Disruptive Web – Emergence of Symbiotic Intelligence

By now you are already much familiar with the concept disruptive innovation that is going on all around you. If you have not noticed it yet, I would like to mention the ubiquitous iPod as an example. Sony’s reign on portable music player that started with the Walkman, an disruptive innovation by itself, was disrupted by a series of new technologies in the form of CD players, mp3 players and then the iPod.

Though the forces of disruption introduced by new ideas and concepts have overturned existing market places and people’s lives in the past several centuries, in the last decade a storm was introduced in the form of World Wide Web. It put its strong foothold on every aspect of modern lives – business, finance, sales, marketing, shopping, communication, relationships, and even crimes. The Web was the most disruptive innovation in the history of human civilization.

The Internet boom was followed by a financial bust for hundreds of companies but it created a pervasive technology that intertwined with everything we do today. It pushed us into the true information society. We are happy to use the Web to check our e-mail and weather before going to the office, do our banking during the lunch break, buy that dream vacation package for a bargain price from an online retailer before heading home in the evening, and occasionally chat with our college room mates using instant messaging after the dinner. We have started replacing more and more of existing technologies that we have used in the past by this all encompassing Net.

Virtual communities and social networking sites emerged in early 2000 (though instances of rudimentary social networking sites can be traced back to the early days of the Web) and the popularity of MySpace proved that we are trying to establish a symbiotic relationship with the Web. This relationship is not with the computer that we use everyday in our works and personal lives. It can be any device that lets us connect to this ethereal system that is all around us. We don’t see it, we don’t feel it but we need it.

We have started using these new breed of sites to establish far reaching connections that would not have been possible in human history before. We contribute to this ever expanding network because we believe in the saying, “I will share my knowledge in return for helpful information from others”. We trade ideas when buying a digital computer or visiting a health specialists and use the collective information and knowledge to drive our actions. Social connections that we establish using these sites help us find jobs, business partners, friends with mutual interests, and even life partners.

For the last 200 years, the Industrial Revolution has provided us the impetus to replace manual labor with machines that do things faster and cheaper. The Industrial Revolution brought societal, cultural and economic changes in human lives. Ordinary persons freed themselves from the drudgery of manual labor for enjoying personal lives.

The Web has brought us the Information Revolution. For the first time, one is able to free herself from the drudgery of many personal chores (e.g. shopping) using the Web. The freed time is spent on getting connected, collaborating, and developing network for sharing information and knowledge. Now, she is able to make decisions using the collective intelligence that was not available before. For example, she is able to order her party supplies from reliable suppliers found in her favorite social bookmarking site, organize her party and invite guests using social a networking site, send personalized driving directions for each guest using a mash-up site that uses vCard and road maps, buy that camera, for party pictures, recommended by her favorite collaborative filtering site.

We have started witnessing the emergence of some rudimentary symbiotic intelligence. People are using collective intelligence to their advantages. The Web will provide mechanisms to mine information scattered over databases, documents, web pages, pictures and videos and then collaborate and connect to address users’ concerns. People will further free themselves from the drudgery of going to specialists like financial planners, tax advisors, or even physicians, for obtaining intelligent and reliable course of actions.

The Web itself is a disruptive event in the human history. Each phases of the Web (are we in Web 2.0 phase?) is a natural progression of that disruption. What we have witnessed so far is information stored all over the globe in millions and millions of networked computers and the emergence of user generated contents, collaboration and social connection.

In the next phase we will see the emergence of sites that will be mash-ups of mash-ups, networks of networks, etc. These sites will further free us from some of our today’s daily chores. Besides being cheaper and omnipresent through held held devices, it will provide us the ability to setup semi-intelligent agents that work for us. For example, after work a person will spend 30 minutes using her handheld device connected to a website to configure her party organizer agent that will order supplies, invite guests, and purchase a digital camera using social book markings, networking and collaborative filtering sites. She will be harnessing the collective intelligence of many people to plan her party.

We already use many of the technologies that are required for the maturing of the symbiotic intelligence. We use more powerful cell phones with digital cameras, Internet connections, and the push technology. University and corporate labs are researching intelligent agent technologies. We are enjoying the falling prices of almost all hardware and services. We utilize virtual communities and social networking sites, and we participate in creating and filtering contents.