Thursday, January 29, 2009

Positive Solitude, the losing capability

William Deresiewicz's article The End of Solitude is a great writing. I, however, suggest the title to be more clarified The End of Positive Solitude. "Positive solitude" means being positive/happy alone. Due to the prevalence of World Wide Web, our young generation is gradually losing this precious ability. Deresiewicz wrote, "We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude." What a pity to all of us!

Why is positive solitude important? Positive solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us. Moreover, being able to be positive solitude is the prerequisite of being able to think and create. Without positive solitude, inevitably we lose the true freedom of independent thinking.

The Web, especially Web 2.0, has generated too much distraction. Many people have felt that they could not think any more by themselves. By contrast, whenever there is a question they simply jump onto the Web and googling, which is nothing but to invoke a public vote for the answer. Public vote does answer many question except bringing up the truly innovative thoughts because real innovation never gets popular at its beginning (otherwise it cannot be innovative since everybody has known it). Comparing to the present age and the golden time of thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries, we can watch the difference. In that period of golden time, people were able to access much less information than we live now. They were more solitude in mutual communication but they had produced much more innovative thoughts and products. Why? If a society has been customized by the votes, it loses the ground for true innovations to grow. The story of Imindi in last year's TC50 conference was a recent example.

It has been a crucial challenge to both of the educators and the Web researchers to figure out a solution to prevent the further loss of positive solitude, or even to gain back this losing capability. We must seriously address this issue in the next generation of the Web. While Web 2.0 has over-amplified the benefit of collective intelligence, in Web 3.0 we must pull the public back to individual intelligence. In Web 3.0 we should build users their solitude spaces so that they may be able to perform active thinking quietly by themselves. This is another reason I support Imindi. The history will prove how pity the growth of a great innovation is delayed.

Newest update: Coincidentally, Jason Calacanis's new post We Live in Public expresses the similar thought. It is worth of reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Renewed logos after crisis

This is from an email. Quote: "We know how we entered into the crisis, but we don’t how, when, or how we will be getting out of it. Considering that issue, we decided to our little bit to help cheer everyone up by redoing the logos of some renowned companies ... after the crisis." Have fun!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Learnable and Unteachable

In this world, many things are what we may learn and a few others are not. To what are not learnable, we know them by our genes. For instance, the concepts "I" and "you". Newborns generally know them very well just after born. When the babies hold a thing towards themselves, they mean "I"; while they start crying when seeing/missing you, they call "you" (which is different from "he" or "she"). The babies do not learn the concepts; the knowledge is born with them. On the other hand, to the babies who do not know the distinction between "you" and "I" when they are born (that are born with mental disability), it is impossible to teach them the concepts afterward. The concepts (not the words representing the concepts) such as "you" and "I" are unteachable. It seems that they are part of the hardware (i.e. our body) instead of the software (i.e., the knowledge we learn after born).

This distinction brings interesting thoughts on machine learning and the construction of the Semantic Web. An essential question is: which semantics must be pre-coded inside machines (i.e. realized through design) and which semantics can be specified/modified gradually by machines (i.e. realized through evolution)? If the eventual Semantic Web is a place that we may issue orders to machines, we may have to seriously think of this basic issue.

In the following I try to have a formal specification of the learnable semantics and the unteachable semantics. Any comment of the issue is highly welcomed.

Semantics that can only be expressed in the default setting of a machine-processing system but it may never be taken as an input to the system is unteachable to the system. Any other semantics that is not unteachable is learnable to the system. There exists certain semantics that is "unteachable" to all the machine-processing systems.

By the way, Happy Chinese New Year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama, World Wide Web, the start of a new era

Today Barack Obama swears in as the 44th president of United States. In the past election, people in the United States voted for change. Change is thus happening. This inauguration might be the beginning of a new era.

To us who care the Web evolution, Obama's victory show how deep the Web have entered into our real life. We are now in a new page of history in which one who expects to win the real world must first conquer the virtual world. The speed of information transportation in the virtual world is exponentially greater than the same speed in the real world. Because of the continuous and consistent increase of the Web population, it becomes more and more impossible for one to conquer the real world by losing the virtual world. If Barack Obama has proved to us the power of this shallow Web 2.0, what could it be when the Web continuously evolves forward?

Virtual world is being the symbol of the coming new era. People will accept that virtual world is part of the real world. When we are online, we are not away from but still deeply involved in the same world of our daily life. Anything we interact with, we talk about, or we upload onto the virtual world is just another real-world activity. We are not in an imaginary land when we are online.

Moreover, this previous statement could be readdressed in a more dramatic way: isn't the real world nothing but another virtual world? Why do we have to limit the "real world" to only be the physical world? Isn't the world of mind as real as the physical one? If reading and writing are seen to be "natural" human skills and basic "real-world" human behaviors, aren't IM and blogging the same "natural" and "real"? An ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhangzi (Chinese: 庄子), once dreamed he became a butterfly. And the following is the story:

"Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi."

Philosophers have interpreted the story in many varied ways. But I would like to argue that isn't Zhangzi the same as the butterfly and vice versa? Only if we take seriously on this multi-world assumption, the so-called "real" world is just the primary virtual world we happen to take; and our physical body is only the primary shape of existence we happen to obtain. Now, with the invention of the World Wide Web, we start to be able to access these other virtual worlds that have already existed with us for long time but have been neglected by most of us for long time as well. This is thus the true meaning when I say of a new era!

Let us open our mind, as Obama has creatively opened his mind. Let us think of the Web using the full freedom of our mind. We then can see the beauty of this new era with our virtual eye, which is, actually, as native as the "real" eye to every one of us since our born.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Today's Google China logo

This is the logo shown in Today (Jan. 16, 2009)'s Google China. The logo is painted by a Chinese middle school student Bo Zhang (Chinese: 张博), who is the most recent winner of Doodle 4 Google in China.

It is great to see how brilliant talent our young generation shows. Moreover, it is thrilling to watch how creative our human beings could be.

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year, new start

At the beginning of this new year, I move to Stamford, Connecticut and start my new job in Fujifilm Medical Systems. Wish to meet more friends. If you are living in or close to the Greater New York Area, please feel free dropping me a mail or a comment.

Wish everybody had a wonderful new year!