Monday, May 9, 2011

What is next in humanity evolution

When describing the evolution of a system, probably we should start by describing what we mean for evolution, but that would probably open a whole post by itself. So, let's assume that we all understand for evolution the same and can agree to a quantitative measure of it (yeah sure...). This post is about looking at the slope of the evolution and the factors propelling it.

Initially, in a simple system the mechanisms can be only simple, and in many cases are purely random. As such evolution takes quite a while. As the system evolves, new evolution mechanisms are created and with it, the evolution speed is increased. It is fair to wonder if those more efficient evolution mechanisms limit also the potential outcomes, versus a completely random mechanism, but that is probably a topic for just yet another post. In here, we are going to simply look at evolution of humanity from its origins and then wonder how we will evolve moving forward, trying to predict trends.

So, we all know what has happened till now. Till few thousand years ago, things were mostly random and as such, it took really a long time to get somewhere from an "intelligence" perspective (we are back to that other post on what is evolution...).

Then some form of minimum intelligence started showing up. Probably the main highlight of it would be the realization of thinking in our future. I.e., most primitive creatures can do very basic planning for the future (for instance, storing food). But humans took it a step further, developing a better feeling for that future. Survival (great engine) drove this. Humans started cultivating food instead of just picking it up (this one would think showed some thinking), etc... Again, we want to focus on what is next, although it is nice to sweep through the past :). Notice that the thinking of future, cultivating, etc... created better conditions to do more meaningful stuff, instead of going hunting every day. This accelerated effectively the rate of evolution.

Note: somewhere in here, the conscience of "death" kicked in. Again, survival instincts driving evolution.

Considering the conscience of the future, another thing that probably created an extra step was the use of currency. I.e., collect money to use in the future. And with it, specialization and roles become more and more apparent. Humans shifted from general individuals (almost like bacterias, but yes, biofilm guys, don't jump on me... :) ) to cells on a body with a distinctive role. One can't avoid to wonder if, like in cells, humans are also dispensable for the good of a bigger entity (humanity). Just one more topic for a  post... :)

So, we have humans getting specialized, and as such, they are able to improve the things that they build. Build them better and better, get more money for them. Probably association was intrinsic already, so, we won't count companies, etc... as an evolutive step. At this moment, the speed of evolution is accelerated through specialization. Still, the roles that each individual develops are mostly shaped by environmental factors, mostly related to rewards. I.e., individuals will choose to work on something that feels can pay their bills in their future. Still today is like that. (Feels that this is a post for socialism, but wasn't my intention).

So, at that moment evolution comes from the cooperation, communication between few co-located individuals. Information takes years to move from one place to the other and trigger new needs, new inventions, etc... 1+1 happens slowly. The drivers still the same (survival, greed...). Notice that the drivers don't really change all this time, and we wonder if they should to fuel faster evolution (another topic).

Note on the 1+1:

Then the unfold of communications happened and a new slope to evolution happened. First radio, then TV, cell phones and now Internet. All of them setting a new slope on that curve. And we finally arrive to the topic of this post: what is next in evolution.

Notice that evolution all this time has been based on a human putting 1 and 1 together to create a new thing. A Eureka moment in one person, fostered usually by the collaboration of many. I can see a bifurcation in front of us. Or one would say, a parallel path:
  1. From one side, a faster way of communication between humans. Faster than the Internet. Or the Internet re-inforced.
  2. A new level of evolution where humans are not the ones that need to do the 1 + 1.
The 2 have things in common. On the first, we could be thinking about cables connecting our brains, where we don't need to write or read to get information in and out to others, creating effectively another layer on top of our brains. But it will probably mean earlier a way to organize the knowledge of humanity, initially for ourselves to be able to find the information faster, but eventually for machines to be able to dig it and eventually relate it to each other and eventually understand it.

Zooming in the Internet itself evolution, we got:
  1. A place where everybody was just dumping data.
  2. A method to dig into that date (crowlers, we search...)
  3. Socialization arrived, but still, digging for some piece of info is usually an individuals work. Lots of duplication going on. For instance, what is the best camera to buy with $100?
  4. The current step is where individuals get together to sort the information out there. Some of this has started to happen already, with what people calls curation. The issue with this is that the driver is not that strong. Nevertheless, #2 driver was not that big either. A lot of info came from companies, but a lot for anonymous individuals. 
So, we can start outlining what mechanisms drive evolution: once survival is taken care, the next obvious one is enjoy the life we are surviving. That would explain why entertainment is so big and drive so much money. In fact is one of the biggest drivers of innovation today (cell phones, TVs, movies, social networks, video games...). There are always other "primitive" drivers (envy, fame...). Funny we call them "primitive" because animals actually don't have any of those... And then there are others that not sure where they would fall. In the primitive category probably we would put "curiosity". There is also the feeling of doing something good. One of the reasons I think humans are intrinsically good and they do want to contribute to a bigger good, teach, mentor, explain... Finally, there is an "uneasy" feeling, a "is that it?" that drives also change and with it, takes us from comfortable environments and pushes us to seek something different.

Anyhow, back to our Internet evolution, I wonder if these factors will be strong enough to drive the "curation" process. In the end, curation is, as implemented now (in systems like PearlTrees), just a compilation and partial sorting of information. Like a new way to create a web page on a topic. A collection of bookmarks.

I feel that the result of this will be a slow evolution of it because the drivers behind are weak. People will create those driven mostly by curiosity or the compilation of information on something they like. Maybe close to entertainment, but maybe too much work to call it entertainment (not so quick reward). It is more closer to "do something good for humanity", which may not drive all the energy into it.

I think that curation would be much more effective when driven by other factors, specially the two main ones, survival and entertainment. By the way, notice that in today's days, people is more driven by entertainment than survival. People don't mind spending $40 on cable every month, but will barely donate $20 a year in cancer research (although there are other factors in this that would probably change the conclusion... post post). So, where and how these two are going to kick in curation? I think the key drive is the opposite of entertainment. We hate to waste our time in boring tasks. Sorting information is not an appealing one although there is people that does it. We got to make this fun or at the very list, transparent to the user. We don't hate, nevertheless, so much, to look for information for a specific need. Which takes us to answering questions to our doubts being the key thing. Curation should probably be organized as answering questions. Forums, Wikis, blogs are all examples of this. We need a new level, where we get right to the answer we want, and if we don't know it, we can dig it and add it there. How much is that different from a forum. Probably the difference is that forums tend to answer straight questions, while here we are looking for more complex ones: I got this symptom, what is the cause? Is Obama doing a good job as president?

Once we got through this phase of evolution, which would expedite evolution because of "organizing the information out there, reducing waste of time and freeing resources to more meaningful tasks", we would then be positioned for the next level, where the information is compiled on a way that machines can interpret and eventually combine to create their own conclusions. The first is the target of new initiatives, like:

"Currently, IkeWiki can make use of some of the knowledge represented in RDFS and OWL schemas to display enhanced navigation tools. Furthermore, we implemented a sample "biology ontology" that automatically displays a taxonomy box for biological objects."

The publication

Got to clean up this post but doesn't hurt to post it... I am specially interested on understanding drivers of evolution, as these will motivate humans to get together, collaborate and create a new level of intelligence, one where maybe, the entity that puts 1+1 is not anymore a single human, but something above. Now you probably know what I mean for cell0907. I am just a cell on that bigger system :)

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