Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What in the World……

What in the World……

          Is happening with Information search and acquisition?

(NOTE: I am starting a series of blog posts dealing with interesting developments in the world of information technologies.  Entitled “What in the World...” [WitWo], this series will present my views of important trends and changes affecting all of us.  While I don’t claim any profound ability to provide insights, I do research and digest many related materials in my quest to understand and accommodate the exponential developments in Information Technology.  Hopefully, I can provide both the ‘what’ and some of the ‘so what’ aspects in this series.)

About two years ago I (along with my son) wrote a chapter in a book (Knowledge Management and E-Learning), entitled “From Self-Service to Room Service: Changing the Way We Search, Sift, and Synthesize Information”.   In this chapter, I outlined, with some early examples, how the way in which we deal with information is changing.  Although not claiming to be prescient, I think many of the trends we outlined in that chapter are now starting to take hold.

Background: Up until now, obtaining, organizing and incorporating the necessary information for actions or decision-making has been solely left to the individual efforts of the user.  The user searched a finite information source (a library or database), found and extracted the needed information, and then synthesized it into the proper format (e.g., white paper, term paper, report, action paper, etc.).  Within this “self-service” model, the user has the burden of finding the proper information, filtering it into the proper format, fusing it into a credible document relevant to the need, and distributing that document to the appropriate parties.   In an era where information was relatively limited and access to that information mainly local (e.g., the local library or a database within the organization), this model worked well for many.  The user simply found whatever information he or she required and synthesized it into the necessary form.  Certainly, modern search engines (e.g., Google, Bing) have made the physical effort needed less (i.e., no longer have to visit a brick-and-motar library) and the information resources easier to access, but the task has basically remained the same----find the exact information desired, put it into the proper context, and incorporate it where needed (i.e., “self-service”).

However, with an information hyperabundance, the tasks of searching, sifting, and synthesizing information may no longer be manageable by human effort alone.  Indeed, the “self-service” model of information retrieval and digestion might necessarily have to change to a more of a “room service" model, wherein alternate approaches to dealing with information have to be explored and, where useful, adopted.

In the “room service” model, the user requests what information (contextually based) he or she needs, in what format the information is desired, when the information is needed and the way in which the information should be delivered.  Then, in an effective “room service” approach, the information arrives at the proper time, in just the right amount, in the proper format, and contextually relevant to the problem or request at hand.  In essence, the user is ordering information to be prepared in advance, not unlike “room service” in a hotel.  If the “room service” is successful, the user will be provided with the right goods, in the right format, at the proper time.  “Room service”, properly implemented, relieves the user of some of the burden of searching, sifting, and synthesizing the information.

Two years ago many of the examples I provided in the book chapter were early, cursory efforts, including applications such as Hakia, Cha-Cha, and Collecta.  These early efforts attempted to provide some of the aspects of the “room service” model outlined.  Although they are admirable efforts, they are not close to approaching a complete solution.  Now it appears that we are much closer to a full implementation of the “room service” approach.

Current Developments: 

Several key developments in the last year provide evidence that the “room service” approach to acquiring and incorporating information is rapidly emerging.  Advances illustrating the tremendous progress include:

·         Watson:  Likely the most impressive emergent approach to acquiring and synthesizing information automatically is Watson.  If you have not viewed the performance of Watson on the Jeopardy show in February 2011, you should view it to get a feel for just how impressive this breakthrough is.  Watson is able to rapidly search extremely large volumes of information, find the requested item, format it into a natural language answer and deliver that information.  Further, Watson is able to deal with nuances and subtleties better than any previous computer program developed.  Clearly, the many uses planned and being implemented for Watson (e.g., finance, medical) evidence the value of this approach.  The next step will be a Watson-like interface for the average consumer via tablet or smart cellphone.


·         Siri:  First demonstrated as a standalone project in 2009 and now part of the Apple family, Siri has a unique ability to process requests and deliver natural language complete answers to many different types of queries.  Siri is now incorporated into the Apple iPhone 4GS and constantly improving.  For many, this development represents the initial foray into having an ‘intelligent assistant’ ready to provide instant information.  As with Watson, Siri is likely to improve rapidly (e.g., adding Yelp and Wolfram Alpha to its personal assistant data repositories) and also be embedded in many more areas (e.g., iPad).


·         Wolfram Alpha:  Wolfram alpha, the amazing work of Stephen Wolfram, is another product which is altering how we obtain and incorporate information.  Unique in many ways, Wolfram Alpha also provides answers to queries in a more complete manner vice just providing links to pages which might contain the needed answer.  Check out the examples of Wolfram Alpha in action to see just how varied and complex queries can be and still be addressed by the software.   Although primarily focused on quantitative areas, Wolfram Alpha is spreading into many other arenas.  (NOTE: Wolfram Alpha is linked to and integrated into Siri, adding the abilities of the Wolfram Alpha engine to the Siri intelligent interface, thus boosting the capabilities of both.)


·         Google “Knowledge Graph”: Not to be left out of the evolving way in which we search, sift and synthesize information is Google.  The search giant is also well into developing a more robust way of providing information.  Within the past few months, Google has introduced its “knowledge graph” concept for representing information and information linkages.  This knowledge graph contains 500 million entities liked by tens of thousands of different types of relationships (including relationships between people and places, things, etc).  With the knowledge graph, Google can now provide more complete answers to queries, including more focused context.  By using the knowledge graph relationships, the Google search engine can automatically make connections of value, based on inter-relationships.  Similar to how Siri is used, the new Google approach is now embedded in Android smartphones.


·         Microsoft Satori: Perhaps the least known development in making the web better understood (so as to provide more complete answers) is the Microsoft effort, Satori.  Like Google, Microsoft has compiled its own knowledge graph containing 350 million entities.  Incorporating Satori into the Bing search engine will provide users with much more context relevant search results.  Also, like Google and Apple, the improved search engine approach will be a prominent feature on mobile devices.


·         Others: There are other efforts also on the horizon or already underway.  One of the earliest reasonably successful efforts is Ramona from the futurist Ray Kurzweil.  Chatbots, like Ramona, add the dimensionality of a persona to the interface.  By providing a knowledge navigator interface (see the original “Knowledge Navigator” vignette from 1987), chatbots are also another way in which information is being provided in a more natural manner.  Likely, clever and realistic human interfaces will be linked with the knowledge repositories mentioned in some instances.

Obstacles and Caveats:  As with any technological development, there remain some problems to be confronted.  To me, the key obstacles are not the technology itself but instead two other related ones, namely:

·         Expectations: My experience with many information technology developments is that the expectations of the user always outstrip the ability of the technology.  We expect solutions that are ‘absolute’ rather than ‘relative’.  Absolute solutions are free, complete, exactly right at all times, etc.  Instead, we see solutions (many from the field of Artificial Intelligence) that are ‘relatively’ better than what we have, but not ‘absolute’ solutions.  For some, this delays and negates their use of the technology (laggards or late majority adopters according to the “crossing the chasm” model).  For these people, the solutions will likely never be acceptable.


·         Privacy and Security concerns: For an intelligent agent to be able to provide answers and assistance “just right” for you means they must have an excellent grasp of who you are, what you like, what your interests are, etc.  Thus, the agent will have an extremely intimate knowledge of you as a person in order to be effective.  Want an agent that intelligently and automatically pays your bills?  The agent needs to know your bank account numbers and passwords.  Would you like your agent to automatically shop for and purchase birthday and anniversary gifts for loved ones?  Then, the agent needs access to your credit cards.  If that agent is compromised in some way (perhaps identity theft in the future will include the theft of your personal agent!), then likely some (much?) of your personal information will also be compromised.  For an example of just how much information will likely be known about you, view this short vignette on ordering a pizza in the future, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNJl9EEcsoE.


Conclusion: So, this leaves us on the cusp of having an “intelligent assistant” at our beckoning, available 24/7, contextually aware, and able to provide us complete information on almost any query.  As this new approach continues to evolve, we will soon approach the metaphor contained in the landmark article I have long used as an example, “The Semantic Web”.  Some will argue that we are still not close to having a complete intelligent assistant.  While that may be true, the exponential progress evident in the last few years leads me to conclude that within the next few years, we will certainly arrive at a point where an “intelligent assistant” is available and essential for all of us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Several recent articles have postulated dramatic changes for the 'future of work'.  These trends are not new, but the pace has definitely quickened.  I would encourage all to read the following:

One key finding:

"Technologies like robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, and automatic transcription have been substituting for routine tasks, displacing those workers. Meanwhile other technologies like data visualization, analytics, high-speed communications, and rapid prototyping have augmented the contributions of more abstract and data-driven reasoning, increasing the value of those jobs."

These articles, which include many insightful facts and charts,  make the case quite strongly that, due to technological advancements, we are automating jobs much faster than we are creating them.  Many jobs which are currently done by humans will soon be done by automated robots or other automated means.  Further, for the first time, we are not creating enough new jobs to provide options for those displaced.



Saturday, October 29, 2011

How IT Costs More Jobs than It Creates

Interesting article about the effects of Information Technology on jobs.  For the first time, this decade has seen the economy and productivity grow while jobs shrink.  Although this has not happened before, it will likely be a continuing trend. IT allows companies to continue to expand profits and growth, while simultaneously reducing jobs. According to this article, the main solution has to be continuing education so that workers are being retrained for the new jobs and opportunities arising.

Further cementing the concept about disappearing jobs is the recent excellent article from the McKinsey Quarterly,"The Second Economy".  In this enlightening article, the author lays out a very clear scenario in which information technology advances result in the tremendous reduction of necessary workers.  Very interesting and well supported developments have resulted in fewer workers being needed---and a mismatch of skills with the jobs remaining.

Well worth reading both----harbingers of the uncertain future we face.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

State of the CIO circa 2011

An excellent report, State of the CIO 2010, should be must reading for all those involved in IT or who wish to become CIO's.  The report outlines the dramatic changes in process relating to the roles and duties of the CIO.


Here is one chart showing some of the key findings of the survey:



Note the changing priorities and use of time for CIO's.  Several areas are increasing in importance and some are decreasing.  Clearly, the CIO is becoming much more of a business partner for the organization.  There are several other equally insightful charts and results from this survey---well worth spending some time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Case for Citizen Centric Mobile Gov

Very interesting article about government developed 'apps'.  The government is actually very active in developing applications for smart phones and needs to educate the users on how productive these apps can be by:
  • educating federal department and agency leadership, program staff, and IT staff on the benefits of mobile use;
  • developing criteria to identify better projects and better ways to implement them;
  • encouraging mobile strategy and technology investment decisions to meet agency mission goals; and
  • spurring and modeling interagency collaboration to accelerate Mobile Gov.
The use of apps also has grown impressively over the last year as illustrated by this chart:

Chart from Pew Internet showing the change in use of non-voice data applications on cell phones from April 2009 to May 2010 based on a survey. 66 percent used their cell phone to take a picture in April 2009; 76 percent in May 2010. 65 percent used their cell phone to send or receive text messages in April 2009; 72 percent in May 2010. 27 percent used their cell phone to play a game in April 2009; 34 percent in May 2010. 25 percent used their cell phone to send or receive email in April 2009; 34 percent in May 2010. 25 percent used their cell phone to access the internet in April 2009; 38 percent in May 2010. 21 percent used their cell phone to play music in April 2009; 33 percent in May 2010. 20 percent used their cell phone to send or receive instant messages in April 2009; 30 percent in May 2010. 19 percent used their cell phone to record a video in April 2009; 34 percent in May 2010.

According to the article, "Agencies are starting by taking existing information or services and repackaging them for new devices. In mobile form, these services can provide immediate alerts, save call center costs, and make the most of existing government data stores.
  • Citizens can have health information sent directly to their phones by signing up for a daily text message (SMS) health tip from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Taxpayers can check their refund status on the go with the Internal Revenue Service’s app, IRS2go—saving the IRS expensive, call-center interactions.
  • Travelers can learn about airport delays and what they can carry on a flight from the Transportation Security Administration’s My TSA app for smartphone and mobile Web. While there are contact center savings here, too, TSA also updates answers for all information channels--website and call center-- based on feedback that users share via the mobile app.
  • People with concerns about food safety and handling can access food-safety information anytime, anywhere with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ask Karen. Users with iPhones and Androids can also get questions answered by live chat."
Further, mobile websites provide pertinent information on top government tasks, saving mobile users time and headaches. Some agencies are creating mobile websites for specific audiences and tasks.
  • Disaster survivors can use their mobile devices to access m.fema.gov to find disaster recovery centers and find out how to let their families know they are safe. The Federal Emergency Management Agency designed it to meet the needs of people who don’t have electricity but who have a charge left in their cell phones.
  • Spanish speakers can use GobiernoUSA.gov mobile to find government information in Spanish.
  • Prospective employees can look for jobs and internships using USAJobs, NSA Career Links, and NCI @ NIH Summer Internship Program.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Management 2.0 Challenge Winners

New Page 3

I am a big fan of Gary Hamel (one of the 'big thinkers' I track). His book of a few years ago, "The Future of Management" left quite an impression on me. Excerpts can be found, starting with part 1, at: http://shoptalkmarketing.blogspot.com/2007/10/on-gary-hamels-future-of-management.html. He also has excellent views on innovation, again excerpts at https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Innovative_management_A_conversation_between_Gary_Hamel_and_Lowell_Bryan_2065.  Note that the Wall Street Journal recently ranked Gary Hamel as the world's most influential business thinker, and Fortune magazine has called him "the world's leading expert on business strategy." For the last three years, Hamel has also topped Executive Excellence magazine's annual ranking of the most sought after management speakers.  I think he has an excellent perspective on how management will likely have to change for the future.

Hamel is one of the key forces behind the Management 2.0 Challenge (co-sponsorted by Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company), which started in May 2011.  The HBR/McKinsey M-Prize will unfold over the course of a year and include three separate phases designed to surface the best practices and thinking around leveraging technology, reinventing strategy, and rethinking organizations.  As Hamel states, "...over the next few years the emerging “social technologies” of Web 2.0 are likely to transform the work of management root and branch."  The first winners have been chosen and you can read their ideas and winning entries.

The next part of the challenge will be announced soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Future Work Skills 2020

 Interesting report from the Institute for the Future (and the University of Phoenix Research Institute), "Future Work Skills 2020".  Highlights from the report include:

  • Six drivers of change:
    1. Extreme Longevity - Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning
    2. Rise of Smart Machines and Systems - Workforce automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks
    3. Computational World - Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system
    4. New Media Ecology - New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text
    5. Superstructed Organizations - Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation
    6. Globally Connected World - Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations
  • Ten future work skills:
    1. Sense-Making - ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
    2. Social Intelligence - : ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
    3. Novel and Adaptive Thinking -  proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
    4. Cross-Cultural Competency - ability to operate in different cultural settings
    5. Computational Thinking - ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
    6. New Media Literacy - ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
    7. Transdisciplinarity - literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
    8. Design Mindset - ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
    9. Cognitive Load Management -  ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
    10. Virtual Collaboration -  ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
  • Implications for Education:
    • Placing additional emphasis on developing skills such as critical thinking, insight, and analysis capabilities
    • Integrating new-media literacy into education programs
    • Including experiential learning that gives prominence to soft skills—such as the ability to collaborate, work in groups, read social cues, and respond adaptively
    • Broadening the learning constituency beyond teens and young adults through to adulthood
    • Integrating interdisciplinary training that allows students to develop skills and knowledge in a range of subjects

The report does a very nice job of showing how the drivers combine with the work skills needed for the future.  I encourage all to read the report (about 12 pages) and think how we are addressing these needs.