Amit Kapur, former COO of MySpace, has a fascinating short item today entitled "The Future Will Be Personalized" (http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/16/the-future-will-be-personalized/ Nov 16th, 2010). He has a terrific graph about signal-to-noise ratios and information production and overload. And he identifies various new technologies coming out of academia as a remedy for the near-impending collapse of our human ability to sift through the deluge of data. Identifed solutions include, in particular, natural language processing and semantic technologies.
Yet despite some great analysis and a laudable focus on personalization, the future envisioned in the article is nevertheless disappointing.
Information overload is a significant problem, which hopefully can be overcome with some of the technologies mentioned. But what are the characteristics of that vision of a bright, new world of personalization? Once we have the tools which enable us to confront and to make sense of a growing volume of information, what do we do next?
As presented, the only imagined model for the new world is one in which "you" are a merely a collection of "interests". All the web is good for, it seems, is delivering a better selection of music, the better to personalize your "experience". (In fairness, the original article is fairly short, and it is quite possible that the author has a much broader vision.)
This "consumerist model" of web "citizens" is a dead-end. This model is really just the most mature expression of the same top-down IT model that has been in place for 40 years. In this model, a human being is not an independent actor or moral agent, but rather the passive "predicate" in a sales statement such as "We will sell 'x' to 'you'".
The most exciting new innovations in semantic technology, such as the NEPOMUK and PIMO ontologies, are in part about empowering the autonomous human actor. This is a future of "empowered edge nodes", from which will emerge amazing and powerful network behaviours. But the fundamental building block of successful future ecosystems is the autonomous human actor or human moral agent. In systems modelling terms, the human is the "first class" or "privileged" object.