Big Data And The Global Nervous System

PRESENTER: The Atlantic called him a Timothy Leary of the viral video age. He has also been described as the new Carl Sagan and Idea DJ, and part Timothy Leary, and part Ray Kurzweil and part Neo from The Matrix. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome TV personality, techno philosopher, TED speaker and your host, Jason Silva.

JASON SILVA: Thank you. What’s up everyone? Wow! It’s such a pleasure to be here with all of you guys, the true architects of the future. Wow! I’m gonna tell you, I am so psyched. I’m gonna tell you several reasons why but first, since you’re gonna see me a lot for the next 4 days, let me tell you just a little bit about who I am. I was born in Venezuela, I earned a degree from the University of Miami in Film and Philosophy which means that I’m not an IT guy, but I am absolutely in love with technology. And after a few years of hosting a television show for Al Gore’s current TV network, I decided to create my own short-form video content, contemplating big ideas related to creativity and innovation, and philosophy, and specifically the ongoing co-evolution of humans and technology. That’s what I love about conferences like this because I think, you know, technology is evolving so fast. Exponentially so, in fact, and we’re so swept up in it that our expectations are so high, yet very few people ever step back and go, “Wow! Look at the big picture and think big.”

I mean, do you guys realize what’s going on here? This is accelerated evolution. The world is hyper connected, all the time, in real time. We are engineering, computation. We’re extending sensors to everything: our cars, our electric meters, shipping crates, in planes, on bridges. At this year’s TED Conference, Chris Anderson, founder and visionary behind TED put it this way: “the computing power in the some of the things we are seeing is really startling.” We’re used to Morse Law. We’re used to the things getting better and better, and better and then some years, it suddenly feels as if “Kapow!” there’s a step change. There’s a techno tsunami going on at unprecedented convergence of big data and analytics, social, mobile, cloud. Wasn’t it that long ago mobile phones were a cool gadget owned by the techno-elite? Now they’re ubiquitous; we’ve got 7 billion people, we got 6 billion devices. The amount of data that we create everyday used to be mind-boggling to us, and then we quickly become immune to the fact that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone. And it’s not just pre-___ kind of data that will be kept within corporate walls. It’s all that unstructured content, most of which didn’t even exist years ago: documents, tweets, images, videos posted to YouTube, data gathered from surveillance cameras. We post, we blog, we share, we tweet, we like or don’t like. We have a voice and we leave a digital trail. And every tweet we send is being followed, monitored, analyzed, acted on. Companies are analyzing social to find out what you’re thinking, to know what new products and services you want even before you do. A new initiative by the U.N. is actually using sentiment analyses to help predict the civil unrest, job losses, spending reductions, disease outbreaks. The ability to visualize all of this information is taking human understanding to an unprecedented level. We can see patterns that we can never see before, we can spot trends as they are happening, we can predict future trends and we can test hypotheses. Technology is an evolutionary force, slingshoting the species forward as ever before. We are fast approaching, I believe, a new renaissance, and age of wonder and radical possibility. What’s most exciting about this new renaissance is that to be a part of it, to be one of the truly enlightened ones, all you have to do is think big: step outside your comfort zone, look at things from a new perspective, maybe even take Donald Trump’s advice. “As long as you’re gonna be thinking anyway, why not think big.” Consider these thoughts by futurist Kevin Kelly. “Can you imagine how poor our world would be if Bach has been born a thousand years before the Flemish invented the technology of the harpsichord, or Vincent Van Gough had arrived 5000 years before we invented the technology of cheap oil paint? What kind of modern world would we have if Edison, Green and Dixon had not developed cinematic technology before Hitchcock grew up?” And I say can you imagine the future when we have all these capabilities that derive incredible insights but never took advantage of it, because we were unable to truly think big? As Allen Harrington wrote in The Immortalist, “we must never forget we are cosmic revolutionaries, not studios conscripted to advance the natural order that kills everyone.” And he’s exactly right. We are the species that transcends its limitations. Our function is to expand our boundaries and extend our reach. Our function is to engage a new thinking, outside of the box thinking, to think big. This seismic shift toward data-driven discovery and decision-making is a revolution. What makes me so psyched being here to a conference like this with you guys, is that you pose a critical role in the seismic shift. You are leading this revolution. You are the architects of this future. Andrew Gelman, the statistician political scientist of Columbia University puts it this way: “Veteran data analysts used to bore their friends with discussions of their work but now, their friends are eating it up. The culture has changed,” he says. There is this idea that numbers and statistics are interesting and fun. It’s cool now. Your work is so important; it’s exciting, it’s impactful, it’s cool now. When you look at what this revolution has made possible, that’s when it gets really exciting. What was once only imagined is now inevitable and the opportunities for those who think bigger and brighter are huge.

We live in an age of empowered imagination, this ability to conjure up delightful future possibilities, pick the most amazing one and then pull the present forward to meet that possibility. That is what we do. Big data, social, mobile and cloud when taken together, offer game-changing opportunities. We really get to reinvent the wheel here, my friends. Installing sensors all over the world means we are creating a global nervous system. The sensors are the nerve endings of a global organism, of a global brain. Making sense of input signals, the behaviors and effects of these billions of minds interacting and interfacing with each other with the larger system is literally offering consciousness-expanding information that is transforming our understanding of ourselves and offering insights that will transform how the world is run. By nurturing these spaces of data transparency where ideas and information can intermingle, mutate, evolve. Where ideas can essentially procreate, will lead to even more breakthroughs. There’s a term used by author Steven Johnson called The Adjacent Possible that I absolutely love. He offers a sort of shadow future that hovers on the present state of things, he says. The Adjacent Possible is a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. Our increasing ability to quantify ourselves, to measure our behavior and scales we couldn’t dream about mere decades ago, reveals not only what is but what could be if you do this or that tweak to the system. Things are about to get insanely cool, my friends. Today, committed groups of technologists riding the wave of exponential growth, can accomplish what only governments could, mere decades ago. The tools that change the world are on everybody’s hand.

We have the tools. All we’ve got to do is imagine what could be. We can reinvent the present; we can transform the world around us. Sartre said, “Because we can imagine, we are free”. The guy was certainly on to something. In a recent article in Forbes, Ed Dumbill talks about what it means to have a digital nervous system. And the key trade, he says, is to make an organization’s feedback loop entirely digital, a direct connection from sensing and monitoring inputs through the product outputs. He goes on to explain that the reach of the digital nervous system has grown steadily over the past 30 years and how each step brings gains in agility and flexibility along with an order of magnitude more data. First, from specific application programs, then to general business use with the PC, then direct interaction over the web. Mobile ads awareness of time and place along with instant notification. The next step breaks down data silos in its storage and elasticity through cloud computing. Now we’re integrating smart agents able to act on our behalf, and we’re building connections to real world through sensors and automation. It boggles the mind just to contemplate. Energy companies, because they have real-time data and visibility into the grid are now detecting problems and fixing them before they happen. Physicians, instead of relying solely on their own personal experience and their own readings of medical journals, are now drawing on the experience of other doctors in vast amounts of data analysis to determine the best treatments. Police departments across the country using computerized mapping and analysis of variables like historical arrest patterns, Paydays, sporting events, rainfall and holidays to try to predict likely crime hot spots and deploy officers there in advance before the crimes even happen. Companies know which of their clients are in danger of turning even before they know themselves. Retailers use sentiment analyses to predict what you want before you do. Fraud is being detected and stopped immediately because we can now see patterns in spending habits and know what’s normal and what’s not. These are big opportunities to transform businesses and industries, and the world we live in. This, my friends, is an upgrade.

Looking forward towards this event horizon as technology continues to boot strap on its own complexity and the rate of change is itself changing and accelerating, we have evolution evolving its own evolvability as Kevin Kelly talks about. Now we’re using better tools to build even better tools in a sort of self-amplifying feedbacking. And now biology is becoming an information technology, too. We are entering an era in which digital data merges with Biology. As we’re coming to master the information processes of Biology, this synthesis of codes takes the abstract world of digits and brings it back into the physical world. Here we have software that writes its own hardware. Here, the instructions, the data, instantiated itself in the physical universe. We can instruct genes and cells on how to replicate. We could never do that with computers. Physicist Freeman Dyson speaks of a new future where a new generation of artists will write genomes the way that Shakespeare used to write verses. And certainly we’ll be able to upgrade our genomes the way the software programmers currently upgrade computer software. Taking all of these ideas at face value, no doubt, it’s broadening your perceptual boundaries, forcing you to reconfigure your mental models in order to accommodate the epic scope of these ideas. This should do as a “state of awe”, providing a sort of anthological awakening, realization of the connectedness of all things, and also the continuum from inanimate to animate matter; all of it is nature, all of it is inevitable, all of it is emerging as part of the same evolutionary process. It’s WOW, guys.

I don’t know about you guys, but this stuff blows my mind. You know the imminent Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey has written of the biological advantage of being awestruck. How foretold as he says, that for a species to find its own ability to marvel at its own existence has been evolutionarily advantageous. In other words, this capacity has been biologically selected for, because it informs our life with a sense of cosmic significance that makes us actually work harder, to persist and to survive and to understand. A recent study out of Stanford on the subject of “Awe” actually validates this hypothesis. In the study, they define “awe” as an experience of such perceptual expansion, such perceptual vastness that you literally have to configure your mental schemata just to accommodate, just to take in the scale, of the experience – it’s a download. We’ve all felt this before: the first time we saw the Grand Canyon perhaps, or succumb to the immersive power of an iMax film. And I propose to you that as we continue this fascinating, addictive, irresistible co-evolutions of humans and technology as we move in to this big future, it’s gonna ignite the awestruck in all of us. The renowned theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku has given us a glimpse of the world in what the collective future might look like. By 2020, he believes the word computer will have effectively vanished from the English language. At the cost of a penny, instead of one chip inside the desktop, we’ll have millions of chips in all of our possessions: our furniture, cars, appliances, clothing, in our bodies. We’ll simply turn things on. When you need to see a doctor, you talk to a wall in your home and an artificially intelligent doctor will appear. You’ll scan your body with a handheld MRI machine and you’ll receive a diagnosis that is 99% accurate. In this augmented reality, the internet will be in your contact lens. You will blink and go online. Students will look up answers to tests while taking them. Actors will cheat from their scripts while performing on stage. Foreigners will translate their conversations with natives instantly. The iconic technologist Stewart Brand, who I love once said, “We are as Gods and might as well get good at it”. In other words, when we take responsibility for our actions, which increasingly, our planetary and scale. We are indeed as Gods; our tools make us so. Big ideas, big opportunities, big future. And those who think big will win. Exploring these big ideas is what this conference is all about and we’re gonna continue this discussion now and we’ll look at the impact that technology innovations, are having on organizations in this new era of computing. And on that note my friends, please welcome Senior Vice President, Middleware Software for IBM Software, Robert LeBlanc.

Robert LeBlanc: Good morning!

Audience: Good morning!

Robert LeBlanc: Oh, you can do better than that. Good morning!

Audience: Good morning!

Robert LeBlanc: Much, much belter. Thank you for joining us here on behalf of IBM and all of our sponsors, it’s great to have you here. In fact, just before I came this morning, I got told we passed over 12,010 attendees. So congratulations and thank you!

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