Monday, August 31, 2009

More thoughts on the book: Wired for Thought by Jeffrey Stibel

Previously, I gave a rather lackluster mini-review of the new book Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet by Jeffrey M. Stibel which claims that "The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body", but I have had a few more thoughts, in particular related to the concept of a "collective consciousness."

My main regret is that I failed to note that the World Wide Web as a whole does to a fair extent represent a dynamic snapshot of the collective consciousness of the millions of people who use the Web. Blog posts and Twitter streams do in fact give a reasonably accurate sense of the topics that are at the front of our collective minds and the tip of our collective tongues.

The Web itself does not sense or have consciousness, but users using the Web as a wall to write on and read from can convey their thoughts and reactions through the Web.

But, I think that is about as far as I feel comfortable going on this idea of the Web being analogous to the human brain.

After all, this collective consciousness is not really a consciousness per se in the way the human brain has a consciousness. There is no single voice of the collective. There is no I. There is no sense of self.

We cannot have a true dialogue with the collective.

We cannot ask a question and get an answer.

The collective does not have a personality.

You cannot have a one-to-one or one-on-one interaction with the collective.

The collective never makes a decision.

The collective does not have a responsibility. Nor does it have any obligations.

The collective does not exhibit common sense.

Nonetheless, the book does contain some interesting insights and is well worth a browse even if you do not purchase it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book: Wired for Thought by Jeffrey Stibel

Yesterday I was browsing through the new book table at Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center and found an interesting book entitled Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet by Jeffrey M. Stibel that informs us that "The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body" and that a "collective consciousness" is being created. Sounds fascinating. The Amazon blurb tells us that:

In this age of hyper competition, the Internet constitutes a powerful tool for inventing radical new business models that will leave your rivals scrambling. But as brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeffrey Stibel explains in "Wired for Thought", you have to understand its true nature. The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body. To leverage its power, you first need to understand how the Internet has evolved to take on similarities to the brain. This engaging and provocative book provides the answer. Stibel shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the Internet's brain like powers to create competitive advantage - such as building more effective Web sites, predicting consumer behavior, leveraging social media, and creating a collective consciousness.

The promise sounded truly compelling, but after five minutes of leafing through the book I was not able to isolate more than a few stray details that had any bearing on fulfilling the promise. There was was too much "pop puff" which may thrill the average reader ignorant of the relevant technology, but I simply was unable to find any substantive justification for the central thesis of the book. It may in fact be there since I did not read the book cover to cover, but if it is so compelling and presumably pervasive, how could I have missed it?

Nonetheless, this book may have a solid position simply as a statement of "the state of the art", telling us not how close we are to real success, but simply where we happen to be today. Yes, we are getting closer to the mountain, but that does not automatically translate into closeness to the peak.

There is a lot that we do not yet deeply compehend about the human brain, mind, consciousness, and intellect, so I am not sure how much mileage we can get out of comparing the Internet to the human brain. In fact, I have a hunch it might be an exercise in futility at this stage. Sure, we can paint a broad-brush picture and draw lots of fuzzy analogies, but none of that will necessarily result in true enlightenment.

By all means, browse the book yourself and make up your own mind whether it meshes with your own expertise and interest levels. The book does have a web site with chapter excerpts.

For me, I put down the book pondering the question 'Where's the beef?".

Oddly, Amazon does not have a picture of the book cover, but I was able to find it on the Harvard Business School Press web site since they are the publisher. Note: I get a small commission if you buy the book by clicking on any of my links to the book on Amazon.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What is the relative cost of charging plug-in hybrid vs. non-plug-in hybrid electric vehicles?

The current crop of hybrid electric vehicles depends on the gasoline engine (and braking) to recharge the batteries. The coming generation of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can also recharge the batteries by plugging into a normal electric receptacle. My question is what the cost differential is between paying for gas to do the charging on the go versus the hit to your electric bill to recharge at home overnight.

In the first case, you have the cost of gasoline and how much charging is accomplished per gallon of gasoline.

In the second case you have the cost per kilowatt-hour of your residential electricity as well as the charging efficiency. How much of each kilowatt-hour actually end up in the batteries of your vehicle?

I am not enough of an engineer to know the answer.

My hunch is that at least overnight, charging from "the grid" will be cheaper, as well as having no local carbon-based emmissions.

Any engineers out there?

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, August 07, 2009

Latest EDGE newsletter: A Short Course On Synthetic Genomics by George Church and Craig Venter

I really enjoy getting John Brockman's monthly EDGE email newsletter. It is always filled with incredibly fascinating material and "big ideas." The latest issue, EDGE 296 includes video for "A Short Course On Synthetic Genomics" by George Church and Craig Venter. The short course consisted of six sessions:

  1. Dreams & Nightmares
  2. Constructing Life from Chemicals
  3. Multi-enzyme, multi-drug, and multi-virus resistant life
  4. Humans 2.0
  5. From Darwin to New Fuels (In A Very Short Time)
  6. Engineering humans, pathogens and extinct species

In his introduction entitled "Ape and Essence", George Dyson tells us:

Sixty-one years ago Aldous Huxley published his lesser-known masterpiece, Ape and Essence, set in the Los Angeles of 2108. After a nuclear war (in the year 2008) devastates humanity's ability to reproduce high-fidelity copies of itself, a reversion to sub-human existence had been the result. A small group of scientists from New Zealand, spared from the catastrophe, arrives, a century later, to take notes. The story is presented, in keeping with the Hollywood location, in the form of a film script.

On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal), arrived at the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, to be offered a glimpse, guided by George Church and Craig Venter, of a future far stranger than Mr. Huxley had been able to imagine in 1948.

In this future -- whose underpinnings, as Drs. Church and Venter demonstrated, are here already -- life as we know it is transformed not by the error catastrophe of radiation damage to our genetic processes, but by the far greater upheaval caused by discovering how to read genetic sequences directly into computers, where the code can be replicated exactly, manipulated freely, and translated back into living organisms by writing the other way. "We can program these cells as if they were an extension of the computer," George Church announced, and proceeded to explain just how much progress has already been made.

Interesting concept, programming DNA the way we program computers. New meaning for the term "base technology."

The full text of the sessions is available online, including a PDF entitled Life: What A Concept!

A lot of amazing stuff there.

No, I personally have not had a chance to dig through it myself.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Twitter status - Twitter is back, at least at the moment

Twitter finally seems to be back, at least at this moment.

I hit refresh and Twitter came up just fine!

I tried to tweet and Twitter updated just fine!

Let's see if this holds up. I would not place a bet on it, yet.

Twitter's status blog (at still says:

Update: the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend and recover from this attack.

Anyway, as I said in my previous post... time for my usual midday walk up to Central Park.

-- Jack Krupansky