The Inevitable Singularity and the Haunting Words of Bruce Schneier

image Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of noodling on the concept of convergence and singularity.  Many years ago, I read Ray Kurzweil’s Age of Spiritual Machines, and it had such a re-wiring effect on my worldview, I can only liken it to a spiritual experience (a worldview that was only reinforced with his sequel, The Singularity is Coming).

What’s got me really thinking about convergence lately has been the patterns and clues to the future I’ve been seeing lately in the worlds of mobile, cloud, and social media as they all become inextricably interdependent upon one another. It’s no coincidence that these are also the three areas of coverage that we cover here at SiliconANGLE, but it does surprise me that we stumbled upon these areas at what seems like key inflection points in each sector’s individual growth pattern.

Incidentally I do mean stumbled.  When John Furrier, Rex Dixon and I started putting together the pieces of this community back in February and March of this year, we came up with an intentionally broad moniker of “Computer Science meets Social Science,” allowing us to cover a range of topics and sectors, and from that see what interests developed from the community that formed around us. 

I had fully expected us to perhaps turn into something resembling my former beat at Mashable, given the three of our collective areas of expertise – somewhat political, heavy on social media, with a predilection towards online rich media (in podcasting and online video).

As it turns out, we somehow pulled in a strong contingent of mobile developers and marketers as well as cloud professionals, and heavy hitters in the world of semantic and social media and twisted all their arms into contributing.

Backpatting aside, I’ve watched these contributors, many of which I’ve watched or known prior to them joining this community, follow this path of convergence with their attention and professional projects.

Nova Spivack, a renowned thought leader in semantics, has done a bevy of incredible deep dives into realtime web research (“What Comes After the Real Time Web”, “Welcome to the Stream”, and “Content Distribution is Changing Again”).

Robert Scoble has been chronicling with video the role of the cloud in the emergent “2010 Web,” as he puts it, or the convergence of social media and the cloud (“SharePoint 2010 from an Infrastructure Management Perspective”, “PayPal opens more APIs for a role as “wallet in the cloud””, “The “Cloud Guy” at Rackspace”, “Robert Scoble, Paul Buchheit and Mike Schroepfer Talk About the Friendfeed and Facebook Deal”,  and “Building43 Debuts JS-KIT’s Echo Real-Time Comment Engine”).

Michael Sean Wright, my friend and heavyweight documentary filmmaker, has been exploring the mainstream social impacts of real time web and social media as it comes out of the tech-elite circles and to the masses with his Spark Series (“The New Dialtone (a Documentary Series)”, “Not Another Twitter Conference [Spark Series, Episode 2]”, and “Spark Series Episode 3: Open”).

Sean P. Aune, my buddy and co-editor at the site, has been quietly chronicling the various moves of the money mountains with me around the world of mobile platform monetization (you can pretty much take your pick of anything in our Mobile section).

Rick Gardinier, SVP of BRUNNER, an East coast creative agency, spurred on my interest in Augmented Reality very early (before it became a mainstream hot topic), and helped me form some interesting philosophical positions about what it means for our future (“Augmented Reality is Cool! But What’s the ROI?”, “How Can We Be Creative if We’re Drowning in Data?”, and my riffs on his pieces in “Deeper Dive on the $350 Sixth Sense” and “Augmented Reality: Metaphysical Far Future Repercussions”)

These are but the tip of the iceberg, but you get the picture. A lot of our community and our readership looks at our coverage of these individual areas from their own unique lenses of where they sit. 

As I said at the onset, this is really a meandering around a set of impressions I’ve been gathering over the last several days – and I’ve been meaning to sit down and put a blog post like this around it, but for some reason the whole thing still seems to lack a certain “punch,” if you will.  I don’t have a silver bullet or a “see, I told ya so” point here to make (and if you’ve read my posts here for very long, you know I love making those kinds of posts).

imageAll I do have is the observation that we’re watching the convergence (or singularity, if you will), very slowly happen around us (not with a bang, but not necessarily a whimper either). 

Augmented reality is mere feet away from the goal line of becoming a buyable and marketable product for a wide swath of the mainstream. That augmented reality software is going to both heavily utilize and rely on the various APIs of the real time web. That augmented reality interface is going to run on the mobile platforms we discuss, debate and utilize daily; and all the data is most likely going to be stored in some form of public or private cloud.

These conclusions aren’t far-reaching leaps – they’re almost foregone certainties. Most of you have seen the same number of technology cycles I have, and when you look at the facts in the broader context that I’ve laid them out in, it seems like common sense, and I’m simply restating the obvious.

That’s both wondrous and horrendous at the same time. Back in July, I wrote:

In that future world where augmented reality is mainstream, we have to assume that the computers are at finally wearable, and that the augmented reality is persistent and customizable as if it were an instance of Google Maps.  The user / wearer gets to choose which skins or reality overlays they walk around and view the world through.

The most obvious theoretical reality overlay would be a Twitter overlay (or future-modern equivalent real time public lifestream) that is easily accessible to those who come in contact with you.  We’re seeing glimpses of this reality now, since there is a certain level of transparency with having a Twitter and Facebook account, but I have to wonder if we wouldn’t self-censor ourselves to the point of a psychological repression, for fear of literally wearing our errant thoughts in a scrollable bubble floating eternally above our heads.

While the wearable computing side of the hardware isn’t there yet, the apps most certainly have arrived that serve the described functions.

The concerns raised about living in a world like that have certainly been made a heck of a lot more real, particularly after the words spoken by Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

Security expert Bruce Schneier echoed my concerns from July by repeating words he first wrote in 2006 for Wired:

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need. (…)

For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that – either now or in the uncertain future – patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable. (…)

This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. And it’s our future as we allow an ever-intrusive eye into our personal, private lives.


It’s incredibly poignant, and far more eloquent than I’ve put it in the past, but holds a similar sentiment, with one key difference between us: he dangles before his reader the glimmer of hope that we’ll somehow be able to hold onto our shreds of privacy.

I, on the other hand, have resigned myself to Sun Microsystem’s Chairman Scott McNealy’s famous statement: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” We have vestiges of privacy left, but someone will always know something about you that you thought they didn’t know.  Moves like Facebook made yesterday where bits of what some people held as private data was by default made public won’t be isolated incidents (just like AOL’s infamous 2006 data dump wasn’t really all that an extraordinary of a SNAFU).

It’s going to be a different world we’ll be living in. As we always have, we humans will learn to adapt to it, but it will most definitely be a rough road to get there.