Bookmarked Livewired (by Robin Rendle)

Robin Rendle mentions how David Eagleman’s Livewired posits cortical takeover (if you don’t use your eyes, other body-mapped brainfunctions will takeover that region of your brain) as a reason for dreaming. To prevent a hostile take-over of your visual cortex. Reminds me of a previous article I read that posits dreaming as a way of keeping your brain from overfitting. That last one by Erik Hoel of Tufts University, enables falsifiable hypotheses w.r.t. sleep shortages etc. Does Eagleman’s theory do too? Will need to read the underlying article.

..we dream so that the parts of our brain that control our legs or ears or nose don’t “override” our eyes during the night. That’s wild!

Robin Rendle w.r.t. David Eagleman’s Livewired

Favorited een post van Erik Visser

Dromen over tech en pkm, het gebeurt iedere blogger op zijn tijd. In mijn geval bijvoorbeeld over pivots, en over feedback loops. Van deze van Erik Visser moest ik glimlachen, had mij net zo kunnen overkomen. [Update: Zoiets is me ook overkomen, las ik later, ik droomde ooit dat ik aan het bloggen was, bij wakker worden niet meer wist wat, en toen dacht, ik check de RSS feed wel even. 😀 ]

Was even vergeten dat de lijstjes die je in je dromen maakt niet automatisch opgeslagen worden.

Erik Visser

I’m currently reading a collection of essays on AI, all invited and based on the writings of Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), specifically the first (1950) edition of The Human Use of Human Beings, Cybernetics and Society. (Later editions apparently miss a critical chapter, unwelcome in the Cold War it seems). Wiener I’m familiar with as his work is important in electronic engineering, which was my original (and unfinished) field of study. Specifically his work on feedback, and its import in control systems. He was firmly from the analogue era, but his formalisation of feedback/control into cybernetics is a building block of AI thinking. Reading about him before going to sleep, I dreamt of feedback systems, sensors and actuators (not my first technology dream). The next morning I felt the urge to sketch what I dreamt. So below a series of images I created from it.

The most basic form of feedback is when a sensor (S) sends a signal to an actuator (A). S senses, informs A which does something. My finger feels the burn of a flame, my nerves send the signal, my muscles make me withdraw. The thermostat senses temperature and tells the heating system to start or stop. S watches the environment, and A influences it.

A slightly more complicated version of the same is when there is a step where a sensor’s signal is processed (P), resulting in a new signal that informs the actuator to act.

Such processing might collect not just one sensor’s input, but a range. Likewise it may control not just one but multiple actuators.

The environment is likely not empty, but filled with other sensor/actuator pairs, where an actuator’s action registers not just on its own sensor but also on some other sensor, who’s actuator’s actions also influence your own sensor’s readings. Now there’s a feedback loop that contains an active agent. Or more than one, or many active agents. This is the premise I used years ago in my thinking about information strategies.

An environment filled with active agents of various kinds that have sensors and actuators influencing each other, create all kinds of interdependencies and levels of complexity that allow emergence. It also creates a need for new sensors that can capture that emergence by being able to spot patterns. This is the point where it is easy to see why Wiener’s thinking about feedback and control isn’t just an engineering aid but also useful in looking at societal factors, and in AI.

There was a Norbert Wiener association in my electronic engineering department, representing those interested in control technology. I also had a co-student called Norbert, which we nicknamed Nurbs for some reason. This got mashed up in my dream and turned into dreaming that the unit of feedback was a Nurbs, as in microNurbs (μN) and TeraNurbs (TN). 😀

Dreaming of Tags
Shortly before waking up one morning, while camping in the Austrian Alps in the past weeks (as seen above) I had a dream about tags. Or rather I dreamt that my brother in law had created a database in which each data item was treated and useable as a tag as well. In my dream I was very enthusiastic about this idea. When I woke up Elmine asked me ‘what does that mean, that everything is a tag?’. We kept coming back to the topic, and at the end of the day had a conversation around it over a couple of Weizen beers.

Tags do Double Duty
Tags serve two functions. First they are descriptors, and in that sense subservient to the piece of data they describe. But they are also pivots, i.e. turning points in your path through data. A pivot allows you to see the same set of data, or a different set of data which overlaps the current one, in a different view.

If you go to the picture above and follow the tag ‘huben’ on the right, you are presented with a number of pictures that are also tagged ‘huben’, so you can navigate to a different photo within the context of ‘huben’ and so on. Pivots are the forks in the road of your surfing.
When everything is a tag as in my dream, then everything is a pivot as well. This reminds me of the view on data-items the people of Mediamatic have: everything is a thing. So a thing can be a tag, but also a list of tags, or the entire Flickr-database, or any part thereof. In my dream everything was a tag, a pivot.

Pivots in Social Software Triangles
My description of social software as triangles, which got quite a good response at the time, put tags as pivots in the center view: social applications allow you to navigate from one app to another through their tags as pivot points.

From a Flickr photo to a point on a Yahoo or Google map, to a location in Plazes, or to photo’s taken geographically nearby. The thing is, I cannot directly jump from a Flickr photo to the corresponding location in Plazes. I could if the Plaze itself was the tag. In my 2006 posting I already indicated that where now usually a tag is in the triangle, there basically could be anything. As long as the other two points are a person and a object of sociality. So you could theoretically jump directly from a picture to an event to a place to a review to the author back to the picture again. If tags could be more than just a descriptive word they would be better pivots.

(image from the triangle posting last year)

Need More Pivots!
Hence I concluded that my dream was basically a call for more pivot points in social media. So that we can navigate our web apps better, and build better personal information strategies.
Question remains who has the rights to the concept of a database where everything is tags: me because it was my dream, or my brother in law as he came up with it in my dream and showed me a working prototype 🙂