Sunday, November 4, 2012

Truth, Trust, and Reputation in the Flows of Uncertainty and Paradox

"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”. 
Albert Einstein

The last couple of weeks have been taken up with finally finishing a creative wood working project and a pumpkin madness that descends on me during the last week of every October - see pictures here 

This post is a sort of harvest of fibers from the self-weaving fabric of the matrix that is the Internet stream. Maybe I'm curating some of the thinking I've come across, perhaps it would be more accurate to say - that this is simply material that I'm fermenting in the space where I park my mind. :)

Clay Shirky has written another ‘must read’ piece. This article is very complementary to David Weinberger’s new book “Too Big To Know”. I don't believe that the digital environment causes a fragmentation of the truth. But it does confront our notions that we can contain what is knowable and in this way, it simply reveals the true plurality of what we think and shatters our illusions of a society that has a general consensus on what truth is.
Here are the first few paragraphs:
Here’s what the “post-fact” literature has right: the Internet allows us to see what other people actually think. This has turned out to be a huge disappointment. When anyone can say anything they like, we can’t even pretend most of us agree on the truth of most assertions any more.
The post-fact literature is built in part on nostalgia for the world before people like Bigfoot showed up in the public sphere, for the days when Newsweek reflected moderately liberal consensus without also providing a platform for orthographically-challenged wingnuts to rant about the President. People who want those days back tell themselves (and anyone else who will listen) that they don’t want to impose their views on anybody. They just want agreement on the facts.
But what would that look like, an America where there was broad agreement on the facts? It would look like public discussion was limited to the beliefs held by straight, white, Christian men. If the views of the public at large didn’t hew to the views of that group, the result wouldn’t be agreement. It would be argument.
Argument, of course, is the human condition, but public argument is not. Indeed, in most places for most of history, publicly available statements have been either made or vetted by the ruling class, with the right of reply rendered impractical or illegal or both. Expansion of public speech, for both participants and topics, is generally won only after considerable struggle, and of course any such victory pollutes the sense of what constitutes truth from the previous era, a story that runs from Martin Luther through Ida Tarbell to Mario Savio, the drag queens outside Stonewall, and Julian Assange.....


These next two articles should be read as one article. Although I think they are also ‘must reads’ but they shouldn’t be seen as 'new' news. The accelerating pace of technology, of social change, makes 'future shock' more real than ever and the future present is a looming Zeitgeist. There is no doubt that 'more' 'digital disruption is coming, and it will tear down and rebuild every product, in every industry.'
The first few paragraphs:
We've all heard the word disruption. Most of us think we know what that is. And we've all heard the word digital. Most of us think we know what that is, too. But put them together -- digital disruption -- and they add up to much more than the mere sum of their parts. Digital disruption, when properly understood, should terrify you.
In short, you should think of digital disruption not just as disruption magnified or even disruption squared. Think of it as disruption accelerated at several orders of magnitude. Three sources of digital power -- the prevalence of free tools and services that enable disruptors to rapidly build products and services, the rise of digital platforms that are easily exploited by aspiring competitors from all directions, and the burgeoning class of digital consumers ready to experiment with new services -- have combined to unleash a disruptive force that will completely alter every business on the planet.....
Is your company's customer experience changing as fast as say, smartphones are progressing? Forrester shares advice from digital disruptors.
Today's rush to reach customers on their smartphones and tablets is just a sign of things to come, thanks to the explosion of software-fueled digital touchpoints. In this rush, it's easy to overlook the more important and fundamental shift taking place that will define the next decade.
Software-fueled digital touchpoints empower your customers, your employees, people, and society. Mainstream media has picked up on this shift--look no further than CNN's recent report "How Smartphones Make Us Superhuman." But have you picked up on it, too?
The Executive's Challenge
Your customers, your employees, and society overall continue to internalize technology. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers, games, smart TVs--and even goggles--fueled by software provide people with access to computing power that exceeded our imaginations 10 years ago. They also empower people to connect, engage, and share with each other at a pace most firms cannot easily keep pace with.
Today's disruptors are people and companies using digital capabilities to remove traditional barriers to entry, produce better products and services, and build great digital relationships with your customers. They do so better, faster, and stronger than you can today by taking advantage of your legacy. And they have your executives rethinking competitive strategy, and your product strategists scrambling for ideas on how to use digital and software capabilities to deliver new products, or complement existing ones.....


This next piece should be equally familiar to anyone who studies organization. In many ways this suggests that a lot of the reactions of most of the media industry is a hysterical reaction to the 'loss of control'. The effort to increase the strength of intellectual property seems to me very similar to the hysteria of over-control that this article describes as the management reaction to increasing uncertainty and complexity. I have to thank my friend Amanda who shared this link with me. The need to control has a personal consequence for people experiencing the imposition of controls - a sense of not being trusted. So how do we trust ourselves and others in a context of complexity, uncertainty and plurality of views – where the application of command & control may be more illusion than reality and may in fact push the system to paralysis or chaos?
This paper explores the hypothesis that, within complex matrix organisations, the ‘zone’ between the strategic vision set by senior management and the projects created to fulfil it, is a highly complex and dynamic organism. Stimulus to the organism may, or may not produce change. The change may be slight or catastrophic, beneficial or detrimental, and cannot be predicted. Succeeding in this environment needs a different management paradigm from that developed for management in traditional project industries.
The paradigm shift in management thinking needed to succeed in managing projects across the ‘zone’ is acceptance that the outcome from any management input to the ‘zone’ is unpredictable. To succeed, managers need to combine vigilance and flexibility; to identify and capitalise on unexpected gains and deal with unexpected problems. Communication networks and more flexible management of relationships are keys to resolving problems and creating success in the dynamic ever-changing environment of the ‘zone’.....


If we accept Clay Shirky's (and David Weingerger and many others) ideas about the disruption that the digital environment has wrought on our illusions that general consensual truths – and if we accept Forrester Research that Digital disruption is coming, and it will tear down and rebuild every product, in every industry – then we had better find new ways to establish trust and reputation will become even more important.

The problem of truth that Shirky discusses inevitably leads to issues also related to trust and reputation. Many approaches to this problems are being explored and developed in the digital environment – From Amazon’s reader reviews and ratings to eBay’s ratings of sellers, to Dragon Kill points in World of Warcraft (see below). This is especially relevant when considering the many implications of Big Data, the unimaginable new forms of measures that Big Data can enable and the consequences for the emergence of new institutions. The key insight for me is that there is a very plausible potential for the development of new forms of reputation that becomes a type of social currency.
The next few articles are interesting discussions and provide links to many other discussions/examples of reputation measures.
Imagine a world where banks take into account your online reputation alongside traditional credit ratings to determine your loan; where headhunters hire you based on the expertise you've demonstrated on online forums such as Quora; where your status from renting a house through Airbnb helps you become a trusted car renter on WhipCar; where your feedback on eBay can be used to get a head-start selling on Etsy; where traditional business cards are replaced by profiles of your digital trustworthiness, updated in real-time. Where reputation data becomes the window into how we behave, what motivates us, how our peers view us and ultimately whether we can or can't be trusted.

Welcome to the reputation economy, where your online history becomes more powerful than your credit history. …..
  
Without transparency there can be no trust. Don't believe me? When is the last time you got a job without a background check? When is the last time you dated someone without Googling them? Do you purchase things online without first researching the company and their sales ratings? When you leave this article you will click my profile to see if I know what I am talking about. If you are not doing any or all of these things, how has that been working out for you? ….

And here’s an example of a reputation organization.


More evidence about the potential for institutions of social currency is how players self-organize (given the informational tools game developers provide) to and create methods of reputation-based exchange. Here's a Wikipedia article on how players in the massive multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft have created a type of exchange currency based on reputation related contributions to the achievement of groups quests.
Dragon kill points or DKP are a semi-formal score-keeping system (loot system) used byguilds in massively multiplayer online games. Players in these games are faced with large scale challenges, or raids, which may only be surmounted through the concerted effort of dozens of players at a time. While many players may be involved in defeating a boss, the boss will reward the group with only a small number of items desired by the players. Faced with this scarcity, some system of fairly distributing the items must be established. Used originally in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Everquest, dragon kill points are points that are awarded to players for defeating bosses and redeemed for items that those bosses would 'drop'. At the time most of the bosses faced by the players were dragons, hence the name.
While not transferable outside of a particular guild, DKP are often treated in a manner similar to currency by guilds. They are paid out at a specified rate and redeemed in modified first orsecond price auctions, although these are not the only methods by which DKP may be redeemed or awarded. However, Dragon kill points are distinct from the virtual currencies in each game world which are designed by the game developers—DKP systems vary from guild to guild and the points themselves only have value in regards to the dispersal of boss 'loot'. The systems of points themselves have important social dimensions and may represent an intersection between Pierre Bourdieu's conception of cultural capital and material capital......



This is another viewpoint related to trust and reputation, but this time applied to how we determine the truth. Can we trust social computing to determine truth and if we contribute to a social computing effort how can this become a form of currency? It strikes me that Dragon Kill Points as an emergent method of attributing reputation and credit to the contributions of successful 'quests' is not so far remove from the similar problems arising from new approaches to science. This next article is another great example of how social computing is changing the nature of science – how it’s done and who does it.
A joint effort of citizen scientists and professional astronomers has led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting twin suns that in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars.
Aided by volunteers using the Planethunters.org website, a Yale-led international team of astronomers identified and confirmed discovery of the phenomenon, called a circumbinary planet in a four-star system.
Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, according to researchers, and none of these are orbited by distant stellar companions.....

The issue of trust, reputation is also challenging radical innovations in education, how we get educated/education, who accredits what we receive and how, and so many more problems. How can we integrate all our learnings/experience into a reputational framework appropriate to what we 'can' contribute to. The changing educational paradigm.
University launches two online courses, and more than 100,000 sign up worldwide
Harvard University’s first two courses on the new digital education platform edX launched this week, as more than 100,000 learners worldwide began taking dynamic online versions of CS50, the College’s popular introductory computer science class, and PH207, a Harvard School of Public Health course in epidemiology and biostatistics.
For Marcello Pagano, a professor of statistical computing who is co-teaching PH207x, the potential to teach so many students at once is amazing.
“I figure I’d have to teach another 200 years to reach that many students in person,” he said.
In May, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced the launch of the not-for-profit educational enterprise edX, which features learning designed specifically for interactive study via the Web. Since then, Harvard has established HarvardX, the University-based organization that supports Harvard faculty as they develop content for the edX platform. In the past six months, a leadership team has formed, faculty and research committees have launched, and courses have been developed......


All sorts of work will be affected by automation – will technological unemployment affect even the professional class or will it enhance human capability enabling humans to engage in meaning making and creative work? Perhaps Watson will enable doctors to spend more time with patients? Can we trust the augmented doctor more or less? Can everyone have access to Dr. Watson to be a smarter patient/person making more informed choices? Can Watson invoke the placebo effect that reputation and the trappings of professionalism enable?
Everyone agrees health care in the United States is a colossal mess, and IBM is betting that artificially intelligent supercomputers are just what the doctor ordered. But some health professionals say robodoctors are just flashy toys.

Such are the deep questions raised by the medical incarnation of Watson, the language-processing, information-hunting AI that debuted in 2011 on the quiz show Jeopardy!,annihilating the best human player ever and inspiring geek dreams of where its awesome computational power might be focused next.

IBM has promised a Watson that will in microseconds trawl the world’s medical knowledge and advise doctors. It sounds great in principle, but the project hasn’t yet produced peer-reviewed clinical results, and the journey from laboratory to bedside is long. Still, some doctors say Watson will be fantastically useful.

“It’s not humanly possible to practice the best possible medicine. We need machines,” said Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and member of IBM’s Watson Healthcare Advisory Board. “A machine like that, with massively parallel processing, is like 500,000 of me sitting at Google and Pubmed, trying to find the right information.” ….


Speaking of the medical world where biology is now an information science  with an ultimate aim of domesticating DNA. It’s not here yet, but… Can we trust new life forms? Can we trust ourselves to engage in the evolution of evolution? I think it was Einstein (if it wasn't him it was someone just as smart) that said that the type of thinking that created the problem was inadequate to solve the problem. This made me think about our problems in a different way. Can the species that created the problem solve the problem? Is the solution to the complexities the human species finds itself in be solved by the current 'instantiations' of a lifeform. 

I don't think we can 'go back' to simpler ways of living because unless we change ourselves primordially we will likely just recreate the problem. The issue of being a sentient being is being a sentient ecology. The phrase of 'doctor heal thyself' can be metaphorically turned to species change thyself. Trust in the face of uncertainty - can't be simply attained by a reactive fall-back to imposed control. Evolution is eternal adaptations to the consequences of its own adaptations - life must create the conditions of its own becoming.
NEW YORK CITY — Craig Venter imagines a future where you can download software, print a vaccine, inject it, and presto! Contagion averted.
“It’s a 3-D printer for DNA, a 3-D printer for life,” Venter said here today at the inaugural Wired Health Conference in New York City.
The geneticist and his team of scientists are already testing out a version of his digital biological converter, or “teleporter.”

Why should you care? Well, because the machine has “really good anti-viral software,” he quipped….

Closing the gaps in our understanding of ‘natural selection’ – the quotes are meant to highlight that evolution itself is evolving to be driven by human intentions.
....Like job-seekers searching for a new position, living things sometimes have to pick up a new skill if they are going to succeed. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and Uppsala University, Sweden, have shown for the first time how living organisms do this. …