The society of objects

Let me give a short disclaimer: this post has something philosophical, and certainly this is not exactly in line with this blog’s style.

During these days I had some thoughts about social networks. Thoughts about how tools like Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare will be influenced by what is, in many ways, identified as the upcoming revolution: the famous age of the internet of things, now on everyone’s lips and, a few days ago, also featured on NYT.

There is much talk about social objects. We are all a bit fascinated by scales that tweet our progress in losing weight or from the idea that our refrigerator  can send us a wall post to tell that milk is expired. These scenarios, however, are the early beginnings of the coming of an age of very different concepts, an age that foreshadows great potential, involving real social objects, able to simulate moods, have predilection for this or that, owning, in fact, their own social “presence“.

Withings Wi-Fi scale at home - credits @matteopenzo

Withings Wi-Fi scale at home - credits @matteopenzo

So: should we expect objects to become so social to use social media to communicate with us and to each other? Why a refrigerator should send me an email or a sms text message instead of a tweet or a wall post, as it may make my life easier? Someone in my social sphere may have visibility and decide to act accordingly (perhaps buy the milk!).

The idea of automatic and autonomous systems interfacing, more or less socially, humans is also not so new: I would say that we are familiar with it. Already today we communicate with them since they are our facebook applications, our IVRs or the superintelligent Google ads and Google itself as interprets our research in real time and suggests us its reality.

Many are also the cases of software solutions that automate, at least partially – inevitably de-personalizing – social activities basing their acts on the analysis of complex, real-time data, that comes from Social Networks themselves. That’s in fact the case of peoplebrowsr, or other powerful aggregators (like ping.fm) able to propagate our data on dozens of networks. These status updates and, in general, these social interactions are, de facto, created by non-human entities that mediate the interaction with the networks.

There is some excitement aroud, about social networking automation . Some consider it a big problem:

“Social networking is about sharing knowledge, experience, and fun. What is social networking automation about anyway?

I have only one definition: Social network automation is spam. “

The fact is that today we are in a sort of limbo where, more or less, everything is allowed. I wonder what to expect though: with IPv6 on the way, as pointed out a few days ago David Orban

“Assigning a unique number to IPV6 each cell in the human body, we can handle to septillion individuals without resorting to NAT”

will be possible to provide billions of machines with an IP address and the consequent ability to communicate.

It’s clear as the day that, after connecting these objects, you should give them the ability to communicate socially with each other and with us, to see the real effects of a change on our reality: we cannot think otherwise.

Now, some would clearly disagree: the social networks are for humans! We don’t want machines or pieces of code to pollute our wall and our timeline! But… on what basis? On Twitter talk: companies (which, I remind everyone, are not human beings, http://twitter.com/COCACOLA), animals (http://puppytweet.com/), public organizations (http://twitter.com/nasa) and more.

Why not a piece of software or a robot?

Hal 9000 - 2001: A Space Odissey

Hal 9000 - 2001: A Space Odissey

Social networks are the new infrastructures of communication and as in the past we have allowed software to communicate autonomously using traditional media, we cannot now, in my view, prevent the interaction of autonomous systems with social networks if not at the cost of undermining their capacity and potential to interact with us and our digital identities.

I believe however, that any attempt to socially pace autonomous systems and artificial intelligences is to be defeated by far: who would prevent the use of free and distributed software as Diaspora or identity.ca for managing and shaping the social interactions of a machine, maybe able to host by itself (!) its own seed?

Why to force machines to speak their dialects rather than deal with us in our language and with our tools?

Assuming that machines are ready: are we ready to communicate directly and openly with them?

Cick more for the italian translation.

La società degli oggetti

Faccio un piccolo disclaimer, questo post ha del filosofico e, di certo, questo non è propriamente in linea con il taglio del blog.

In questi giorni mi sono fatto alcune domande sui social network. Riflettevo su come strumenti come Twitter, Facebook o Foursquare potranno essere influenzati da quella che, da più parti, é identificata come la rivoluzione prossima ventura: la famigerata rivoluzione dell’internet delle cose, ormai  sulla bocca di tutti, finita, qualche giorno fa, anche sul NYT.

Si fa un gran parlare di social objects, siamo tutti un po’ affascinati dalle bilance che twittano i nostri progressi nel perdere peso o dalla’idea che il nostro frigorifero possa inviarci un post sul Facebook wall per dirci che il latte é scaduto: scenari che, peraltro, sono solo gli albori di un concept che prefigura ben altre potenzialità, con oggetti realmente sociali, capaci di simulare stati d’animo, di avere predilezione per questo o quello, di avere, insomma, una propria “presenza” sociale

Dunque: possiamo aspettarci che gli oggetti diventino realmente tanto sociali da far uso dei social media, per comunicare con noi e tra di loro? Perché un frigo dovrebbe mandarmi un’email o un sms invece che un tweet o un wall post, dato che questo potrebbe, tralaltro, semplificarmi la vita? Qualcuno nella mia sfera sociale potrebbe averne visibilità e decidere di agire di conseguenza (magari comprarmi il latte!).

L’idea di sistemi automatici e autonomi che si interfacciano più o meno socialmente a esseri umani non ci è peraltro nuova: direi anzi che ci è familiare. Già oggi comunichiamo con loro: sono le nostre applicazioni facebook, i  risponditori automatici, le superintelligenti ads di Google e Google stesso che interpreta le nostre ricerche in realtime e ci suggerisce la sua realtà.

Molti peraltro sono i casi di soluzioni software che permettono di automatizzare almeno parzialmente – inevitabilmente spersonalizzando – attività sociali sulla base su analisi più o meno complesse dei dati che, in real-time, giungono dagli stessi Social Networks. Uno su tutti il caso di peoplebrowsr, o dei potentissimi aggregatori (come ping.fm) capaci di propagare i nostri dati su decine di network. Questi status updates e, in generale, queste interazioni sociali sono, a tutti gli effetti, create da entità non umane che mediano l’interazione con la rete.

C’è un qualche fermento sulla rete, a proposito di Social Networking automation. Qualcuno lo considera un grosso problema:

“Social networking is about sharing knowledge, experience, and fun. What is social networking automation about anyway?

I have only one definition: social network automation is spam.”

Il dato è che oggi siamo in una sorta di limbo in cui é, più o meno, tutto permesso. Mi chiedo cosa ci aspetta però. Con l’ipV6 in arrivo, come faceva notare qualche giorno fa David Orban,

“Assigning a unique IPV6 number to each cell in the human body, we can handle a septillion individuals without resorting to NAT”

sarà possibile fornire a miliardi di macchine, e non solo, un indirizzo IP e le conseguenti capacità di comunicazione.

É chiaro come il sole che, dopo aver connesso questi oggetti, occorrerà dare loro la capacità di comunicare socialmente, tra di loro e con noi, per vedere dei reali effetti di cambiamento sulla nostra realtà: non possiamo pensarla altrimenti.

Ora, qualcuno potrebbe chiaramente non essere d’accordo: i social network sono roba da umani! Non vogliamo macchine o pezzi di codice che inquinino i nostri wall e le nostre timeline! Ma su che basi? Su Twitter possono parlare aziende (che, ricordo a tutti, non sono esseri umani, http://twitter.com/COCACOLA), animali (http://puppytweet.com/), enti pubblici (http://twitter.com/nasa).

Perché non un software o un automa?

I social network sono le nuove infrastrutture della comunicazione e come in passato non abbiamo proibito al software di comunicare in maniera autonoma usando i media tradizionali non possiamo ora, a mio modo di vedere, impedire l’interazione di sistemi autonomi con i social network se non al costo di menomare le loro capacità e potenzialità di interazione con noi e le nostre identità digitali.

Credo peraltro che qualsiasi tentativo di censura sociale nei confronti di sistemi autonomi e intelligenze artificiali sia da ritenersi sconfitto in partenza: chi impedirebbe l’uso di software liberi e distribuiti come Diaspora o Identi.ca per gestire e dare forma alle interazioni sociali di una macchina, capace magari di ospitare in se(!) Il suo stesso seed?

Che senso avrebbe costringere le macchine a parlare dei dialetti invece che confrontarsi con noi nella nostra lingua e con i nostri strumenti?

Ammesso che loro siano pronte: siamo pronti noi a comunicare direttamente e apertamente con le macchine?

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About meedabyte

Strategist, Consultant and Collaborative Pathfinder

5 comments

  1. The machine to machine communications are going to be, and under certain measures already are, the dominating conversations on the planet. What matters to humans is that the overwhelming quantity of information is properly managed, aggregated, and acted upon by the machines themselves. This is why it is important to delegate decision-making to the proper hierarchies of machines. Once this is brought to its extreme consequences, what you have is a potentially unprecedented amount of freedom, which we need to learn how to use best. See also “Free to be Human!” at MOMOAMS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fb2jpucuOqY

  2. meedabyte

    Thanks again for your comment David, I’ll check “Free to be Human!” video.

  3. Well, let’s commence with the milk empty box example.
    Consider that the refrigerator tweets my family network about running out of milk; then we should tweet each other to inform everybody who will buy the milk, not overreact (everybody buy milk).

    That’s just an example to show how what I call a redundant information flow generates further entrophy.

    Every effective automated information process, the kind of process that actually “simplifies”, is almost silent, and point to point.

    Human being, almost never needs broadcasting. We collect info, and decide accordingly.

    Every process takes time, thus if we spend some time deciding about milk, then we have to leave out some other thing.

    If you are not a trashed minded teenager, you’d probably log in your social network from time to time, and so you’ll certainly find tons of updates.
    Same would happen in a sort of internet of things info network.
    And once you’ll realize that you read your “lack of milk warning” when drinking the bottle your wife already bought, you’ll silent refigerator tweets forever.

    Because the point is, machines have time to spend on tweeting either useful info or crap. They have several spare CPU cycles to use.

    Fortunately, we do not.
    (And 1000 tweets are interesting only for those who are really really lonely).

    Big hug my friend!

    Andrea

    P.S. I won’t tick the ” Notify me of follow-up comments via email” 🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Stefania

    Ti ho trovato per caso, provo a seguire i tuoi suggerimenti, anche se questi cosmetici sembrano sempre tutti uguali. Grazie 🙂

  5. Pingback: Welcome to the Hyper Natural World – A talk with Massimo Scognamiglio, artist and visionary «

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