The Dynamics of Social Wishes…

From the Korea Institute for Science and Technology at a Japan-US-Korea co-sponsored workshop on convergent technologies, an interesting idea has been put forward by Professor Tanaka from Japan that there is a dichotomy between scientists who observe (and test hypotheses) and those who design (and create new artifacts). Both types work together to answer the “social wishes” of society.

But how do we determine those social wishes? And crucially, aren’t those social wishes disperate across different societies?

Of course they are. Although there certainly commonalities: we all, I think, want a sustainable biosphere that can support life on the planet. We all want that brain-created thing we call “happiness” (although that means such different things to different individuals).

My plenary is coming up in about an hour. I will be focusing on how dynamics the social wishes of society actually are–two decades ago, the personal computer was a central social wish for those of us involved in data analysis. The emphasis then was autonomy and general purpose computation.

These days, a smart phone and the Net represent quite a different social wish–one that emphasizes mobility, connectivity, and knowledge dissemination. Interestingly, our smart phones are far “smarter” than those early PC’s–but we take the computation for granted and we don’t particularly care about either autonomy….but that connectivity, that’s really critical.

The Smart Phone and Privacy

The Wall Street Journal has been all over the recent Smart Phone controversy–and if you have a subscription, be sure to take a look at the lead story in the Reviews section of today’s paper. In the meantime, our colleagues at MIT and the Santa Fe Institute have gotten well-deserved kudos for their recent academic studies of smart phone-generated data sets as predictive tools for human behavior, emotion and attitudes. Although, as has been pointed out–much of the recent work with smart phones was pioneered in traffic analysis work from the intelligence community in the last century.

On the other hand, smart phones are rather unique devices in that they can harvest vast quantities of data about ourselves in more-or-less real time and to a first approximation we assume they are under our own control–which they may not be.

And that’s the nub: as with Facebook, it’s unclear which parts of our smart phone are actually under our control and which parts are not, particularly with regards to personal information that many folks may consider private.

I was struck recently while getting my new Iphone 4 in the Apple Store how aggressively the “find my iphone” capability was pushed at me by the Apple employee handling my purchase. And later, after reading today’s Wall Street Journal piece, as I experimented with turning off location services, I couldn’t help notice the warning that: if I were to shut off location services, then I would no longer be able to find my iphone.

Of course, the above stands to reason. But I can’t help but assume that Apple is using the harvested data from location services as creatively as Professor Pentland at MIT.