CES Isn’t All Just Fun and Games…

Human Genome

At this yeas CES (Consumer Electronic Show) there were far more than just the standard fare of new TV sets and personal “I” something gadgets to full-fill our never-ending desire to  consume content. Yet there was something far more profound, however it almost went unnoticed which is a sad statement as here was the ability to sequence a human genome for around $1,000 dollars! Folks this is almost akin to the discovery of fire regarding its importance to mankind.

As two companies, Ion Torrent and Illumina will be releasing desktop devices to allow the medical practitioner to do this in their office.  In short, this means no more diagnostic guessing when it comes to figuring out what ails us in a serious sense as well as what drugs will work best an how much.  This is a huge win for humanity and in some ways comes up just short of immortality.  Once we start crunching numbers, the sky’s basically the limit as our knowledge of the interconnections of our molecular biology will grow by leaps and bounds.

Yet with all of goodness there are two issues in the first is our ignorance as when the newest games take center stage while technology such as this lands on page B34, something is wrong.  Now yes I do understand the existence of the game in some fashion has supported the technological ability of these devices to come into being [by making the electronics cheap], yet we still as a society sit with the cart in front of the horse to many things regarding what really matters the most.

The second is more technical in nature, in that as the data grows [from crunching the numbers] so does the need for software to digest and process the output of this data in a constructive way.  This is where I believe crowd sourcing will come to play as in collective computing to solve this problem.  As the more minds which come to bear on a challenge such as this with fingers typing at the keyboard the better.  It’s here however strong social frame works will be required as for all this to work in a constructive manner, there must be order and this might just be the hidden value of the social network. As sharing what game you’re playing is one thing, however just think if we could use the same network to share the cure for cancer.  Yes this as Aldus Huxley would say is a brave new world which no one would argue especially those in need of cure…

Can You Say Water…

Deb Roys 3d Social Map

Well Deb Roys son does and you could say it all started with just a gaga and no “lady” is involved, well maybe not totally true as there was his mother, nanny, grandmother but you get the idea.  Well you see Deb Roy has the mother of all home video systems, as a matter of fact everything he does in his home is videotaped and sent to a large server farm in his basement.  From here every word said is digitized and matched to the location it was said in the home as well as the interactions of participants in the house.

What was Deb Roy hoping to achieve with all this kit stored away and 200 terabytes of compressed video files of his family’s every action?  Simple, he wanted to capture a birth  and not just an ordinary “birth” as this is a special one and happens to each of us in our life and only once.  The moment Deb was seeking is that of his son’s first word, in this case it was “water”.

What’s the big deal you ask, kids learn to speak every day and have done so for thousands of years in some shape fashion or form.  However here it is 2011 and we have put a man on the moon, yet a child’s first words are still a mystery and this is what Deb Roy a professor at the MIT Media lab set out to discover in this multiyear experiment.  As language is the most fundamental skill we as humans develop as it’s our sole means of connecting with others in our species as in order to transfer ideas and concepts one must possess a functionally common lexicon from which to accept and convey ideas.

Well to cut to the chase a bit, what Deb found here was very interesting about how his son learned to vocalize and associate the word “water”, however that’s not the point of this post.  It’s the next thing Deb found which was far more interesting to me is he took these “models” he and his staff had discovered in seeking his son’s first words and turned them towards the media.  He wanted to see what the world was saying and using the same methods of computer modeling he was able to paint an amazing picture.

To do this, his team took satellite TV transmissions from hundreds of channels and fed them into a parallel massive computer system to decode them and what he found is it was possible to “link” conversations.  In as such the happenings on “American Idol” would spawn many sub conversations and they created very powerful causal loops.  In turn these loops would drive further discussions and so on to the point where he then took “social feeds” (assumed since it was not spelled out) from Twitter ™ and Facebook ™ which linked to actual people and the “social map” which this produced was amazing.

To me this is both amazing and scary because it shows that “key” messages placed at the right spot in the “social map” can and will spread like wild fire and disruption in the map itself by say the death of say an influential individual(s) can have serious repercussions in the flow of concepts.  To me this is the equivalent of the human genome project, however this time it is the “social genome”…

Note: To check out Deb Roys work, go to http://www.ted.com/speakers/deb_roy.html