Dave Snowden

State of the Net 2013

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I enjoyed my keynote at State of the Net 2013 here in Trieste, mind you I enjoyed it last year as well.  A chance to talk about big issues in society and argue for humans at the front, humans at the end which is one of my current slogans for the goal of SenseMaker®.  Using technology to augment and scale human endeavour rather than attempting to attempt to poorly replace it.   I'm also talking about post-big-data in the sense of what we do when we get past the current hype.  I started the whole thing by pointing out that I have seen this dangerous obsession with algorithms reactively crawling through open source data twice times before.  Firstly with data warehousing, then with the first bit DARPA efforts around 911.  In each case the technology has improved, the utility and capability have improved but it has natural limits.  We need to act differently:

  • Firstly we need to build human sensor networks, trusted agents scanning broad populations and capable of proactively seeking or creating data  when needed.  Again a key phrase: creating networks for ordinary purpose that we can activate for extraordinary need
  • Secondly it is essential to increase network density within an organisation.  Techniques like social network stimulation have high utility here.  The whole point about complexity is that you don't know what you are going to face down stream so resilience is all about creating capability before you know what it has to do.
  • Thirdly we need to build and develop the capacity for judgement.  Too many managers simply fall back on process and spreadsheets, they abrogate their responsibility to make and take responsibility for their decisions.  In part this is due to an over focus on MBAs and Consultants as the source of management, rather then building capability through pragmatic knowledge rather than the abstraction of numbers.

My major political point was that we need to be very careful in making open data an ideological requirement of the net.  Drug Barons and terrorists can use it as well as the good guys, and often more effectively.   We've already seen twitter perpetuate a lie immediately before an election in France and I sometimes wonder if people have forgotten the lesson of history with events such as the Dreyfus Affair.  The net is simply a more effective means of distributing text and the jury is out on if it will have as radical effect as the printing press and cheap paper that triggered the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

It will take us a few decades for human behaviour to respond to the potential and the threat.  The real worry for me is the anarchist ideology that underpins a lot of net advocates.   Economic crises coupled with new technologies generally produce anarchy and fascism as a response and (I would argue) anarchy is simply not resilient enough to resist fascism and its very nature creates the space for tyrants to emerge.   I don't think I am being alarmist here by the way, it's a real danger.

The whole thing should be up on their web site soon so you can witness the whole thing!   In the mean time the slides can be found here.  I alternated Gaping Void cartoons with quotes apart from the final couple and got a little obsessed with getting that sequence and the transitions right.   Given no text I used the speaker note field which worked well and I've included those in the handout.   The form was a lot of fun so I may repeat it, lots of flexibility thus afforded.

In the various questions I realised that I need to do some more work on granularity so that will be tomorrow's blog.  Oh and I rather like the photo, evidence of the diet and a good camera man!  I may start to use a cropped version of this as a new standard for events.