Strange things happen…

I did something strange today. I registered for a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, the Think-Know Tools, you’ll find more about this on the wiki of Rheingold U (I even think you can still register, but hurry up – also, this course is not free).

The strange thing is that I participate in this course for the second time. In fact it’s about the fifth time I participate in one of Howard’s courses, not counting my participation in real life in a master class he gave in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Here you find his keynote he gave on that occasion:


So, why taking a course for a second time (even taking into account the discount Rheingold U alumni get)? Because, even though it’s important to have a great facilitator such as Howard, the students ultimately learn from each other. New contacts mean new discoveries. And because people change – the questions I have today are different from the questions I had the first time I took this course.

For instance, I read a great article by John Reynols in the Guardian about Google X. One quote from the article:

Teller said he believed that a likely innovation within the next 20 to 30 years will be the creation of “factories for ideas”, virtual factories which will produce “new ideas in every domain”. (RL: Astro Teller is the top executive of Google X)

I’ve no idea what he really means by these “factories for ideas”. Maybe these virtual factories are beyond humans, as they will be populated by intelligent computers? But in my presentation we can make virtual factories for ideas today already, using Think-Know tools helping us to collaborate, to detect crap, to filter information and build knowledge radars. That’s at least something I want to explore in this course.

Old texts make us dream and build the future

I just finished the first session of Howard Rheingold’s online Think-Know course. It seems the participants are an amazing group of people dispersed over several continents. The next weeks we’ll dive into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management.

We’ve been reading Rheingold’s Tools for Thought (available online), As we may think (Vannevar Bush), Augmenting Human Intellect: a conceptual framework (Douglas Engelbart) and Man-Computer Symbiosis (JCR Licklider). Dates of publication: first edition of Tools for Thought was in 1985, As We May Think was published in 1945, Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 and Augmenting Human Intellect in 1962.

Why bother reading those old texts about a fast-moving technology? My personal opinion: because we don’t move that very fast. We tend to use new technology to repeat old formats. We had print books, we’ll make ebooks now which try to be as print book-like as possible. We have print newspapers, well, even this day and age newspapers online try to imitate their print look and feel. It’s like the fledgling movie industry once was, trying to capture theater pieces rather than making actual movies.

The visionaries, living during the Second World War or during the Cold War, were convinced the world becomes very dangerous and moves very fast and in very complex ways. How can we humans cope with that, avoiding some horrible self-destruction? How can we make sense of the floods of information, data and noise? Those daring intellectuals dreamed up very new ways to read, write and collaborate – in fact, new ways to think. They were often too far ahead to be of much interest to commercial corporations, but the military were more than interested as they realized what was at stake.

How do we design interfaces which allow for new, in-depth, inspiring thought and collaboration? I think that data journalism, liveblogging, fluid and stream-like coverage, 3D visualization, local and contextual meaning, crap detection, filters and curation point the way to radical change, as do the artful organization of personal learning networks and tools such as combined databases/mindmaps. All this being made possible by ever-increasing computational power (raw power, but also ever more sophisticated software) and by the ever-shrinking devices we carry around (and which make our mind-amplifying electronic tools ubiquitous and hardly visible).

This course also makes us actually experiment with all this – for instance inciting us to collectively mindmap in real-time even though we are geographically totally dispersed. Here you see our raw mindmap (we’ll straighten it out during the coming days):

our course mindmap

If you want more ‘old’ but extremely inspiring texts about mind-amplifying tools: the New Media Reader (MIT) is a must-read

Pentagon’s Plan X: how it could change cyberwarfare –

“The same Pentagon futurologists who helped create the Internet are about to begin a new era of cyberwarfare.
For years, the Pentagon has been open and adamant about the nation’s need to defend itself against cyberattack, but its ability and desire to attack enemies with cyberweapons has been cloaked in mystery.

Next week, however, the Pentagon’s Defense Advance Research Products Agency (DARPA) will launch Plan X – an effort to improve the offensive cyberwarfare capabilities “needed to dominate the cyber battlespace,” according to an announcement for the workshop.”

It gives a strange feeling, reading this, not because I’m surprised about the importance of these issues, but because I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Tools for Thought about the history of ‘mind amplifying machines’ as computers are being called. It’s pretty obvious how major breakthroughs became possible in the context of the Second World War and the Cold War. 

Will this new cycle in research and financing lead to more mind-amplifying stuff, or to mayhem and horror? 
via Diigo