February 5, 2003
Nano-bio-cogno-socio-info convergence:It’s information
that matters to science, andit’s people that matter to business by Jim Spohrer, IBM
What follows is 90% Jim and 10% my dots.
Jim began by acknowledging the pioneers upon whose work we are all building.
(By the way, their seminal essays are all online.)
Vannevar Bush, As
We May Think (1945)
These visionaries saw people moving from a natural environment to an information-rich environment constructed by humans. Humanity once looked for food but now harvests information. Feed my body, feed my mind. Change? World population has mushroomed from 1 billion to 6 billion people in the last 200 years! Exponential progress coming from all corners.
Background reading: Report from last year's convergence conference. Heady stuff: Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. Allow me to blythely summarize the underpinnings of the 450 page report as only one as ignorant as I can do.
In the past, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science were separate disciplines:
The concept of augmented reality has been around a while. In the early stages, you touched natural atoms, arranged by nature. Today you touch atoms that were brought here by design, this table, for example. There's a lot of information content there. Knowledge Value Revolution talks about this. What's the next stage? The information environment is exploding. Atoms take up space. All space has a history. We need to disembody information from the atoms so we can have a lot of it wherever we need it. That was the genesis of World Board. Next we'll be able to reach out and touch whatever we want. (Aren't we already there? Via hyperlinks.) "Let's put information in its place." To get to the next level, we have to get really good at thanking people. You gotta know where it came from and who built it.
The Science of nano-bio-cogno-socio-info convergence
The Question: Can we understand and control to suit our purposes the different
information encoding, processing, and replication processes across multiple
Natural Systems – Natural environment that people exist in
Information in Physical Systems (Matter & Energy Flows, Atoms Matter)
Information in Living Systems (Chemistry of Life, Molecules/Ecosys. Matter)
Information in Cognitive Systems (Brains, Neurons Matter)
Knowledge of the natural world and human made world
Human Made Systems – Human Made environment that people exist in
Information in Social Systems (Organizations, People Matter)
Information in Technology Systems (Tools, Machines Matter)
Implications: As we get closer to a more complete answer, we can expect to realize many interesting, new capabilities that happen between the different systems:
artificial cochlea and retina (technology to cognitive)
terra-form Mars (physical to living)
(If you're getting into this, I recommend downloading Jim's
PowerPoint slides rather than trying to decipher these screen grabs.)
How do we understand this? Why do we care?
Information is at the heart of everything. IBM epiphany: molecules are simply processors. These systems can interact, e.g. using digital tech to replicate retinas and cochleas, bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. For Jim, bio and nano and info were once separate areas. Now they seem related. Cross-talk. (Reminds me of Nicholas Negroponte's dictum about "bits,
not atoms." The heart of the matter is the bits.)
Jim: What's missing in this picture of evolution? What are the social steps? What's the natural evolution?
Giving people credit is the fundamental thing that makes the economy work. Joseph Schumpeter. Look at how political organizations have changed throughout history. We need to look at what's going on through prespectives other than than present-centric.
The outside/inside framework. Is this useful? How do we organize all these enhancements so we can describe what they are, and use them to look into the future? And to explain the past?
Utility Fog. " A collective of nanotechnological devices (see foglet) that link together into a a complex network in the air, able to work together to exert force in any direction or transmit information between each other. This would give users almost complete control over their environment."
universal elements. self-powered. floating in the air. Cal - trying to create mechanical bumblebees. essentially you get Startrek. (This is now very speculative.) Transporters. You get covered by the utility fog and it crystallizes a remote body in Paris.
Three Sample Business Applications
Healthy: Our Bodies & Our Environment
- Someday Personalized Pharmaceuticals (nano for sensors, delivery, design)
Wealthy: Our Material Goods (Sustainable, Cheaper, Stronger)
- Someday On Demand Materials (nano for manufacturing materials)
Wise: Our Thinking and Perception (Access to Information)
- Someday Learning Conversations (nano for compute performance, interface)
Good science leads to better business. Think about growing a computer. New materials as reported in Natonal Geographic.
What does this say of my role in the world?
Businesses are becoming adaptive organisms, says this IBM
Where does this leave us? I conclude that "it's all one big thing."
If nano-tech enables us to reconfigure atoms, the building plans, then information is all that matters. Let information configure my food. "Computer, give me caviar and champagne." The ultimate convergence.
There's "no there here." Yet.
Alice B. Toklas, to Gertrude Stein on her deathbed: "What is the answer?"
Gertrude Stein's last words: "What is the question?"
I'm still noodling on this and will continue posting as the connections and
import of this become more clear.
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Berkeley, California 94708
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