An essay and theemergence.io podcast introduction
by J. Paul Duplantis
Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Emergence asking the question – what is possible when we are connected and in control?
My name is J.Paul Duplantis and I am a tech humanist and essayist on the intersection between technology and human interests. I am on a mission to create awareness, help identify, and help build technologies to tap into human potential by removing barriers within the flow of information. I am not on the left. I am not on the right. I am curious and I believe communication technology can do a better job of uniting more than dividing to create a better environment for progress for all without sacrificing the innovative spirit of the free market.
This podcast will be an evolution. This first episode will be an essay to set up ideas I would like to explore throughout this podcast series and will be a combination of conversations with interesting people around these ideas, readings of my essays, and me walking around riffing freestyle on ideas I believe speak well to the concept of The Emergence.
But before I get into the idea of the Emergence let me share who I am to give you an idea where this madness is coming from. I’m a 56-year-old guy with a background in marketing, management, technology, sales, consulting, and recruiting. Before the early 90s, my passions lied more in filmmaking and music but the internet happened and my soul was moved toward the idea of what would be possible when people were connected purposefully. Thankfully the creative side has never left me as I would consider myself more of a creative thinker than a technical thinker.
But I have to admit this shift in interests served as more of a distraction from building a career than anything else as the more possibilities I could see from a truly connected marketplace, the more frustrated I became especially when Web 2.0 started to build walls around the open connection. I even tried to build out these ideas through a company I helped launch called Quired which ended up as a side hustle only deepening my frustration. Certainly, if I could see it I should have been able to build it. Well, that couldn’t have turned out to be further from the truth. The problem was I didn’t know what I was looking for. I had a vision but it was blurred and I didn’t have a plan. The most frustrating part was I knew something was there. I mean the technology was arriving but the top-heavy controls were weighing heavily on the potential that could come from it so I effectively gave up on the dream.
It was 7 years ago, almost to the day of me recording this episode, that I gave up on this dream and decided to hunker down and focus on a 9 to 5 job. Fortunately for me, I landed in a place where I love the owners and the people I work with and have been able to work in areas of marketing, information systems, processes, and just being there to help which is one of my favorite activities, so no complaints.
But about 4 years ago, I got the itch again as I saw the amazing developments happening within the communication technology space so I thought I would at least be more consistent about writing on these ideas. I mean what was happening with VR, AR, mobile computing, the internet of things and AI we’re blowing me away, so I started to dig in. I even consulted for a VR company in Scottsdale for a while on the side and witnessed a small startup struggling with a revolutionary, yet very new technology. And it wasn’t until I walked into a bookstore about 3 years ago that I finally was able to make sense of what was in my head for the last 20 or so years.
True story. I started to meditate around this time to help cope with my frustration that had been building to a crescendo and one day before walking into a Bookman’s bookstore in Phoenix, I meditated to help understand what this madness was. What was this idea I had been chasing? What was the methodology behind the idea? Yes, people were connected like no other time before and they were controlled by it but what was the solution or at least the path forward? I felt maybe at least I could find something I could personalize to help me put these ideas into a better context for others to relate to.
As I walked into the bookstore, I just told myself the first book I touched was going to be some form of an answer. I seriously had no idea why I was doing something so foolish but hey we are all human and I needed a true north badly. So I roamed and found a section I felt might speak to me, walked forward, and without looking put my hand on the book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
Scouts honor and this is the absolute truth. So an aha moment at 52. I guess Ray Kroc stumbled across the McDonald’s franchise around the same age after swimming in obscurity so I figured if I wasn’t going to be a small part of revolutionizing the connection at least I knew what the idea was. So what was so special about this book. I was immediately struck by one of the stories in the book about ant colonies using pheromones or chemical traces as signals between each other. Signals that would help ants determine the best places to bury their dead, hide their food, and overall protect the colony from invaders. Ants sending signals between each other to make decisions collectively for the betterment of themselves and the whole outside the control of the Queen ant or centralized control if you will. Where the capabilities of the ants emerged from the colony but were not directed by it. Ants working with each other, understanding each other, as well as becoming aware of common threats and opportunities.
As I read this book, my line of thinking immediately centered around the idea of what communication technology could become for humans. How could our capabilities emerge from each of us to serve ourselves and each other without a reliance on centralized forces to mitigate threats and explore opportunities? What would be the potential of our signal if we were connected emergently? Not only to each other but with media outlets, purveyors of goods and services, and even governmental bodies. What if the connection was optimized to reach into our untapped skills, hidden talents, and explicit interests rather than only the needs of the market? A market defined by the connected not just the connection.
Obviously, there is a connection extending the reach of the human voice that exists today but this connection is highly centralized and optimized more for the exchange of monetary value than the exchange of value of the capabilities residing within the connection. I thought to myself, what would be possible when the connection was optimized for human value where individual capabilities were harnessed to inspire what I call CAPE or creativity, awareness, productivity, and empathy to feedback into the connection.
After reading this book and recognizing the technology at our disposal, I began to realize I was witnessing the potential birth of a new paradigm shift in human communication and began to see the connection differently than before. It was this idea of distance and capabilities that started to grab me. Think about it. What are the chances the most interesting person in the world to you is your next-door neighbor? What are the chances the skills and interests you possess are being fully utilized at your workplace? To me, this erasure of distance and limit on capabilities was a catalyst for rethinking the human connection.
What would be possible when barriers were removed between what people were capable of and what was expected of them dictated by the market? We all possess skills that both nature and nurture have blessed us with and mostly our locality dictates whether these skills will be utilized or not. Remove these barriers to scale globally and an exchange of value between people, businesses, and governments could be untapped to add more purpose into the exchange. An exchange of human value within a purposeful market over an exchange of monetary value in a free market.
Many might say technology already erases distance and frees capabilities when we work remotely and discover information through the web but currently, purpose seems to be more assigned to us than defined by us. I’m not attacking work, I’m attacking the institution of work when it only trades in the quantity of labor for profit. I can hear the arguments now. Yep, money needs to be made to build infrastructure and keep people employed. Got it. But has that been enough? It appears the free market is maximizing the opportunities found within the labor force to extract more value from labor than the value labor is getting from work. I admit, maybe my emergent lens is distorting my reality as to how would I know what happens inside the exchange of labor en masse but I just ask to look around. Are we emergent in the potential of our labor? Shouldn’t we be?
Should the homeless person you pass on the way to work be actively engaged with the potential of their labor? We can have an easy conversation on why they are not but the more difficult conversation is could they be? Is it that “work” is not available because they don’t want to work or is it the right opportunity that has not found them to fully engage their potential at some point in their life to serve as an anchor for better things to come? I work in an area heavily populated by the homeless and ask myself daily what talents and skills are trapped inside of their situations? What would be their true capacity if opportunity not only found them but understood who they are? Not through a centralized institutional approach as we find in many workplaces and mental health care facilities but emergently to understand the human first then optimize their potential within the greater marketplace.
Think about it for a moment. In the quest to optimize the potential of labor, wouldn’t mental health be at the epicenter of what is holding it back? Currently, mental health appears to be treated as more of a problem to have than a solution to find. An affliction affecting the young and the old, the poor and the rich, all genders, all races passed down genetically or behaviorally through generation after generation. When our mind is not healthy, how are we supposed to tap into our capabilities to influence the market rather than being influenced by it? Mental health is the moonshot for The Emergence as I believe there are technologies and methodologies on the horizon to not only repair physical damage to the brain but to help people better relate their mental state with the world around them. Solutions not coming from a centralized marketplace leveraged for the benefit of the provider but an emergent market to help improve the signal within and among those responsible for the very existence of the market they are a part of.
In the grand scheme of things, The Emergence is not only about communication technology, it is about rethinking the toolset we are using to tap into human potential. Do we think the current top-down centralized approach in the way we work, the way we handle our mental health, and the way we consume and share information is ultimately healthy for all of society? Is the well-being of all of society important? Or is it only for the strong and the resilient? To me, The Emergence gets to the core of the question of what is possible when we are connected and in control? Where each of us is more influential in building our better realities regardless of the color of our skin, our gender, or our level of income. Where we are less dependent on institutions dictating who we should become and become more in tune with who we are and what we all have to offer. Is it better for society to rely more on social programs than on social tools? I believe there should be a healthy mix – as a reliance on programs to treat the symptom more than the cause fails to get to the root of the problems that turn into other problems and fodder for political maneuvering.
As we move past the halfway mark of connecting 7.5 billion people on planet earth, how many opportunities exist to exchange value in what people offer if the connection was free from influences outside of their interests? Seems pie in the sky but reality is soon to render a world where automation will replace a significant portion of the skills humans traditionally offer. What then? Where will the drivers, the manufacturers, and the clerks go? A double whammy as lower-skilled jobs will be replaced with automation while the remaining higher-skilled jobs will come with a high price tag for skill development. With the cost of obtaining a university education in the U.S. surging 1,120 percent between 1978 and 2014 according to a Bloomberg report based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, what will the next 36 years bring to the prospect of labor? . 1 Especially in knowing median wages have increased 290% between 1977 and 2019, how will this reality not continue to increase the wealth gap? Is this important? It is for The Emergence.
In the dream world of The Emergence, the traditional walls of work and information silos would fall to free up the true potential of labor. Of course, I’m not talking about removing the notion of the traditional workplace but using tools to help people find new opportunities outside conventional means. Opportunities where people have a stake in the fulfillment of a need, are validated through the provision of their efforts and are compensated beyond only the profit motive of fulfilling the need. A toolset to align not only the potential of one’s labor with a need but with information and experiences to help realize interests, talents, and skillsets a provider-centric marketplace based only on profit would not be motivated to find. A toolset to not only align opportunities with self-interest and situations but to help mitigate threats by empowering users with awareness and understanding of themselves and their surroundings.
This is the quest of the Emergence. To identify and create awareness of this toolset to inspire a purposeful and emergent market on top of a free market. A market to balance the interests of people with businesses and governments for all people to become more influential in building their own better realities. And if you don’t agree with what I am saying and want to call me out on specifics, I absolutely want to have a dialogue to learn and grow around these ideas. But if you don’t agree with the fact the system is broken or the problem is only a human one to fix then the emergence is not going to be your cup of tea I can assure you.
So if you are still hanging in there, what is this toolset to tap into human potential for The Emergence to happen? What is the solution? I believe it is broken down into four areas.
Number 1. Laws to enforce data rights.
Number 2. Decentralized frameworks to secure and empower user data.
Number 3. Decentralized Artificial Intelligence to provide context and awareness, and
Number 4. a Decentralized application layer to allow users to tap into their own potential and that of the communities they are involved with.
So let’s dig in…..
Number 1: User Data Rights
It seems clear to me that we need better laws to enforce user data as a human right to put the user in the driver seat of their own experiences. Without user data rights, applications will continue to find a way to manipulate or sell out the interests and behaviors of the users, muting the potential of the exchange by only monetizing it. The GDPR in Europe is a beginning salvo on this front but without a doubt, we need a robust set of laws to protect the information we create, consume, and share. I found an interesting article on New Legislation in the U.S. Proposing a Federal Data Protection Agency which I will link to in the podcast notes. 
And not only data rights for the individual but a better framework to provide free public access to government-funded data and information created by universities and institutions. Think of the sheer volume of information locked behind scholarly publications for sale and paywalls that if unlocked could drive innovative ideas for progress. Information freely available to not only academics and professionals, creating feedback loops, but for the public at large to engage with to give birth to our next great innovators to build toward a cleaner environment, more effective and affordable health care, and to help find solutions to help lift more people out of poverty. I’ve yet to scratch the surface on the subject of data rights and look forward to finding interesting people to have a conversation with on what is possible to move these ideas into reality.
Number 2: The Frameworks
We need to create technology to provide user controls over their information. To effectively separate user data from applications to limit the amount of control of the provider and the network over the user. There are a number of frameworks currently in development, I believe may one day render this a reality. So why is a universal decentralized framework important to secure user data rights? Because if we leave it up to each company to do the right thing, we will be let down. We always have been. This is such an incredibly wide topic I hope to have plenty of conversations in the future to help illuminate the pros and cons of decentralized frameworks.
So what is at the core behind the idea of a decentralized framework? Imagine not logging into Facebook, Apple, Google, or any other information service but granting them permission to access the experiences you create, consume or share. As opposed to you agreeing to their terms of service, they would agree with yours. I happen to have fairly extreme views on this as I believe no matter where our data resides whether it is on a web server, an email application, a game, or in a sensor if we create the experience, the experience is ours by default. Imagine playing a game of chess on a smartphone app where you are playing with 5 opponents you had met in the game.
Currently, the moves you make and the conversations you have regarding these moves are the property of the game. Should they be? Of course, the specific articulation of the game is the property of the game provider but how about the experiences contained within? What if you found a different game more suited to your tastes? Should you be able to relocate these moves and conversations to another game? Did the creator of this game pay for the experiences or the infrastructure? I argue they only paid for the representation of these experiences, not the experiences themselves. We pay for our experiences in living them, so why shouldn’t we be in control of them?
Should you be able to easily move a calendar item from Google Calendar to a Facebook event or vice versa. Should you be able to easily move a tweet thread with other users into an email or text? Should you be able to easily mash up sensor data with a photo found on the web with a paragraph from a scientific study all the while retaining authorship and formatting from all the source material. I believe you should and I believe tools to be built in the future should have portability, authorship, and verifiability at its very core. The web as we know it today is the wild west of an information exchange, allowing businesses to coop user interests with very little concern over the validity and repercussions of what is shared. Managing permissions are at the center of this better future but how this is achieved is what is proving to be incredibly difficult. How do you create a better and more secure web for people without making it more difficult for them to use and without it equally being as prone to centralized control?
Tim Berners Lee’s Solid PODS framework is an interesting solution to this problem as he is the founder of the world wide web with a sincere frustration with the direction it has taken. And Solid PODS are an especially good test case for a framework to contain our data rights as it originated through a public institution (MIT) and is being deployed through a private company called Inrupt. Just as Google is a private company, when we agree to their terms of service they own our data, so why would Inrupt be any different?
So far, in theory, Solid PODS are more of a specification and methodology for other companies to use in offering their own data stores, where the PODS provider would never have access to the user’s data, only serving the user as an intermediary for their data. A key feature of the Solid PODS framework would be the ability of the user to move their data between PODS providers and applications if they were ever unhappy with the service, so in theory, no one else other than the user would ever be in control of their data.
I emphasize the words in theory, because the framework has not launched as of yet, so the free market has not had a chance to sink its teeth in yet. Inrupt appears to be a private company currently but what would happen if it turned into a public company, where the interest of the shareholders would factor into the growth of the framework? Would they go as far as taking away the control of user data from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Apple? Do they have a strong enough of a unified front to pull this off? I’ve been following the Solid PODS Dev team’s progress on GitHub for over a year now and have come to realize how incredibly difficult this proposition truly is. Don’t get me wrong they have some of the greatest minds and developers in the world on this but the sheer size and force of the status quo driven by big tech are staggering.
Should something of this scale be handled by a private company or a public institution? A very difficult question indeed. I don’t have the answers but I do know the very notion of this idea of separating data from the application is incredibly important to how we move forward as a society. Do we want to be in control of our experiences or not? Some might be fine with just letting the market run its course, but I see this is more of a threat to the fundamentals of democracy so I guess I have a different lens on it.
Let me offer an example of what I’m talking about. So I was going back and forth with the originator of the hashtag Chris Messina on Twitter about Twitter tweeting they would provide access to an edit button on Twitter if everyone would just wear a mask during the Covid 19 crisis to save lives.  I posed to Chris my thoughts that this was an exercise in centralized control over a user base which was worrisome to me. He felt temporary measures of centralized control were in order. Although I very much respect Chris’ opinion, the more I thought about this, I became quite angry at the notion of a company hijacking my experiences and threatening levels of access to these experiences in trade for my social compliance. Mind you, I have no problem with people needing to wear masks for Covid 19 but if this then what next.
What will Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any other online platform decide for me in how I render my experiences in the future? What feature set will they not allow, what will they hide from me, what will they amplify for me and trade for a profit from persuasion.
Yes, I have a right to use another platform but the experiences I created, consumed, and shared within their platform don’t share the same rights. The fact that Twitter could even debate the idea of allowing me to edit my information in trade for my social compliance illuminates a fundamental question for the future of human communication. Should people be in control of their experiences or should businesses and/or the government? Did the yellow pages back from yesteryear own the relationships formed and sharing of experiences with the people found in their phone book? Did US West not spend billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for people to communicate through their network and publish listings of their customers? Was a login to US West required to call one of their customers?
Yes, an agreement had to be made on terms of service for use of their system but was an agreement made to forfeit all experiences conducted on their network as well as to related advertisers? I seriously think we’re going to look back in one hundred years at the communication tools we have built today and wonder how the hell did people let this happen. These are their platforms but our experiences, right? It is my greatest wish that somehow, someway we figure out how to separate the two in the future as our musings on Twitter are the least of our problems when you think about our sensor data, medical data, web history, chat history, personal correspondence, government data, location data and on and on and on. We give them an inch they’re going to take a mile. It’s just what the market does. Could the Solid framework change this reality, by moving experiences under the control of the user’s domain? I certainly hope so. There is no denying, I am rooting for the Solid team and would love to have members of the team on the podcast in the future to discuss the challenges they face and what they hope to accomplish.
Another core decentralized framework to help put data into the hands of the user outside the control of centralized forces is the Blockchain framework. Even though Blockchain technology is currently known more for the cryptocurrency and the Bitcoin craze, the underlying mechanism of managing data through distributed ledgers validated through tokens could prove to revolutionize the way information is accessed, edited, and shared. A methodology to remove centralized governance from the flow of information to empower the user with authority over their data.
Currently, Blockchain technologies are power-intensive and limited in transaction speeds which is not a good recipe for a framework to revolutionize the connection, but innovations are on the horizon to help remove these barriers to help move blockchain into more of a decentralized future. One of the more interesting players on the scene is Etherium led by co-founder Vitalek Buterin. Where Bitcoin is the leader in cryptocurrency using the blockchain protocol, Etherium is the leader in creating an ecosystem beyond the management of money online to a framework to manage applications attached to a decentralized blockchain.
Ethereum 2.0 is the next iteration of the Ethereum framework to reduce the limitations of current blockchain technologies. At the heart of this is a movement away from the traditional Proof of Work model where massive computers solve puzzles to build new blocks in the chain to a model based on Proof of Stake where validators in the chain purchase Ethereum currency to add blocks to the chain. There appears to be a number of objectives with this major overhaul expected to be rolled out over a number of years to include making the chain less dependent on massive amounts of energy consumed to maintain viability and increasing transaction speeds beyond the very limiting 15 transactions per second available today.
There are several blockchain frameworks under development to include the Stellar, Hyperledger, Multichain, as well as the Elastos framework which has been making waves lately in increasing the value of their coin offerings in the space. I have to admit I get a major case of Deja Vous when I see these companies talking about the mission of their technology for the greater good all the while they focus on building monetary value through their coins. Of course, money needs to be made to build infrastructure but is the money spent ultimately in service of the product or the end-user. Time will tell which ones will stay the course to truly decentralize and emerge users to a more resonant connection. Either way I do believe Blockchain technology is here to stay and could be a major catalyst for progress.
Without a doubt, the Solid Framework and Blockchain are not the only solutions on the horizon to give power to the user over their information. One of the missions of this podcast will be to dig deep to uncover more of these technologies and hopefully talk to founders and developers to learn how their tech will empower the user and their communities. One technology that seems interesting to me is GunDB which is a decentralized database to increase data security, reduce costs, and provide a scalable toolset for application developers to build off of. I have been following GunDB founder Mark Nadal on Twitter for a while now and have exchanged a few tweets around his vision for the future of the web and have concluded Mark is one to keep an eye on as he is looking to harness these technologies to tackle society’s biggest problems.
I am always looking for cutting edge technologies and technologists in this space, so please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas on tech to feature on future episodes.
Number Three: The AI Layer
If there is anything as scary as it is thrilling it would be the growing reality of a connection heavily influenced by artificial intelligence. People can wish this away all they want but AI has arrived, even though we are still in relatively early days. I truly feel once quantum computing makes the jump to practical applications, we will begin to see mind-blowing applications of artificial intelligence but the question is in the future will AI be for us or against us? Do we want to live in a black mirror episode or do we want to harness the amazing capabilities of how AI could serve as a tool to achieve better realities for ourselves and members of our communities? I vote for the latter but this is not a foregone conclusion as currently most use cases of artificial intelligence are commandeered by billion-dollar corporations optimizing and monetizing our awareness or governments scaling AI to keep an eye on us.
But what would be possible if the potential of AI were available to smaller teams, communities, or even individuals to create solutions to tap into the scope of human potential? Let’s face it, what are the chances a billion-dollar corporation would utilize AI to tackle issues outside their specific interests? Yes, there are exceptions but I believe smaller communities of developers building out AI solutions for the communities they work in will root to the core interests of the people more than institutional solutions alone. At least this would be an arrow in the quiver of utilizing AI to tap into human potential.
Decentralized AI is not a singular mission but Ben Goertzel with Singularitynet.io seems to be leading the charge with the concept of a toolset to carry decentralized AI forward. Their team certainly seems to be on an interesting track where they provide a framework for even the smallest developers to harness the potential of AI. I just don’t see how a world I envisioned through the lens of The Emergence moves forward without the assistance of AI as we are all naturally limited in our ability to acquire awareness and context so how do we navigate this increasingly noisy world we live in if we are not aware and do not have the right toolset to render context for ourselves.
Indeed we could disappear into the woods and live off the grid until our dying days (which is certainly an option) but for those of us who continue to stay in the grind, we are surrounded by AI making decisions for us every waking minute. What happens when AI begins to make more decisions for us than we make four ourselves? So do we fight AI or fight for AI to be under our control and to serve our best interests? This is what Singuarlitynet seems to be working on and is something our technology companies, our legislators, and the people should be fighting for. Whether it is SignuarlityNet, the Solid framework, the Ethereum blockchain, GunDB, or any other framework that can be imagined to secure and engage the interests and minds of the users, as soon as these frameworks become more important than the people they serve, we are back to square one. As soon as frameworks become an opportunity for shareholders’ interests over the interests of the stakeholders, we’re back to the status quo.
I am hopeful though. Although there has always been pent up frustration with the status quo regardless of the era of humanity, now seems different. Now frameworks are on the horizon to help engage people at their core. To increase understanding and capabilities beyond what social orders deem necessary to what is innate within each of us. This feels like the mid 90’s where hope ran rampant from what seemed possible with the world wide web. This time it is my sincerest desire, we learn from history to not repeat the same mistakes as I am not sure how many do-overs we have before technology enables us to no longer have our hands on the wheel rendering experiences. Some might ask why we need an open framework, to begin with, and to just let humans figure it out. My response is the cat is out of the bag, so it is better to try to move these tools under user control before it is too late.
Yes, we could rely on the free market to solve these problems through Adam Smith’s invisible hand but I fundamentally believe he didn’t foresee the weight of corporate influence in the exchange we see today. Finding a set of frameworks for applications to help balance the interests of users, businesses, and governments is a tall order but necessary for the long term growth and health of societal interests. Should these frameworks be private or public entities are incredibly difficult questions to answer. I for one believe these frameworks should at least be a mixture of employee and community-owned interests with financial and operational transparency at the very core of their operations. Without this, we require the trust of those with influence to do the right thing. Trust is either assumptive or verifiable. I for one believe the latter speaks better to the public’s interest.
And this leads me to…….
Number Four: The Application Layer
The main reason I am so hopeful though is what is at the heart of The Emergence which is the application layer built on top of a decentralized connection to move user experiences away from the control of the network and the providers attached to it. Applications are rendered through smart phones, computers, TVs, smart watches, kiosks, IoT devices, and in the future through smart glasses. dApps or decentralized applications are a style of application arriving on the scene utilizing the Blockchain or a peer-to-peer framework but the term to me should extend beyond blockchain to include any type of application built to engage user data outside centralized control. If Solid takes off as a domain-based framework, shouldn’t the apps be considered decentralized if they are outside the control of the network? At least, I believe so. But as stated above just because an application is decentralized does not mean it will empower the user. Without legislation to set and enforce the laws and decentralized frameworks in place to manage user data without fear of influence, I fear decentralized applications will have more bark than bite.
But even with laws and open frameworks in place, just because an app is outside the control of the network or the providers doesn’t necessarily mean the app is reaching into the depths of human potential. Decentralization is the baseline to protect and secure user data from the threats of outside control and manipulation but where the true potential lies is when applications are both decentralized and purposeful for the user and the communities they are engaged with. Technology to inspire purpose throughout society might sound like social engineering but as opposed to society being engineered from the top as is currently the case, society would be engineered through a toolset under the control of the people from within society.
A fundamental idea at the core of how I see the Emergence and what made the lightbulb go off in my head at the bookstore. Just like ant colonies, what are the signals between people, goods, and services best able to protect and allow people to thrive within the communities they not only live in but engage with? Could a decentralized and purposeful application layer be the carrier of these signals? I believe so and for ease and the benefit of this podcast moving forward I will refer to this form of application as an emergent application. Admittedly, a bit self-serving but also to the point.
Let me change the perspective for a bit. Do YOU want to emerge from where you are in society? I don’t care if it relates to your family, your friends, your work, your team, your government, or your gang? I don’t care if you are a CEO or homeless. A woman, man, or non-binary. Black, white, brown. Theist or atheist, Does society exercise your true potential? I’m not talking about only your financial potential but your human potential. Is society protecting your interests and encouraging your interests and capabilities to best serve yourself and your communities? Should it?
Those on the right will say this is not the role of society and should be up to the individual to emerge, especially in a free market based democratic society where seizing the opportunity is at the core of exercising one’s potential. Those on the left will say it is the fundamental role of government within society to meet the needs of the represented. To those on the right, I ask should the ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be limited to only the resilient? If so, doesn’t this provide a firmament for powerful governmental and business interests to exert controls over the populace? To those on the left, I ask if meeting the needs of the people is more important than providing tools for them to seize opportunities, doesn’t this provide firmament for powerful government interests to exert controls over the populace? I think history can prove societal extremes from either the left or right ends up with the overall health of represented societies suffering.
I personally believe free markets are the better firmament for societal health than Marxist utopian dreams but I also believe free markets are leaving way too many people on the sidelines. This is something I’ve never understood when you see cities overrun with homelessness and crime. How does blame contribute to the overall health of a city? How does the militarization of policing that started with the 1997 1033 program to transfer military arms to local police departments contribute to social order?  Is this model working out for us? Is the solution a heavier hand? To bring in national forces to clean the streets of the homeless and the destroyers of property to stamp down unrest and distress.
Maybe this would have been an effective strategy in an unconnected world as in the past but I don’t see things playing out as they had in the past since we are now living in a world where an application layer optimized for monetary value over human value serves as an instigator of the human condition. Serving as a beacon to entice and distract more than invite and engage. The pick yourself up by your bootstraps model for success is not working. The blame game is not working. And the rioting is not working.
We are divided, while connected like no other time in history, through tools we are not in control of, offering the marginalized a soapbox full of dynamite. And as automation continues to replace unskilled workers, the cost of acquiring skills continues to increase exponentially, and long-established societal norms are being challenged daily somebody was bound to light the fuse. Did we really not see this coming? But It is my fundamental belief that if the application layer were optimized for human value over monetary value, business and governments would find friends they didn’t realize they had by inspiring an engaged populace more than an enraged one.
This would be a good time to articulate that I admit I am a bit out of my depth here. I’m not a scholar with the right connections. And to be brutally honest I don’t have an innate desire to be liked by the very people who could help build this future. I mean seriously I’m asking for complete financial transparency from the frameworks that could help build this future. Do you think I will be invited to all the great parties? No….. my role in all of this will be to ask the more difficult questions that someone with a career or ideology to protect may not ask? I actually see my lack of credentials as a plus in this quest and truly intend on being the grain of sand in the eye of the status quo whichever side of the political spectrum it sees from.
I promise you, I don’t pretend to have all the answers and have absolutely no problem being called out on my lack of research or depth of study. I see well-positioned disagreement as an amazing opportunity to learn and grow from and it is my greatest desire that communication tools in the future harness the power of disagreement as fuel for the birth of solutions over the festering of problems. So in service of what could be the emergent application layer, I would like to ask two simple questions. Should everybody regardless of their income level, race, religion, or gender status have the same opportunity to exercise their potential to help themselves and the communities they interact with? If they do not, what is possible when barriers limiting this potential begin to fall?
I do not come at these questions lightly either, I assure you, because the notion of barriers holding back human potential is at the center of the political storm we are in. Barriers limiting potential based on income levels, race, gender, and mental and physical capacity from the perspective of the left are clearly much higher than those of the right, so where is the solution when our political will is so divided? I set out on a mission early on in the development of this podcast to speak to both the right and the left and to not exclude non-extreme elements of either side. A tall order for the world we live in.
Personally, I was raised in a very loving and non-judgemental republican family with a dad and mom who voted for Truman, Kennedy, and then Reagan as the democratic party started to move further to the left. Other than a wonderful sister who is a liberal, the rest of my family and most of my friends growing up leaned more to the right, so I have always been surrounded by people I love who happened to be on the right side of the political spectrum. But I have always been torn between the promise of the free market providing opportunities for all and the realities that have come to bear. But on the other hand, I’m also aware of what happens when the pendulum swings too far to the other side when governments flatten the reward of effort and seize control in the name of the people.
What is sacrificed when these barriers are lowered? The conservatives will argue, our freedom, job creation, cultural integrity, and national security. What is sacrificed if these barriers are not lowered? The liberals and the left will say equality of opportunity, cultural diversity, and freedom of choice. How far America has come but how far it still has to go without sacrificing the engine behind progress is certainly a tall order. Do we rely on government and business to determine the size of these barriers? Is this the only plan for progress? For parties of government to agree on who deserves what. For big business to favor shareholder value over stakeholder interests as a model for progress?
Believe me, I realize I am baking this down into a very easy digestible cake so this is wildly more complicated than this but I believe true progress should be at the feet of the people as much as any business or the government. What if the people had better tools at their disposal to engage without a threat of outside influence, to push government and business to become more effective in service of their interests rather than the other way around. Without a doubt business and government play a significant role in progress but I truly feel we have become too reliant solely on their good behavior. Couldn’t it be argued, tapping into the interest and capabilities of those who do and could work in these spaces would help render better systems? And by reducing barriers for all of society to participate within these systems wouldn’t this end up benefiting society as a whole?
So what is possible when an emergent application layer focuses on increasing creativity, awareness, productivity, and empathy amongst all people who do and could work within systems of business, government, and social engagement. Not something achievable overnight but as a larger arc in human development, what could be achieved when a baseline of emergent applications are made available as more of a social utility than only a commercial transaction. A social utility to strengthen the market from the bottom up through purposeful applications engaging workers, managers, owners, philanthropists, and most importantly members of society not able or willing to contribute.
Barriers can either be lowered through system pressure or levers could be built to raise those who are blocked by internal or external forces. Emergent applications would be a form of lever, to help people emerge from behavioral and environmental limitations found within the human condition. Think of nodes in a system. The more resilient the nodes, the stronger the system. To date, a lack of a resonant connection has allowed systems of government and business too much control over outcomes making a stronger shell but weaker core. A shell largely being eaten away by division aggravated by a noisy connection.
But opportunities exist today to reduce this noise and strengthen the core by providing a spade for people to dig for what moves them the most to either climb over or remove barriers in the way of societal progress. Progress coming from people as much as systems composed of people. Without a doubt systems are important but when people inside and outside of systems are more effectively harnessing their potential, everybody would benefit.
So what would an emergent application look like? There really is no end to a list of apps that could speak to the promise of tapping into human potential which I will delve into on future episodes but for the purposes of this intro, I’ll focus on one area of interest for the application layer which is through the lens of mental health as I had spoken of earlier. To me, mental health is at the very root of societal ills we see today and in the eyes of the emergence, covers a large spectrum of the human condition from the most severe cases of schizophrenia to mild cases of anxiety and levels of frustration in how we handle experiences surrounding us both near and far. States of mind affecting decisions made by the homeless, criminals, the military, the police, CEO’s, welfare mothers, doctors, or kids tempted to join a gang.
How many times has your mental state negatively affected the way you handled a situation at work, at home, on the field, or in your profession? Now add externalities such as the environment you are in, other internal conflicts, and 24/7 information overload and it is not hard to see how altered mental states can manifest into frustration, bad behaviors, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. Criminal activity, homelessness, police brutality, toxic work environments, drug abuse, sexual abuse, racism, etc., etc. How much of a factor does mental health play in all of this when in the U.S alone, close to 50% of the population has suffered some form of mental illness much less traumatic mental conditions such as anxiety or depression not classified as an illness? Not to give systems of governance and business a pass for the existence of barriers but internal barriers within people may also be holding people back since it is easy to argue unhealthy people are responsible for unhealthy systems.
How much of a cost to society does this reality bear? Wouldn’t an increase in the quality of mental health across society decrease criminal behavior and homelessness and improve parenting skills, leadership skills, and interpersonal relationships? Certainly not a quick fix but over time I believe a moonshot on mental health could create an environment to help improve the human condition. I imagine most people are interested in a healthier society but some are concerned with what may be sacrificed in its pursuit when institutions are the primary means of moving the needle. And I believe tackling mental health through the lens of emergent applications could be a bipartisan approach to move the needle on mental health. Tools provided to all people to improve their mental health to positively impact their lives, the lives of their loved ones, the communities they engage with, and systems of business and government they interact with.
Notice how I focus on mental health over mental illness as I believe this is something we could all benefit from. Certainly, I don’t blame the current state of mental health squarely on the shoulders of a highly centralized communication technology model wrapped around an institutionalized framework for mental health but I do believe they carry a significant portion of the burden in missing opportunities for social progress.
Granted, I come from this from a 40,000-foot view and would love to dig into this topic with people in the know on future episodes but for this introductory episode, I would like to inspire a debate around what would be possible with a decentralized, community-based approach utilizing communication technology to help people understand and relate to what is inside and outside of who they are. When the mind is healthy, the body will follow so I see emergent applications serving a broad-spectrum of engagement to include therapy, training, and information discovery.
Training and Therapy Applications
Let’s take training and therapy to start with to layout ideas behind emergent applications used in the context of mental health. I would like to use the George Floyd murder as a lens to see the potential of these types of applications through. The ex-Navy seal Jaco Willink talks about the importance of situational training in the military to deescalate potential hostile situations. He mentioned in a Joe Rogan podcast how this always-on mode of situational training should be a staple of the American police force but that it is not. Training to condition new recruits as well as established veterans in the endless cascade of changing situations they have to deal with every day of their professional lives. It is interesting to note that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures only 20 states currently require mental health training for police departments. 
Of these 20 states, who decide the training protocols, the technology to use, the contractors to implement the technology, the frequency of the training, and most importantly how to measure the effectiveness of the adoption and retention of use. How engaged are the stakeholders who are the members of the communities and the officers in this process? How would all of this translate into better mental health? Awareness and understanding are at the very center of mental health as when we are put into situations we are not prepared for, negative outcomes have a better chance of surfacing creating environments for anxiety and depression to flourish shutting down reason as a tool to cope with. I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist but I can talk from personal experience when I am put in the situations I am not prepared for and something bad happens, how I handle the situation can have repercussions negatively affecting my reality.
So in the George Floyd murder could different training protocols have rendered different outcomes? Now I am not aware of the training protocols leading to both scenarios and I have never served as a police officer or in the military so my perspective is skewed. You could say I have not lived in the shoes of the officers during these situations but on the other hand, most officers have not lived in the shoes of those they engage with to protect the communities they serve. But despite my ignorance of the specifics, I wonder if there are opportunities to use emergent applications to increase awareness and understanding of police officers with the situations inherent within the communities they serve. To better relate to conditions on the ground to proactively engage rather than reactively enforce.
Maybe these technologies already exist, I don’t know, but I would like to partly use this podcast as a vehicle to find out how communication technologies are used to help police forces build better relationships with the communities they are paid by tax dollars to serve and protect. Not to attack those who serve but to better understand how their systems are supporting the members of their forces in this quest. To ask questions on how they are sourcing, modifying, and personalizing such technology and how involved the stakeholders are in the process.
Where training is to prepare mental states for what is to come, therapy helps mental states cope with the past. How could emergent applications help those suffering from past experiences cope with the world they live in? There are countless mental therapy apps out there but the idea behind the emergence is to focus on those applications and future applications that are not controlled by any interest outside that of the end-user and their communities. What do I mean? If an application is flooded with non-relevant and distracting advertising to the user this is non-emergent. If the application is funded with an agenda to drive sales or increase a user base from a Big Pharma company, institution, or an association, this is non-emergent. If the application collects user data and re-purposes it for anything other than the specific interests of the user, this is non-emergent.
An Emergent application for mental therapy would be one that engages the user at a visceral level to help shore up their emotional core so the intellectual is not stifled. The problem with conventional centralized technology is that to understand the emotional layer, personal information has to be mined which could be used to influence future behavior or to be monetized outside the interest of the user. But what is possible when trust is gained and the user is able to use technology to help explore their mental state through the alignment of those who could relate and through available resources? To help dig deep within but also to connect resonantly with others to help identify counseling, therapy, homeopathic, and medicinal remedies. Imagine finding someone who “gets you” but also has the background to help you beyond merely words.
Let me go back to the George Floyd case. He was found with high levels of fentanyl in his system and he had a criminal record. I have heard some use this as an excuse for what led to the outcome of the situation he was in. First of all, there is just no justification for a knee on the neck of a handcuffed human being regardless of their state of mind or their crime for that matter. That is a baseline. Now add in the nuance of the color of his skin with his state of mind and how he may have perceived the situation. I hear this all the time, just comply with the police and everything will be OK. Truth be told, I would. Without a doubt, I would smother the police with kindness. That is how I was raised and even if I was impaired, odds are I would be even nicer.
But I haven’t lived in George Floyd’s shoes. I imagine I wouldn’t see the police the same way he did even if I tried. I understand I live in a different environment than he did so I am unable to naturally relate to his perspective, just as I can’t relate to the experiences of women, transgenders, or those suffering from extreme poverty. But just because I can’t relate does not mean I need to judge in the vacuum of understanding? I believe if George Floyd had access to people and resources to help him cope with his realities at the same time police officers were helped in better understanding the perceptions of members of his community, progress might have a chance.
I fully realize I am trying to distill this incredibly complicated and difficult topic into a few soundbites for a podcast intro but I sincerely believe technology has a role to play in bridging this divide and in future episodes would like to engage with the members of the police and minority communities to help identify methodologies and technologies that are being used successfully in some communities but not in others. Or possibly to find methodologies and technologies used in other industries successfully that could be used to help bridge the divide between police enforcement and the communities they serve.
What other areas in the sphere of mental health could Emergent Applications benefit? From homelessness to workplace productivity, familial relationships, extremism, and racism; the possibilities are endless when applications are identified and built to provide a secure and purposeful environment for the user to reach within and outside to those who relate the most to their potential and the unique situations they are in. Suicide rates in the U.S have increased 35% over the last 20 years according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is beyond troubling when you realize the highest growth rate for suicides is with young adults. 
People need to have goals. People need to have a purpose to keep moving them forward. When they feel lost whether it is due to an extreme case of mental illness or just feeling shut out from the rest of the world, their potential is stifled which can and will affect opportunities taken. Add to this, the 24/7 noise-making machine we call the media preying on the most basic of our instincts it is no wonder we are where we are. When our mental health is compromised, we are easily distracted and easily influenced to make decisions both monetarily and personally that are counter to our self-interests. What would it look like if our experiences were not in the hands of billion-dollar media companies and trillion-dollar technology companies and applications were optimized for our mental health more than just our pocketbooks? That is a conversation to have for future episodes.
Back in the 1960s and 70’s the inventor of the computer mouse and the brain behind the Mother of all Demos, Douglas Englebart, began to build a pre-internet computer network to allow users to collaborate on information they consumed, created, and shared. His vision of his NLS or oN-Line System was in many ways a precursor to the internet we see today but also a lesson in what was missed in how the internet has evolved. One feature set missed In today’s iteration of the web is that of collaboration being baked Into the DNA of the user experience. You can see it in his mother of all demos presented in 1968 where Douglas and his team remotely collaborated on a shared document in real-time which is linked to in the podcast notes.
Yes, cloud-based documents and certain applications invite collaboration but web pages are not collaborative by nature limiting the scalability of people working together. What would be possible if the entire ecosystem of the web was collaborative by default to engage the potential of ideas and feedback between users and resources on the web, moving users outside the confines of silos to experience expanded feature sets? For instance, imagine logging into an art gallery website where you are joined by an art historian who is also logged in to discuss the history of a piece displayed on the site. All of the links, resources, and comments shared around this piece would be viewable on the site as well as could be moved to another site featuring a seminar based on the topic of the piece in question that could also be moved to a shared calendar item for an upcoming artist appearance. All the while carrying the link back to the original artwork to inspire a sale organically outside the confines of the original retail web view.
If you can’t tell by now, The Emergence I/O is not steeped in short term gain from small ideas but the long term potential of big ideas to bring people together through the connection. Something I believe will pay off in spades to society when applications reach beyond the attention heavy model we see today optimized for monetary gain only. How could this be achieved? By using collaboration as more of a universal standard to follow rather than an individual feature set made available from a provider. A notion representative of the battle for the web where open standards for web pages to follow are pitted against features made available through siloed applications monetized for user engagement.
To my understanding, this is the path the Solid Framework is on in addition to creating secure data environments for users where applications and web pages built to their framework standards would allow for open and secure exchanges of information between users, applications, and pages involved. Think about the spacing of bolts on a hub for a tire rim. There’s a universal standard that all manufactures of rims follow to help companies effectively create customized rims to fit on vehicles, effectively allowing vendors to collaborate to create an end product to help people move from point a to point b. Imagine if each vendor and each company involved were allowed to create their own spacing to help create more of an exclusive offering, wouldn’t this impede the end-user from getting from point a to point b, whether through inconvenience or cost?
Embracing standards to encourage open source development to promote a frictionless exchange and collaboration between what is created, consumed, and shared amongst users is at the very core of The Emergence. I believe it will be the developers who will be the most important links in this chain as they will be the ones to adopt and push these standards to the market. Without these standards, an open ecosystem of collaborative emergent applications is just a pipe dream but who will carry this out? Tim Berners Lee is the director of the W3C commission who is in charge of web standards as well as heads up the solid framework so it seems to reason Solid is positioned well for this role. Will app and web devs begin to embrace this or will they continue to build rims with different spacing for bolts. Certainly not the Devs fault if they do – because I’m not sure what type of incentive they would have to do otherwise.
From what I have experienced in my research and participation in this space this very question is at the heart of the future of the web. Is the overall arc of the future web for the benefit of commercial interests or for the public good? Of course, it will be a mixture of both but which one will be the dominant force? If we stay with the status quo it is easy to see which side will be favored.
Information Discovery Applications
This one is my obsession. What could an emergent application layer bring to information discovery among the connected? To help bring people deeper into experiences. To allow them to easily verify the authenticity of authorship and trustworthiness of the content discovered. To allow the user to reach deep inside their interests and situations to reveal content that speaks to them viscerally and intellectually. To align user interests with other users based on their professional, academic, or personal backgrounds to reveal experiences that resonate more fully within the exchange. To blend the real world with the digital world through immersive technologies such as VR, AR, and Spatial computing to engage users with objects and situations like no other time in the history of the human experience. To empower users with tools to be influential over their means of discovery to be challenged and to challenge to grow their understanding of the world around them.
Unfortunately, this is not the web as we know it. Maybe in pockets of applications but users are far from influential over their own experiences on the greater web. By and large, they are servants to it, becoming more of a product to be monetized than individuals to be purposefully engaged with. Something that has been brilliantly unpacked in the recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma where a host of insiders warn how Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other big tech players are creating technology to trigger addictive dopamine rushes in users, mine user attention for profit, and socially engineer user behavior through manipulation and persuasion. The web it argues is treating humans as a commodity by digging deep into their brain stems to prey on their most basic instincts to influence consumption.
I think it is a fair argument when you look at the paucity of tools to help users condition their feeds of information there is no surprise in what is filling the void. From predictive text forming thoughts, to analyzing behaviors to influence future ones best suited to the needs of providers, to the removal of information contrary to common understanding; information has become a powerful tool for authority over thought rather than tools for deep inquiry and engagement. Add onto this a mind-numbing media complex barraging users with duplicative content harvested through bots, ad networks flooding our senses with non-relevance and interruptions, and news feeds trolling for the lowest common denominator through headline baiting and one has to wonder where this will lead within the next 5 years.
To me, the future is dire if efforts are not made to reverse these trends. And I believe it lies more at the feet of the application layer than anything else. Specifically, with discovery tools. Build it purposefully and they will come in kind should be the motto for the future of the web. Although I enjoyed the Social Dilemma, I have to admit I was let down a bit by the abundance of problems identified without many solutions offered. One solution offered in the documentary was for people to leave social altogether but I believe the social connection has the potential to be inspiring and deeply resonant if it were in the hands of the people. Same thing with search and other methods of discovery but to be candid I don’t see toolsets rendered by multi-billion dollar corporations such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google making significant changes to empower users. That ship has sailed. Big will never go back to small in my opinion. They probably couldn’t if they tried as there is so much pressure from shareholders to deliver perpetual growth which will always be at the expense of quality engagement for the user.
No, I believe the path forward is to build an endless supply of smaller applications built on open and secure standards to allow people to connect and exchange experiences outside the control of silos and providers. Actually, more reminiscent of how the web was originally built. How would this be possible when big tech has such a stronghold on users? I believe it will have to come from users and developers pushing the creation of applications outside the control of providers and the network to inspire better frameworks and legislation to come from these efforts. A bottom-up approach to effectively build better systems from the efforts of the people.
And I feel information discovery tools should be at the heart of this movement to build better tools to engage the potential of the connection rather than manipulate it.
How to affect this change?
By encouraging high school labs and college computer science departments to experiment with new ways for users to discover and share experiences outside the influence of networks and providers. To help find purpose within the connection. Facebook was founded out of a Harvard dorm room. Imagine the possibilities if resources were applied to the innovative potential of learners within collaborative environments built around the ideas of user empowerment.
By creating grant programs to inspire developers and innovative thinkers to build applications at the community level to help members of the communities to discover resources, interact with legislation affecting the communities, and engage with those entrusted with growing and protecting their communities.
By harnessing social impact funds and philanthropic funding to create an ecosystem of social applications to make available for free and without ads as a public utility to help bring people together to share ideas, access resources, and encourage learning.
By incentivizing businesses through tax breaks and subsidies to use or build emergent applications to empower their workforce, management teams, and potential hires around the notion of aligning individual interests and capabilities with opportunities. Not through top-down directives to maximize profits but from within to explore the true potential of labor,
What would emergent discovery applications look like? At the core would be alignment or a word I’ve been using quite frequently which is Tuning. To reach deep inside oneself to articulate and dig for interests and situations then tune these to information, products, services, situations, and even objects found through VR/AR found through the connection. Mind you this only works in a decentralized and secure connection since the last thing anyone would want to do is share their innermost interests and situations in the connection only to be harvested and manipulated by government and business concerns.
This is the reason it is so important to separate our data from the application and to flip the narrative of the user logging into a service to a service asking permission to access the user’s data. A role reversal that would seed unlimited user potential for discovery throughout the connection. What could users tune to their interests and situations when these roles are reversed. Here are a few ideas.
Civically, users could align their interests, situations, and feedback with pending legislation, policies, and procedures happening within their communities affecting their livelihood, well-being, and access to opportunities. Instances currently hidden behind walls of file formats, bureaucracy, and political proxies that when liberated could increase the buy-in of the electorate while decreasing dissonance.
Professionally, users could align their interests and situations with opportunities within the marketplace beyond the confines of traditional administrative roles and conventional work silos reaching deep inside the dynamics and personalities involved with the opportunity to surface unrealized capabilities.
Socially, users could align their interests and situations with others to discover character traits, shared experiences, interests, and passions to transcend beyond the binary world of agreement versus disagreement the social connection delivers today.
Commercially, users could align their interests and situations with products, services, and situations to move beyond merely a transaction to a measure of trust and engagement with brands to meet the needs and desires of the user. I always say it is not advertising if you are interested. The state of advertising on the web is a lazy layer of behavior manipulation technology slapped on top of a 100-year-old madison avenue model. There are a host of innovative companies out there looking to evolve this space, so I am looking forward to having conversations with those who see value in the interests of the users as much as the providers.
Personally, users could align their interests and situations with information, entertainment. and news from sources to relate to and inspire deeper levels of engagement and inquiry. Currently, engagement is treated as more of a monetization strategy where algorithms condition relevance of discovery for the benefit of the provider but what would be possible when discovery would be conditioned for what lies deep inside the user without fear of outside influence. Not to discover what is popular on the outside but what resonates from within. Not to be fed what is divisive but invited to what stimulates understanding whether one agrees or not. To have a trust mechanism built into the DNA of every discovery tool allowing the user to easily view sources and flags to alert for potential inconsistencies found in the content. To be able to tune what is read, listened to, or watched based on what lies within the content and the background, profession, education. or interests of the author.
But not only what one brings in to shape inquiry but what is offered back in feedback to shape engagement. In an emergent application, feedback would be baked into the discovery process beyond comments and rating of only the quality of the content but the quality of the experience overall. Was the content informative? Was it trustworthy? Were there passages that resonated more than others? Did the content lead to a positive action? Not metadata for outside interests to influence future behaviors but metadata to help future discovery and if specific permissions were granted to help authors or services improve the quality of content and services offered.
I have recently been digging into the theory of Cybernetics on building better systems and realized a similarity in what I am talking about in their theory with the importance of feedback in building better systems. If this is broken down to its very core, the quality of the feedback we give back to systems of business, government, and social will determine the health of the related systems. But feedback is highly influenced by the input received. Increase the quality of the input and quality output will follow which will help define better systems. Of course, there are many variables involved with this but giving people the ability to tune their input and output based on what motivates them will bring more purpose into the system. Especially when tools are in place to allow reward to be exchanged in the effort. Whether the reward is validation of effort, monetary compensation, a fulfilling experience, or the satisfaction of helping another, the potential of the connection lies within the quality of this exchange. Discovery is at the core of The Emergence because when we discover and share resonantly, we are carrying this forward for the discovery of others in the systems. What could a resonant system of discovery do in the areas of government, business, and social interactions? The sky’s the limit.
If this sounds like a bit more work than the passive feed culture we live in, it is. But easy and quick in the hyper-connected world we live in is proving to only amplify the worst of what resides in all of us already. Our thoughts are now a product and engineered to maximize profits and we are only in the beginning phase if something is not done to reverse the course we are on. The early days of these new tools may require a bit more work from the user but over time will become more intuitive if the willpower is there to take this on. I am hoping the work with the solid framework, Singualritynet, and Etherium to name a few will inspire the building of these tools but it will be the innovative spirit of the devs and idea smiths who will be the ones who push this future forward. To completely rethink the purpose of information as more of a tool wielded by people to build better societies rather than tools for societies to build better people.
One of my biggest complaints about communication technologies outside of control issues is the amount of friction that remains within the exchange. I have been saying this for years and will continue to shout about it. What is the difference between an email, a text, a word doc, a video file, an audio file, or a dataset? Absolutely nothing if you treat them all as instances within experiences to create, consume, and share. Vannevar Bush theorized about this in 1948 with his essay, As We May Think where he describes a future memex machine creating trails of experiences for users to create and follow. Fast forward 70 years and we have not built trails to discover experiences on our own accord and thoughtfully but highways to deliver us to destinations predictively and expeditiously. In the future, experiences should be seen as connecting user’s trails of instances within experiences by phone number, email address, or web id, removing the middlemen of relevance connecting the specifics over the generalities of life.
I’d like to do a little thought experiment on this to help work through this concept. Imagine you’re on a hike when you come across hieroglyphics on a rock that intrigues you. You take a picture that is stored in your personal vault or maybe in the future your solid POD. From within your vault without logging into any other service, you text the photo to a friend who comments she knows a professor of linguistics who could help translate the symbols into text. This comment would be stored in the friend’s vault but would be embedded in yours which would be attached to the photo. Both the photo and comment would exist as a shared experience accessible only to the owners of the respective vaults.
Now the friend invites the professor into the shared experience through their web I.D. who adds snippets of text from a public vault and a private vault both carrying a link back to the source material as well as the professor’s translation. You then decide to make this shared experience public and proceed to email potentially interested friends from within your vault to invite them to add commentary and resources. Since the shared experience is set to public, algorithms on the decentralized web crawl the metadata of the shared experience for level of engagement and the backgrounds of the participants whose profiles are set to public to help others on the web discover an experience born from the real world supplemented by the digital. After a while you decide the application facilitating the shared experience lacks in feature sets so you decide to move the entire experience over to a new provider who offers fact-checking, a customized AI to inspire deeper engagement, a tunable ad model to each user experience to raise money for the park where the hieroglyphic was discovered, and a better UI. All the while your data and that of your collaborators stays in their personal vaults.
As you may notice, within this entire thought experiment, absolutely no data is shared outside the explicit interests of the participants. I might be off on some of the specifics in what could be rendered but the concept is possible and is necessary if we want to dig to find what resides inside the best of us. To create more of an emergent network than a social network to engage the potential of the users. Something personal, securable, and scalable to help resonate the potential of people into systems of business, government, and social.
Currently, our instances are stored in the vaults of corporations and governments where when we log in to their silos, we ask for their permission to use our experiences, and by default give them ownership. Better yet they also tell us how we should discover and use our instances and that of others based on algorithms used on our behalf. It is literally like living in a car driven by a complete stranger who is paid by a corporation to take us where they want us to go. Yes, we can get out at any time we want as long as we are willing to walk.
These cars storing our experiences are made of components only accessible to the largest corporations to drive our future forward. Whether it is a word doc, spreadsheet, and increasingly the web or any other means of communication provisioned by big tech, they have the keys and we are the passengers. As Marshal McLuhan said in the 1960s, the medium is the message which has ended up incredibly prophetic. But the messages within the exchange, which are a collection of our experiences, are more influenced by the mediums of TV, Radio, Print, and the web than what Marshall McLuhan could have ever imagined because now the connection is two way, 24/7, and real-time. An environment ripe for manipulation when we are not in control of the toolset and the algorithms feeding our realities. Big tech and big media have built an ecosystem where how they sell us is becoming more important than what they are selling us, where the value of distraction has trumped the value of deep engagement.
What If The Status Quo
As I reflect back with my new emergent lens, in the early days of the web, I would have had reason to be hopeful this toolset I describe would already be here. We had open blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, and comments managed through an open connection. It wasn’t perfect but it was ripe with possibilities to scale to at least a modicum of the future I wished for.
Who am I to envision such a future? Absolutely nobody. Which is the point. This web wasn’t going to be built for the movers and the shakers. This web was going to be built for the muckrakers, the engagers, and the dreamers. Those who wanted to be a part of something greater than just building another firmament to extract value from the few but a firmament to bring value to all. In a potentially emergent world, the early web was a model to mix the ideals of social progress with the innovative forces of a free market but then web 2.0 put the brakes on this dream as our experiences were cordoned off into silos and the connection became a noisy marketplace optimized for monetary value over human value. What happens if we don’t correct the path we’re on? Where a handful of media and technology companies render relevance and interests to the connected. Where one day these centrally-controlled experiences will be rendered through our smart glasses, literally surrounding our perception of the world with what best serves the market.
I fondly remember showing friends my PDA back in the late ’90s and wondering what it would be like when we would be connected to the internet through these devices. Too many times I was met with why would we need to be connected through a mobile device when a computer was nearby to connect. Not a judgment call at all. Back then, this type of tech was the fodder of nerds but just as many felt they would never need to connect through a mobile device, many today will say they will never wear glasses. I am going to call it now. Within 10 years, smart glasses will be the smartphone of today. There will just be too many potential uses for users to pass on. But in my opinion, this could render a concerning reality if we continue the path we are on by giving up the experiences we create, consume, and share to the network and to the providers.
Before communication technology, those in power had a tight rein on the signal of the human voice to influence the community in the direction of their choosing. Enter the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV amplifying the signal between people yet still influencing society from the top down to include Hitler and Goebbels subsidizing Volksempfanger radio sets to spread Nazi propaganda throughout the German republic , Rwanda radio explicitly calling for the extermination of the Tutsi ethnic group , and William Randolph Hearst manufacturing stories in Cuba through his newspaper to fan the flames for a Spanish American war. 
Over time, the transmission of information became another form of weapon molding knowledge and understanding within the rank and file of society as a means of control. Centers of power-wielding perception over the masses like a sword to instill fear, confusion, and allegiance to the ruling party while withholding and manipulating context. Today we see certain levels of this where information is manipulated to not only preserve power but to push interests with the carrot of convenience to consumers defining how we work and what we are worth. Mass consumerism fueled by a connection conditioning our signal strength while ushering in an era defined by quantity over quality and reaction over clarity. Signals exchanged reaching far but not deep.
I truly believe the overall thread of communication technology plays off our lowest common denominator rather than the highest, serving to divide more than inspire. To incite and excite more than invite. An exchange of value favoring monetary gains over personal efforts losing sight of the true potential of the connection.
We Are Divided
The human condition is such that we have always been divided to some degree but there seems to be something in the air that is different now. Something exponential about how the connection is now and what could come from it without a fundamental shift in how it is delivered. As I discussed earlier, we have the toolset to unite more than divide, yet these tools are under the control of institutions rather than people to render their own better realities. Everything we discover through the web, the results are chosen for us. Even when we search, an algorithm filters the results primarily based on the popularity of the content and relevance based on our implicit behaviors rather than our explicit actions. When we are on social media, the comments we see from friends are chosen for us. When we watch historic events unfold, the original content disappears into a menagerie of talking heads, each with a point of view to mold our perspective like potter’s clay.
A perfect example of this is the first interview between Joe Rogan and Elon musk which I personally found incredibly interesting as there were a number of subjects covered such as artificial intelligence, driverless technology, and green technology that spoke to my core interests. But when I returned to search for the episode to rewatch a certain section, my results were filled with clips of commentary talking about Elon Musk smoking a joint. Certainly an accurate depiction of what happened, yet far from what I found relevant from within the dialogue. Actually, for the first couple of days after the episode hit the web, I couldn’t find the original source on the first page when I searched for the keywords Joe Rogan Elon Musk podcast. What was revealed was just a cascading list of commentary on Elon musk smoking a joint from all the top news sites.
Fast forward to the horrific murder of George Floyd by the police where I attempted to share an unedited video of the incident with a friend to help explain the gravity of the situation without a narrative but was met with an endless stream of videos with reactions and proclamations spliced into the footage instead. Vignettes of experiences out of my control on the web serving as kindling for the fire that was about to erupt, moving the very real and wildly important movement of the protesters into the chaos that would ensue. Chaos feeding off media and tech companies amplifying and filtering the signal to surface blame and anger between the right and the left. No, I am not excusing the actions of the rioters but I do understand where the anger is coming from and see a significant role the media and big tech are playing in fanning the literal flames.
We ALL have this amazing opportunity to engage and learn yet we are stifled by the noise. We ALL have this amazing opportunity to bring our brothers and sisters from our communities into the fold, yet we are distracted and divided. We are frustrated and I would imagine far more of the connected feel marginalized as they compare themselves to the real-time Joneses or are so overwhelmed with non-relevant information they might feel what kind of impact could they make anyhow. Do we truly see each other or has our perspective been manipulated rather than elevated? Communication technology is not only helping to divide us, it is also not utilizing our capabilities and interests to their full potential, slapping a layer of technology on antiquated Madison Avenue Ad models and top-heavy worker models defining who we should be to serve the market rather than what we could become to better serve ourselves to the serve the market purposefully.
If you believe I am over-generalizing, what percentage of advertisements through the connection speaks to the core of your interests and situations? What percentage of the experiences you find on the web speak to the core of who you are or who you want to become? Is the web helping paint your own picture or is it painting the picture for you? Now if you do feel the web speaks to you as you have the skills to master it, what about others? How is the connection serving society as a whole?
And that is exactly what this podcast is about however long it lasts. An ongoing dialogue on how communication technology could bring more people into what is possible within the human condition. Asking the question, what is possible when we are connected and in control? Moving forward this is the question I want to pose on this podcast to the brightest minds regardless of their income level, occupation, gender, age, religion, or race. To reach deep into all corners of society reaching past what is expected from us to what is possible through the lens of communication technology. I don’t care if it is a fortune 500 CEO or a high schooler from Harlem, what could be built to help tap into human potential to bring more of us into a better future. Not a perfect future. A better future. Who doesn’t want that?
What tools and methodologies are being built to accomplish this? Who are the people building these tools? How can they be helped to accomplish their missions? What are the barriers standing in the way? How can these barriers be removed? And let me be clear, technology is not a panacea for all of our ills. It is a tool. If we want to move a boulder, we can either blow it up or make a lever. I argue for the latter. To me, this is the Emergence. This is the movement to build tools to reach into our potential.
The emergence is for social impact investors who want to build technology to empower consumers with choice, employers who see their employees beyond only a conduit for revenue, civic innovators, and politicians who see technology as a catalyst for social progress without sacrificing the innovative spirit of the markets, technologists who want to build a more resonant connection, and most importantly people of all stripes who believe we can do better than this.
Do we want a healthy society, where everyone has a seat at the table of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Something written in the American Declaration of Independence yet an incredibly universal ideal. An ideal that anyone in the political spectrum would agree with unless it was tyrannical in nature, I would imagine.
The theme of this episode and hopefully many to come is how technology and systems of thought provide the tools for all members of society to play an active role in its overall health. To increase creativity, awareness, productivity, and empathy amongst all people. To create a baseline for a quality of life based not only on the will of the people or the promises of their politicians but through an exchange of value between people, business, and government. When have the people ever had the chance to put their hands on the lever to balance all three? The flow of information is one of the most powerful levers people have at their disposal. I am convinced when they are allowed to put their hands on it they will do amazing things.
Democracies are never guaranteed. In their natural evolution, through the threads of representation, the strong always rise to lead. When this strength blames weakness over understanding as a means of control, a vacuum is created where extremes thrive. At least this is the way I see it. Democracies have never had the toolset we have at our disposal to balance strength with understanding, where opportunity favors both the weak and the strong. I have noticed over the years, the internet has grown into a framework more to identify problems rather than to work on solutions. It is understandable as problems are a lot easier to digest than solutions. Believe me, I will be the first to admit there are wonderful solutions coming from the connection, but as a whole, it seems to amplify reaction over inquiry trading more in the binaries of agreement and disagreement rather than collaboration and deep engagement.
I am not religious but I am spiritual and believe the reason we are here is to exercise our true potential to improve ourselves and the communities we interact with. Maybe the reason the world is full of challenges is for us to adapt and overcome while we are here. To evolve into better representations of self and how we contribute to the whole. I don’t believe we have ever had the toolset to accomplish this as tools have always favored systems over individuals but this reality may be changing with new frameworks and tools to harness what lies within these systems which are the people.
Whether one believes in God, energy, or science as the reason for our existence, purpose is what could move all of us forward. Purpose not architected for us but by us. Purpose extended beyond the strong and resilient to the unfortunate, the marginalized, and the lost souls. History has proven controls over purpose favors unequal distribution of power and influence “for the people”. Moving these controls “with the people” could help move us into parity with systems of business and government. Maybe this all sounds like a pipe dream or fanciful thinking but I see it as a plan. A plan to help identify and create awareness around frameworks, legislation, AI, and applications to build a purpose-driven future. Technology is not the savior here. It is not a replacement for social programs or philanthropic endeavors. It is a lever to help bring more people into systems of governance, business and social engagement to both help themselves and to build systems more representative of the interests of all people. It is less about how bad the connection is and more about how good it could become.
This is the quest of The Emergence. To explore and uncover what and who is out there to drive these better realities forward. It could be a business leader, technologist, politician, scientist, teacher, student, worker, social worker, or somebody out on the street. I don’t have many answers but I have questions I believe might help strengthen our core to inspire better systems with these better systems strengthening the core of society. A purposeful feedback loop that over time could lead to better realities.
So join me on this quest called The Emergence at the podcast site theemergence.io and on Youtube where in future episodes I will unpack these ideas through essays, commentary, and dialogs with intellectually curious people to surface technologies and methodologies to help move the human condition forward.
I ask if you find these ideas interesting and important at least as a kernel of an idea to help build a better connection that you share this podcast and future episodes with those you feel this may resonate with. I have also created a free ebook and a paperback available on Amazon for purchase on this intro episode and have broken the intro down into sections linked to within this episode on Youtube to make it easier to share relatable topics with others. I am always interested in finding interesting people to have conversations with around these ideas so feel free to email me at email@example.com if you know of someone who would like to engage around the ideas behind The Emergence.
- College Tuition Costs Soar Chart of the Day – Bloomberg News
- New Legislation in U.S. proposes federal data protection agency – CPO Magazine
- Chris Messina tweet on Twitter
- 1033 program to transfer military arms to local police departments – Wikipedia
- Since 2015, 20 states have made Mental Health First Aid a priority by enacting policies that allocate funding for trainings – Mental Health First Aid
- U.S. Suicide Rate Climbed 35% in two decades – US News
- Hitler Radio – Transdiffusion.org
- Rwandan Genocide – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Télévision_Libre_des_Mille_Collines
- William Randolph Hearst Manufacturing Stories – Stanford
Youtube Sublinking to Podcast Introduction (Audio Only)
Opening statement – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=60
The Tools – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=946
>Number 1: User Data Rights – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=981
>Number 2: The Frameworks – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=1076
>Number 3: The AI Layer – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=1775
>Number 4: The Application Layer – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=2069
>>Training and Therapy Applications – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=2997
>>Collaboration Applications – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=3504
>>Information Discovery Applications – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=3775
What If the Status Quo – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=4793
History – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=4927
We are Divided – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=5035
In Conclusion – https://youtu.be/uaVY6zlfYNQ?t=5493