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Arjuna Ardagh

Arjuna Ardagh

Posted: June 22, 2009 06:01 PM

I Have Met the Future of the Internet

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I have met the future of the Internet, and trust me, it's very, very cool.

The way that you recognize a particularly cool idea is that as soon as you hear it you wonder how you could ever have lived without it. Believe it or not, 15 years ago, nobody had email. What? Yes, it's true. When I tell my kids that, they stare at the ceiling, wondering when their dad is going to stop making stuff up. No email? How could anyone possibly live without email? That's like...living without a cell phone or a computer. Don't be an idiot, dad.

Just imagine, if you wanted to get a message to somebody you had to phone them, which could be quite costly if it was long distance. Or imagine this: type or write a letter, put it in an envelope, and mail it with a stamp. Remember those?

So that's the thing about a really good idea; once you hear it, once you get it, once you integrate it, you wonder how you could have ever lived without it.

Like I said, I've met the future of the Internet. And once you hear it, once you get it, once it starts to flow in your veins, the only questions that remains is, how could we have ever lived without it? The future of the Internet lives just North of San Francisco in Marin County. He's 48 years old, wears wire-rimmed spectacles, drives a BMW and his name is Brooks Cole. Brooks is one of those people who doesn't just think outside the box now and then. He's taken the entire box apart and, through some mixture of origami and voodoo, turned it into a paper swan.

The current state of the Internet is dominated by searches that create lists. For example, if you want a restaurant in LA, typing in the search string "restaurants + Los Angeles" will bring up nearly 10 million results, all neatly arranged into one million pages. Sixty-seven percent of people who do a web-search like this never look past the first page. But the things that is most ridiculous thing about this process, which becomes obvious as soon as you are introduced to an alternative, is that everybody gets the same results. A business man visiting from Tokyo, a truck driver passing through from San Diego North on I-5, a teenage taking his girlfriend out before a movie, they are all going to get the same results for "restaurant + Los Angeles."

Life itself is not like that. If I want to go out to eat in Los Angeles, I am going to call my friend Tinker Lindsey, who I have known for 35 years, and lives in Hollywood. She knows me, knows what I like to eat, knows my budget, knows that my diet is pretty healthy, and she knows the kind of person that I am. If I call her and say, "I need a place to eat in Los Angeles," she is going to come right back and say, "Arjuna, I know the perfect place. It might be a bit of a drive, but you've just got to go to Pietro's, in Santa Monica. It is so you." She might come up with two or three backup suggestions, but almost certainly those suggestions will be appropriate and relevant to me. The difference between search results and the recommendation of a friend is that your friend relies upon countless pieces of information about you -- in this case gathered over 35 years -- to predict, with accuracy, what will please you.

Brooks Cole, with his partner and self-taught mathematical savant Dave Fisk, has invented an algorithm whereby the "Holo Discovery Engine" keeps a privacy-protected profile of you, which allows it to make intelligent and relevant suggestions, instead of generating irrelevant, impersonal lists. But that is just the beginning. The other break-through which Brooks has innovated, and which also, once recognized, leaves you intolerant of anything less, is that it breaks free of the constraints of closed pages.

I don't know if you have ever noticed this, but life itself is not constrained to pages. Wherever you are right now, notice that you are hearing sounds, notice that you can see the colors and textures and movements. Can you turn the page on all that? If you look far enough to the left do you get to the edge of the page? Of course not. Life is a continuum, a process of discovery where everything is connected to everything else. So whatever you focus on becomes the center of your universe in that moment, and invites you to further exploration. Holo's user interface, which is not just a browser, but a cross-device interface that can work on any platform, allows you to move seamlessly from one point of reference to another without ever having to change the page. Just like life. Listening to "Norwegian Wood" by The Beatles, for example, might lead you to explore other songs on that album, other songs by The Beatles, or other songs that made it to the top 10 in 1965. It might lead you to movies with that song on its soundtrack, or to other artists who had also recorded that song. Or -- in a web of interconnection which defies logic but mimics human intelligence -- it might lead you to other things that have the same atmosphere or quality.

Brooks's algorithm is the closest thing that artificial intelligence has come to so far in the direction of true "bio-mimicry." It works the same way that the brain does, by creating significance, meaning and relevance out of seemingly discordant pieces of information. And this is where the future of technology becomes not just cool, not just efficient, but actually translucent.

In 1965 Marshall McLuhan coined the term "The Medium is Message." In other words, the way that information is presented to you is as important as the information itself. The future of the web is not only about more information available at faster speeds, but about the way that information is accessed, so that underlying patterns of relevance naturally emerge. Brooks's technology allows you to directly experience the ways in which everything is the center of everything else, the ways in which seemingly separate things are waves arising out of an ocean of connectivity.

The future of the Internet is not only about the advancements of human technology, it's about the advancement of human consciousness. Not only in our subjective experience, but on our computer screens as well, we are moving from a world dominated by separation and consumption, to one dominated by interconnectedness and contribution.

I have met the future of the Internet. And now I can hardly wait for tomorrow to be here.

Go visit Brooks Cole's website and works.

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