Saturday, May 30, 2009

The newspaper crisis

Unquestionably, we are not just in a financial crisis, but in a bunch of crisis. Among them, the newspaper crisis is representative for its close relationship to the rise of the Web. In fact, the newspaper crisis is inevitable disregarding the present financial crisis. The financial crisis accelerates and amplifies the newspaper crisis. It is, however, not the reason of the newspaper crisis.

The rise of the Web media causes the newspaper crisis. The young generation news readers are more and more customized to reading news online than on paper-printed media. The online news is not only "free" but also faster in update and more comprehensive in analysis. The financial crisis became the last hay that crushed the old newspaper camel.

I am interested in the lessons we may have learned from this newspaper crisis. A successful business sector must have produced valuable asset for the society. The "valuable" means that the society members may and are willing to consume the produced asset. For many years, the newspaper business executes the goal very well.

In traditional, the newspapers produce three essential types of asset: breaking news, news analysis, and advertisement. In the pre-Web era, it was fairly costly to access the news sources. It was also fairly costly to write an insightful analysis of a news because few eligible news analysts might have enough supporting materials for them to produce the high-quality articles. And there were not many other ways besides newspapers for people to advertise their products or services. All of the facts added compelling values to the information asset produced by the newspapers.

The rise of the Web media, however, significantly decreases the value of the information asset we have just mentioned for the traditional newspapers. The cost to access the news sources becomes much cheaper; hence the newspapers can no longer charge their readers much by claiming unique news resources. All kinds of supporting materials for information analysis become freely accessible; hence the newspaper can no longer charge their readers much by claiming unique analysis. At last, the Web becomes a more popular and cheaper place for people to put advertisement; hence the newspapers can no longer charge their readers as well as the advertiser by claiming unique market. Therefore, the elapse of the glory becomes inevitable to the newspapers since the entire value of their produced asset has been decreases definitely. This newspaper crisis is not about the greediness of human nature, it is not about the poor execution of the business, and it is not about a normal economic cycle. The newspaper crisis is about the unchangeable fact of the value decrease of the asset that the newspapers can produce.

So here are the lessons learned. The cost of the raw information generation is minimized. The cost of static analysis over the raw information has been cheap. The cost of posting advertisement has been cheap. If the Web has decreased the value of nearly all the information asset in the traditional mean, what should we do to produce new type of information asset that can be charged decently in this new Web age? This is thus the real question the newspaper business should consider instead of believing the problem be solved by simply producing online newspapers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Strategic Alliance, FUJIFILM and GE Healthcare in Life Sciences

FUJIFILM Corporation announces that it has entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with GE Healthcare. The alliance allows Fujifilm to develop, manufacture and supply advanced biomolecular imaging systems for GE Healthcare. The products, however, will be sold worldwide under the GE brand in the life science research and drug discovery markets.

This alliance leverages Fujifilm's strength as a leading device manufacturer and GE's strength as a leading reagent and service provider in the life sciences area. In 1987, Fujifilm was the first company to introduce the revolutionary digital autoradiography device which utilized the Imaging Plate, a radiation detector with sensitivity 100 times greater than X-ray film. In 1923, GE Healthcare introduced the first radio isotope reagents, which initiated the field of biomolecular labeling and detection. FUJIFILM is currently offering scientific imaging systems for chemiluminescent, fluorescent and radioisotopic detection in the life science market. It does not offer reagents/consumables nor applications. The alliance may strengthen Fujifilm's already leading position on medical imaging technologies and device manufacturing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Never self-excuse with "why"

Inevitably, one may encounter some problems that are too hard to solve in work. At the moment, the last thing the one should say to his colleagues is "why I fail to solve the issue." Such a "why" statement is neither helpful to the project nor constructive to the other project members.

The right attitude is to tell "what else I could do to solve it, even though I have failed to solve it till now". List more options of resolution and actively invite the colleagues into the discussion. Listen to their suggestions and then execute them.

If, in some case, the original proposal is truly beyond the present ability of resolution (which might happen from time to time and we all understand it), the positive attitude is to tell your colleagues the truth straightforwardly. "No, based on my experiments, I believe the solution of the issue is beyond the ability of our currently available resources." Never try to self-excuse more. If the colleagues do not accept this judgment, it is thus the time to quit and look for another position. But still, never self-excuse with "why".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Imindi private beta, a door towards the next generation Web

Web 2.0 is passing and a new generation of the Web is emerging. While many of us are curious on the next generation, Imindi finally released its private beta eight months after the TC50 2008 in which it was one of the 50 finalists over more than 1000 applicants. The new beta shows us a few clues of the upcoming future.

Imindi is a service to enable regular Web users to construct their own embodied mind sets and also to connect the individually constructed mind sets together so that a normal Web user can directly explore the tremendous power of the collective human mind.

In person, I have closely involved with Adam Lindemann on the Imindi service design. To readers who are interested in Web technology and artificial intelligence, Imindi can be seen to be another take of what Wolfram Alfa does. While Wolfram Alfa aims to construct a centrally controlled knowledge base to leverage intelligent question answering, Imindi is to gradually produce a decentralized mind network in which answers and questions are seamlessly integrated. Unlike the traditional take that Google and Wolfram Alfa represents, Imindi believes that there is no distinction between questions and answers. Both question and answer are nothing but a type of mind. Hence we may be able to apply mind to look for mind in contrast to employ questions to look for answers through an integrated mind network (called mindex by Imindi). This is one of the several major contributions that Imindi brings to the world.

Another contribution of Imindi is to construct mind asset. Mind asset is a concept that I coined with Adam Lindemann when studying Imindi. In additional to land and capital, we need to figure out a way of monetizing human mind to eventually resolve the conflict between the materialized capitalist world and the new metaphysical virtual world represented by the Web. Step by step, Imindi is trying to implement this scheme by creating the world a new adoption of monetization. If Imindi may grow steadily, users will gradually witness the details of our implementation, and it will foster a truly novel business model beyond Web 2.0.

In short, as Erick Schonfeld has shared today, there is still long way for Imindi to go beyond the present beta. The point is, however, that the potential of the service is truly unimaginable. What Adam and Imindi lack only right now is the investment that can maintain and prompt the progress of implementation. If Imindi is luckily given a chance, it could eventually be the door (in contrast to "a" door) towards the next generation Web.

Readers who are interested in learning more of Imindi could also read my previous discussion of the Imindi service in the last September after the TC50 conference. Certainly, do not forget to apply to be a beta tester!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the risk economy and a gamble society

An essential reason behind the current financial crisis is the crash of the risk economy. Insurance and the risk economy is supposed to bring more security into our regular life. Many of us, however, forget the other side of the coin---when we valuate safety higher, our society is actually less in secure.

In about 500 B.C., the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote the following statements.

大 道 废 , 有 仁 义 ﹔ 智 慧 出 , 有 大 伪 ﹔
六 亲 不 和 , 有 孝 慈 ﹔ 国 家 昏 乱 , 有 忠 臣 。

Raymond Blakney, in 1955, translated the words.

"The mighty Way declined among the folk
And then came kindness and morality.
When wisdom and intelligence appeared,
They brought with them a great hypocrisy.
The six relations were no more at peace,
So codes were made to regulate our homes.
The fatherland grew dark, confused by strife:
Official loyalty became the style."

The translation is fine in expressing the plain meaning. It does not, however, well reveal the deeper thoughts Lao Tzu wanted to tell. By my understanding, I then revised Blakney's translation a little bit.

大 道 废 , 有 仁 义 ﹔
Now you see that in a society everybody tells the greatness of kindness and morality; it is only because that the might Way has declined among the folk.
智 慧 出 , 有 大 伪 ﹔
Now you see that in a society everybody appreciates the true wisdom and intelligence; it is only because that a great hypocrisy has been among them.
六 亲 不 和 , 有 孝 慈 ﹔
Now you see that in a society everybody looks for regulation in their homes; it is only because that the six relations have been no more at peace.
国 家 昏 乱 , 有 忠 臣 。
Now you see that in a society everybody is grateful to official loyalty; it is only because the fatherland has grown dark, confused by strife.

In additional to the four, I, hereby, add another one:

Now you see that in a society everybody demands insurance; it is only because the nation is fond of gambling.

How much does a particular risk really worth? This is a truly hard question. The economics geniuses at Wall Street believed that they had figured out the answer. Based on a few very complex mathematical equations, the geniuses built the foundation for the investment banking. If we pull off all the complicated and intentionally sophisticated layers wrapping the investment banking, the core is indeed surprisingly straightforward: to inject the motion of gambling into the society. The more people are found of earning money through gambling their money, the higher valuation the risks can be; the higher valuation the risks are, more people then join the force of gambling their money through risk investment. The cycle thus forms until one day the valuation of risks becomes truly ridiculous. Therefore, financial crisis comes as we have it now.

The more insurance we implement in our society, the less possible we may avoid this kind of financial crisis in the future. This is what Lao Tzu had told us 2500 years before.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We intelligent because we connected, and unless we connected

We have thought of developing artificial intelligence for long time. Many Sci-Fi novels and movies have predicted the intelligent robots that may bring us both convenience in life and trouble in society. Nearly all of them, however, are trapped by a tiny little misconception of intelligence. Nobody could be really intelligent until he is connected in intelligence. Therefore, the so-called intelligent robots are impossible to be made until we have already pre-constructed an intelligent society (such as an intelligent web) for them to communicate. Standalone will NEVER lead to true intelligence, even the artificial ones.

Truly this is a point that is easy to be overlooked. Many of us are not aware of the fact that we are intelligent because we are born in an interconnected web of intelligence. This situation is by default to nearly every one of us. If we take a look at the very few who are born outside the normal human society and are not able to connect to the pool of human intelligence (such as the kids adopted by animals), they are instead very well adapted to the respective animal intelligence. And for those who are forced to be isolated to any web of intelligence, they show no intelligence at all in any aspect. People may explain the reason to be the lack of "education". Such an explanation is not totally sound because there are many uneducated ones in our normal human society who are very intelligence. Hence the main point is indeed whether the one is able to connect to a pre-existing web of intelligence. Once connected, the true intelligence follows.

We may derive a few very interesting conclusions by applying the insight back to the study of artificial intelligence and Semantic Web. For example, the construction of the Semantic Web may be the prerequisite of developing the true intelligent robots (i.e., the real artificial intelligence). Deep Blue was smart. But any simpler robot (i.e. with simpler algorithms coded) built upon Semantic Web will be 100 times smarter than the Deep Blue. Moreover, this insight could be a momentum for linking the Semantic Web research to the real world practices because it opens a door of the wild wild west that is full of potential of commercial opportunities. The insight allows us to view the picture of Semantic Web in a fresh new way.

In progress, I will post more articles in this track of new intelligence. By the way, the point is also a derivation of the model of Web evolution I suggested.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A beautiful mind of creativity

Many times we are amazed by the witnessed creative geniuses. Elizabeth Gilbert is certainly among them. She, however, exclaimed that she is not a who being a genius, but a who accompanied by the intangible (spirit-like) genius.

Very much I appreciate this insight. Despite TED is well-known of its superior-quality talks, Gilbert's talk is exceptionally outstanding. We do not have to train ourselves to be geniuses---a mission that is too hard to be achieved for the majority of us. By contrast, every one of us can "have" genius with him, so long as he believes, and pursues.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The upside down of the traditional thought on user interface

User interface (UI, or human-computer interface) is a central concept in modern software development. Essentially, UI provides the way how humans may interact with computers. Given the World Wide Web as the background, UI represents how the real world interacts to the virtual world and vice versa.

There is an interesting question about UI on the Web. Should the UI be an external component to its software or be an internal component?

Sound silly? In tradition, an UI is unquestionably an external component with respect to its software. We may envision UI to be the cover wraps its internal executable programs. However, does it mean that UI must be in this form?

Let us turn to a natural phenomenon. We humans live in this world (as well as many other creatures). In fact, every one of us may see ourselves as an independent world that is interacting with the shared external world, which composes of all the natural resources such as air and water. Therefore, there is an interface between the two "worlds". As a matter of fact, however, much (if not all of) the UI is located internally with respect to our own world (i.e., our body) such as lung (exchanging air) or stomach (exchanging water). The external components of our world (such as skin) are essentially for protection and identification besides few supporting on interacting to the external world. Such an analogy leads to an interesting question, could UI on the Web also primarily be an internal component in contrast to an external component to the respective Web applications? Maybe this one is just too silly a question to ask since the non-external ones on the Web cannot be an UI by definition. Then, what is Web UI really? May somebody give a better answer in the philosophical sense but not the technological sense?