Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Future of Search - How contextual mobile Search will predict what we want before we even know what we want



My life is defined by seats - airline, restaurant, concert, theater, train, car, conference - but the next minute of my existenaqce is defined by my oversized Japanese tatami bed.  The alarm, seconds away from screaming the arrival of a new day.  My brain already races as it preprocesses the details of the day ahead.  Absolute quiet is disturbed only by the muted soft sounds of gears slowly turning as the tightly wound coil of my old mechanical alarm clock unwinds.  I stare at the minute hand - with its ceaseless radial movement - it momentary reaches apogee - 6:00 a.m.  Like Thor and his anvil - there’s nothing that replicates two metal surfaces violently colliding - not processed or synthesized.  There’s something so old school in the sound of real metal striking metal.  Yet even a throw away phone can digitally reproduce the sound of my analog alarm in 16 bit clarity.  Am I holding onto a delusional past, like audiophiles with their vinyl records? As I ponder my nostalgic thoughts, the cacophony of musical disorder from the alarm announces my day of more seats ahead: toilet, kitchen stool, taxi, airline, limo and lastly, the Aeron of a stealth startup.

Normally I would have moved at a slower pace after numerous martinis and champagne toasts the night before.  But excitement and anticipation masks any hangover I might be experiencing.  Being a so-called tech documentary screenwriter, I meet famous people. Though, sadly my Flickr account is pathetically devoid of any celebrity actually seen on the silver screen.  Instead, my online album is more like a Stanford and MIT alumni gathering.

As the vibrations that just proclaimed the start of my day slowly dissipate, I stare at the box.  One slowly opens the lid as if it were an Egyptian Pharaoh’s burial chamber to reveal the true treasure inside - the world’s first mobile phone that natively supports the so-called semantic web.  Like a connoisseur of fine wine, I subject my nose to the electronic aroma of the hermetically sealed device. Its polyethylene protective wrap, like the cork of a vintage Chateau Latour; once opened, the aromatic senses are overwhelming, sending chills down one’s back.  

This morning, neither the electronic aroma nor the actual device is the cause of my adrenaline.  Like most seismic shifts in one’s life or disjointed nonlinear jumps in the evolutionary process, one doesn’t typically see it immediately.  Most so-called revolutionary jumps only turn out to be an over-hyped ‘TransMeta’ or a ‘Ginger’.

The rush of dopamine and my innate instinct overwhelm me - by nightfall I’ll witness that rare moment in time that changes everything.  Like that hot summer evening in 1879 when a certain carbon-based filament results in the first sustainable burn for an incandescent lamp or that chilly winter morning of 1947 when the first amplified signal from a solid state device was detected.

When Markus Demetrius called the other week demanding that I bring the device to D.C for an interesting demonstration, I knew by his understated boast and the fact that publicly no one even knew I was getting this device was all the more reason for today’s adrenaline. 

In my university days of neuro and computer sciences, Markus’s hyperkinetic energy and his IQ made other PhD candidates feel as if they were in a remedial class.  After he spent the last decade in the NSA, conversations with him were infrequent and dry.  When Markus informed me that he has been surreptitiously working together with Wolfgang Reinhold the last few years, I knew not to take his invite casually.

The deal was, I would provide them with the first semantic phone and in return would witness what they referred to as ‘Singularity’.  My first thought was of Kurzweil and his nano bots running amuck in my brain or some bio-interface.  Either way, I’ll soon be leaving the comfort of my Tribeca loft to deal with the magnetic wand of airport security.

After an uneventful flight guarding my carry-on like it’s the Hope Diamond, I exit the terminal at Dulles into a waiting Yakuza-like car; windows tinted the same shade as asphalt.  I tell the driver to head to McLean via 495.  I don’t know where I’m heading; my final destination is to arrive by text. 

As we pass signs welcoming us to McLean, my mobile vibrates, alerting me of my next steps.  After bidding adieu to my driver, I get into a parked car nearby.  With the keys that were Fedex’ed to me early this morning, I fire up the ignition and rev the cylinders within the engine’s anodized aluminum block.  The explosive combustion of oxygen and vaporized fuel injected gasoline roar like a backyard mower. Oh well - what was I expecting - it’s a ‘Green Car’.  Another text soon arrives.

It’s late morning as I drive through the heavily wooded residential areas of McLean.  Large bricked Georgian colonial and federalist houses remind me of my childhood in Norman Rockwell-like communities outside Boston.  As I approach the end of the cul-de-sac, one home stands out.  Darkened Frank Lloyd Wright lines clashed with shiny Gehry curves.  As I pull into the secluded driveway, a pair of eyes from behind a heavily draped window silently announces guests are not welcomed.

After a quick retinal scan at the side entrance, the sound of pneumatic locks unbolting is heard as the door swings open and my old roommate Markus of years past greets me.

Markus, with a day’s old beard and skin looking like it’s not seen sun in months,  is not about to win an award for healthy living.  His clothing hangs on his tall wiry frame as if he is missing critical body mass.

After finishing my coffee, Markus informs me Wolfgang is ready to meet.  Another retinal and finger scan.  I feel the reverberation of reinforced bolts unlocking and the sudden rush of ionized basement air as the heavy steel door opens.  The hum of an overworked ventilation system is at first irritating, but as we descend the steel steps, the noise diminishes and the temperature noticeably decreases.  It’s quickly obvious why.  With enough oversized flat screen monitors and computer equipment, it could pass for mission control at AT&T network central.

Most programmers’ inner sanctuaries look like an archeological treasure trove with layers of their daily life stacked upon each another.  Here it was different, almost having a clinical feel to it.  One could sense something is intricately being crafted.
His shoulder length tangled blond hair and his tall lanky frame is my first details I notice of Wolfgang.   Eyeing my carry-on bag; it’s obvious where his interests lie.

We walk over to a steel table. A few white papers on NSA security protocols and a laptop are the only things on it.  Like a diamond or drug buyer about to inspect the goods, Wolfgang and Markus hover around the table in anticipation.

As I pull the device out of its protective box and lay it on the table, Wolfgang’s first words are ‘Is it Charged’ and can he put his SIM into it?  I answer affirmative to both queries.  With surgeon like precision, an exacto knife is drawn across the protective polyethylene and a new SIM inserted.  From the laptop on the desk, he informs me he’s already Bluetooth bonded and unlocked the phone.

With heuristic voice recognition long being native to mobile phones, the need for a physical keypad seems dated as a rotary dial.  The device is a thing of simplicity and beauty. The rectangular slab of semi opaque glass like material is roughly the size of an iPhone, but a quarter of the thickness.  There are no external buttons, plugs or power inputs.  With wireless syncing and near field battery charging, it’s like holding the neo Paleolithic monolith from Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. But looks are secondary for this device; it’s what’s running the inside where the magic starts. 

While Wolfgang ferociously attacks the keys of his laptop, he starts to explain what I’m about to witness.  In his slight German accent, “The old Web 2.0 revolution that started the toy industry of mash-ups and so-called distributed web services, was actually building the foundation and protocols of what we now know as the semantic web.  No longer do you need human intervention for trivial queries like, ‘Show me nearby sunny holiday destinations with water sports, Saint Tropez-like nightlife and Adour Alain Ducasse-like French cuisine’.  Remember how long it would take a travel agent to process and find a destination that match a similar query?  Now with the semantic web, these queries are easy.”

Wolfgang goes on to explain, “Search as we know ends today.  Like the transition from ape to human with genetic mutation of a neuropsin-based protein that led to the evolution of a brain capable of understanding language and mathematics.  If I need to give a logline of what Singularity is, I would say it’s where search is now understands both socially and contextual level. But it’s so much more…”

End of Part 1...

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