersecurity. The friendly management AIs will even be involved in system design, billing, collection, and dispute resolution.
The use of AI in general fraud detection, credit scoring and all types of financial analysis, including stock trading, is already well underway. But our prediction here was oriented to AI administration and monitoring of SME services. When these new social media type SME services are developed, the AIs will be well equipped to service the sites and protect users.
12. Environments hosted by such friendly, fair, patient, sometimes funny, polite (per your specified level, which may include insult mode), high IQ intelligence, both human and robot, will be generally considered to be reliable, bona fide, effective, safe, fun, enriching, and beautiful. They will provide a comforting alternative to information overload environments filled with conflicting information, including its lowest form, data. These alternative knowledge nests will become a refuge of music in a sea of noise. Some will become next generation Disney World vacation paradises.
This twelfth prediction is built on all of the rest. It will necessarily be one of the last to come true.
The development of VR and education is proceeding very rapidly, well ahead of our minimum five year projections. AI is also making steady progress, especially with deep learning algorithms. D. Scott Phoenix, How artificial intelligence is getting even smarter (World Economic Forum, Aug. 2015); Clark, Jack, Why 2015 Was a Breakthrough Year in Artificial Intelligence (Bloomberg, 12/8/15). Although we do not think 2015 was a breakthrough year for AI, we remain confident that their day will come. When the breakthrough year does in fact arrive, it will be quite momentous.
We remain hopeful that artificial intelligence will help usher in a Golden Age of Knowledge, then ultimately of Wisdom. This is not to deny the possibility of dark futures with human subjugation by robot overlords or all-too-human political despots, etc. In order to avoid these dystopias we need to know and understand the real dangers we are now facing, including, without limitation, AI, and act accordingly. The AI dangers of unethical robots is another area where lawyers could work with scientists and others to make valuable contributions to the future of humanity.
In closing I leave you with a question, who would you rather hang-out with, a well informed person, a knowledgeable person, or a wise one? Here are my thoughts. One important thing I forgot to mention in my video is that the wise are always funny. If they sound wise, but are very serious, you know you are in the presence of a merely knowledgable person who has pretensions of wisdom. Run.