Contests have been picking up steam thanks to the web and new social media technologies. Their next generation could facilitate an increase of economic output, innovation, happiness, leisure time and broader social efficiency.
Games and contests are powerful frameworks for idea and behavior selection that have played a big role in the human learning process. Because communication is key to organizing large complex games, it should come as no surprise that the rapidly quickening web is catalyzing an explosion in competitions of all sorts, including robust new innovation contests. It’s interesting to contemplate how these might evolve as bandwidth and web intelligence continues to accelerate over the next decade.
It can also be argued (and I am doing so) that web powerhouses like Digg and Stumble Upon, or even RSS Lists like Techmeme (many tech bloggers customize their content to increase the likelihood it will get picked up here) are fundamentally contest-based. The cool part is that they also represent a big leap forward in web content organization.
That being the current state of things, how can we then expect contests to evolve over, say, the next 10 years?
Contests as Work: As the web gets more reliable, robust, and broad, people will perform more work via remote connections. It will then become possible to add effective, proven contest structures to these efforts (think the next generation of contest sites) that will reduce the need for oversight and up prouctivitiy and output.
Invisible Contests: As the web gets better at quantifying human behavior, certain companies, groups and governments will want access to this data. One way (out of many) of getting at this data will be hosting contests that people can win (wholesale or incrementally) and benefit from on a regular basis. Just do what you do, and if you do anything that the system really likes (perform an efficient new search algorithm, fall into a personality category ideal for a certain study, etc), it will reward you for it. This way you can be playing many games without having to divert your focus from your interests.
Hierarchical Contest Structures: Companies like Google already have a game-like hierarchy built in to their corporate structure. Expect these models to evolve as new companies based more exclusively on gaming are born and then scale. It is possible that such “automated” companies (with the right human and software assets) will be able to move far more quickly than traditional companies.
Summary: Spivack’s observation that the web is saturating the world (rather than just enabling a super fast web that the world and humans can enter) reinforces the idea that our system as a whole is amplifying its total intelligence and capabilities, rather than just supporting the digitization and “upload” of everything. It’s a basic, yet profound distinction that fundamentally changes how we expect the future to unfold.
Nova Spivack has posted some interesting thoughts up on his personal Twine, noting that “The Web is starting to spread outside of what we think of as ‘the Web’ and into ‘the World.’” He points out that “the digital world is going physical”, an idea that opens up an array of new futures previously not imagined by thinkers who’ve largely focused on digitization and inner space as the inevitable human destiny. Spivack concludes that “Beyond just a Global Brain, we are really building a Global Body.”
This thinking resonates with me because it moves away from a human-centric view of the future (digitization is good because we can live forever) in favor of a more systems-centric explanation (the system as a whole is getting smarter for its own reasons). It also makes sense in the context of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with good friend and EvoDevo systems thinker John Smart about the direct relationship between A) our collective drive to tunnel toward Inner Space (nanotech, chemistry, energy efficiency, etc.) and B) our drive to expand into Outer Space (exploration, space travel, universe mapping, manufacturing, resource discovery).
An increasingly intelligent, self-orgainzing web that furthers growth of both the Global Brain, a concept originally advanced by Francis Heylighen in 1995, and what Spivack calls the Global Body, seems like the necessary tissue connecting our Inner Space and Outer Space focused appendages. In other words, the web that Spivack observes is not only concerned with creating better simulations, but also with expanding reach and bettering physical capabilities.
This jives with the idea that the point of the game of life, including the human-created web, is to ensure the survival of our global system via knowledge gathering and expansion, and less with the species-centric view that the future is solely about digitizing ourselves and escaping our biological chains. If in fact we are living in a system that purposely or automagically (to borrow a term from another futurist colleague, Jerry Paffendorf) seeks to increase control over its perceived environment (COPE) in order to ensure survival and expansion, then the creation of a web that serves this system, rather than just its human components, seems perfectly rational.
From this perspective, a merger between the web and physical world makes a lot of sense as it accelerates the input, sorting and output of information, resulting in increased system quantification and knowledge generation. In other words, a world-as-web + web-as-world boosts both our collective intelligence and capabilities.
Of course, this sort of thinking steadily pulls us down the rabbit hole to a place where the physical world can be viewed as web and the web as increasingly physical. But, then again, we’re due for some serious paradigm shifts, aren’t we?
Yesterday, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley shot off some optimistic predictions about the web video industry. He opined that ten years from now “online video broadcasting will be the most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication.”
I certainly buy that web video broadcasting will be near ubiquitous. Hurley’s reasoning nicely reflects my own:
“The tools for video recording will continue to become smaller and more affordable. Personal media devices will be universal and interconnected. Even more people will have the opportunity to record and share even more video with a small group of friends or everyone around the world.”
But I am not sure that I’m sold on web video as the “most accessible form of communication”.
Why? Not because I think it won’t explode – web video will to be massive by 2018. Rather, I believe it’s possible that some nascent comm technology may just zoom past web video during that span, or more likely, subsume it.
The truly worrying part is that this hiccup is not related to high oil prices, which have fallen off considerably in the past month, but instead the ongoing home mortgage collapse which some predict will cost us in the $1,000,000,000,000 (IMF estimate) to $2,000,000,000,000 (Goldman Sachs) range. This confirms that we are deeply vulnerable in at least two separate yet critical areas, making any subsequent surprises all the more worrisome for fear of a chain reaction or even a fourth turning.
The Trillion Dollar Question: Just how bad is this going to get?
According to the big-wigs, the situation is ugly but not entirely hopeless:
Presidential candidate Barack Obama says, “I don’t think that we’re … necessarily going in the direction of the Depression. ... There are some similarities, though, to what happened back in the late 20s and early 30s and what’s been happening now, and the biggest similarity is how we’ve been dealing with Wall Street and what’s happening in the financial markets.” – Reuters
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledges that we’re going through a difficult time and that housing is “at the root” of the troubles but that we’ll get past those “in months as opposed to years.” – Bloomberg
Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, seems to concur with the notion of a period of deep shift:
“This is a once in a half century, probably once in a century type of event. We shouldn’t try to protect every single institution. The ordinary cost of financial change has winners and losers.” – Bloomberg
Enterprise prediction markets have been growing in popularity, but face three major hurdles to success: 1) lack of access to all relevant information, 2) regulatory concerns, and 3) adoption / sticky use. As these are resolved, new-age prediction markets will increase in value, diffuse more quickly and make us smarter as a species.
1. Lack of access to relevant information: My big takeaway from Wisdom of the Crowds, the prediction market bible by journalist James Surowiecki, was that a large group of humans can consistently out-predict individuals, but only if all the brains are knowledgable of the given topic area. For example, farmers won’t be great at predicting next year’s fashion colors – that will be left to the those with more direct exposure to the appropriate industry trends.
Prediction market guru Chris Masse points out a similar flaw plaguing most, if not all, enterprise prediction markets: lack of access to ”’experts’ and other ‘business leaders’”. Masse argues that minus this crucial top-level information a company’s internal “prediction markets would be clueless, useless, and worthless.”
Solutions: The obvious but eminently unpalatable solution is for corporations like Google, GE, and Microsoft that already utilize prediction markets to open-up access to more of their top-level data to employees or even the public. This would immediately result in better predictions, but would obviously benefit their numerous cut-throat competitors. It will take some time for big businesses to implement such transparent practices, though I can imagine the right start-ups could successfully implement such an open strategy and then scale.
On the flip side of coin, companies could up the incentives for successful predicting in external but vastly larger markets, essentially throwing more money and brains at the process. They could then make use of the growing # of top rated performers and ideas (would be shocked if they’re not already mining such data). It seems like this will gradually occur as 1) companies increasingly look to the web for ideas, 2) the semantic web and better search makes everyone smarter faster.
Then again, a more immediately plausible middle road could involve bringing on a group of professional predictors, say 40 – 100 diverse individuals, and then give them access to the highest level information. Of course, they would be required to live in a cave and never again communicate with friends or family…
The video below is very boring, but you should watch it anyway. Its subject is a totally unspectacular mid-grade projection on a dark wall with big implications for the near-term future of human communication and entertainment. The hook is that this image is generated by a Toshiba Pico Prototype the size of a large cell-phone (at right). Capable of spitting out a 60” wide image at 10 lumens, the micro-projector is due to hit store shelves sometime early next year and will also be licensed to a wide variety of other companies.
Take a look for yourself:
As such projectors shrink in size, increase their resolution and require less and less power, it’s clear that they’ll be incorporated into mobile and other devices. I’d be completely shocked if Steve Jobs, the folks at Apple and all their competitors aren’t right now scrambling to develop the appropriate apps and incorporate the Pico technology into their next-gen products.
Prediction: Alternate Reality Gaming and Reality Television will converge in a big way by 2013.
Alternate Reality Gaming is a new “interactive narrative structure that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions”, as defined on Wikipedia. Basically, that means a fictitious scenario played out atop the real world.
To date, most of the massively popular ARGs such as The Lost Experience and I Love Bees have been largely organized through the web while serving a broader marketing purpose. But as the genre 1) continues to gain in popularity and 2) the cost of high quality video production continues to decline, it is likely they will gradually develop into a self-sustaining industry capable of generating programs that equal or exceed contemporary broadcast television quality.
This will be made possible by the proliferation of ultra-cheap and capable DV cams, easy and broad wi-fi transfer of footage, smart footage databses, and robust computers/editing programs that can effortlessly manage more video feeds and increase prduction quality in numerous other ways.
For example, it will soon become possible to organize a theme party (i.e., Presidential Campaign Trail), set some basic game rules (i.e. Everyone Must Dress Accordingly, Deliver Stump Speeches, then Vote for the Party President), record the entire experience, and then quickly edit it into a final product good enough to air on, say, a channel like VH1. My guess is amateurs will be capable of producing such programming inside of 5 years time – though by then the primary audience will likely be web-based.
That being the hypothesis, here’s a list of 10 other ARG/Reality Show concepts that I think could be produced over the next 5 years:
1.THE SENATE: This active political reality show pits 100 Americans against one another as they seek re-election by effectively role-playing a live Senate situation. Political parties are formed and dissolved, legislation is proposed and voted on, current events and wild-card situations add spice and flavor. Ultimately, the show serves to mirror and parody real-life politics.
2. FANTASY WILDERNESS ADVENTURE: Small fun-to-watch groups role play a harrowing Robin-Hood-style journey through the wilderness. They proceed from elegant or hilarious sketch-to-sketch and interact with B-actors and extras playing various medieval roles. The final product is an edited story that can be inter-cut with other groups on parallel or complementary adventures.
3. HISTORY: Participants are placed into unique historical and fictional scenarios and must use their role-playing skills to turn the situation to their advantage, often creating alternate versions of past events. The best role-players proceed to the finals where they interact with one another in a grand scenario. Expert judges (historians, psychologists, acting coaches) eliminate the worst player-actors until just one is left standing.
4. HACK ATTACK: America’s best hackers all try to crack a multi-layered and formidable website. They film their efforts via web-cam and provide interview commentary via Skype. The best footage, of both the game leaders and the most interesting personalities, is cut into regular episodes.
5. SECRET AGENT: Ordinary Americans are placed in extraordinary spy situations and must react and solve their assignment. They must unravel clues, decide which characters to trust, and ultimately survive the adventure. The winners are the ones who score the most points by achieving goals in the shortest time span.
A one-stop shop for ancestral information, Footnote aggregates, sorts and structures historical documents “relating to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, US Presidents, historical newspapers, naturalization documents, etc”, then mixes in social networking and user feedback to create useful timelines, historical links and family trees. Basically, they’re trying to corner the market on ancestral information by taking the most comprehensive approach possible.
It’s a brilliant and inevitable idea. As Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, Google, and Wikipedia dominate the social networking and information pie, other companies looking to strike it rich are forced to carve out more focused value niches outside the direct scope of the big boys. From a macro perspective, it’s clear that these companies need to mix a monetizable model with novel/valuable content and a good user experience. And that’s exactly what Footnote is trying to pull off here.
By focusing on historical information, Footnote is avoiding major head-on competition (though Google certainly will make a big dent, but – then again – is also a likely acquirer) as it tries to rapidly grow community and data value. As a result, it has become yet another force behind the relatively nascent Retro-Quant trend, essentially making it a smarter historian thanks to it’s unique techno-social approach.
The fact that such a business model makes perfect economic sense reinforces the notion that Retro-Quant will grow to become a multi-billion $ industry sometime over the next several years. There’s simply too much value to be unearthed: human behavioral data, hidden crime (on many levels), genetic/evolutionary patterns, cognitive patterns, etc.
The WoodwardGate super-secret-weapon saga continues and the blogosphere is “abuzz”, pardon the pun – couldn’t resist, with speculation about what the “secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders” may consist of.
Fortunately, we’ve got a bunch of brainiacs here at Future Blogger that have helped us separate the more plausible wheat from the ultra-theoretical chaff. Some of their best guesses include:
Tiny Unmanned Aerial Drones:tk421 and a few other contributors have ventured that small, or even microscopic, automated drones or insects could contribute to the secret program. After all, the American govt has been hard at work figuring out how to either build microdrones or embed chips directly into actual insects.
Smart Dust the Size of Pepper Grains: According to commenter CheechWizard (gotta love the handle): It’s smart dust: RFID tags the size of small pepper grains, packaged in grenades, mortar rounds, artillery shells. Their cases are modeled after seeds and pollen that sticks effectively to animals & such, colored to match local dirt and grime. How it works:
Your unit is taking fire, so you call in a couple of rounds of artillery that cover the enemy position in tags. As your guys advance, the attackers fade away as usual. That night, helicopters scan the town, and within a couple of hours, the door kicker squads are rounding up your attackers and their friends at home.