Trip down memory lane; never predict the future :)

According to Amara’s Law; “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”, and by heck was he right! I was just looking for something on my laptop — always a fun experience :( — when I found an article I started writing several years ago, just as social media was starting up and when I was still buried in the content analytics and semantic web world. I was clearly having a bad week and likely had been buried in research material that was driving me nuts, as I was speculating the future of the knowledge worker in this new “networked world”. And by God did I get it wrong. The problem statement is valid enough, its just the prediction that is so overly optimistic. Its kind of funny to see how enthusiasm for technology can loosen your grip on reality :-)

So here goes… a trip down memory lane and Marie on her soapbox!

The future of the knowledge worker in a networked world
Today the knowledge worker is isolated, overwhelmed with information, and buried under a mountain of tools that each present a limited view on a subset of the information. The process of investigating new ideas requires you to construct search query after search query, trawling through volumes of search results, in the hope of tripping over the right combination of information that together uncovers some unconsidered new insight. This iterative approach is extremely time consuming, often frustrating, and frequently non-productive, only uncovering the most immediately obvious facts and connections. To further add to the challenges that face the knowledge worker, they have limited ability to seamlessly integrate shared ideas or insights with a broader community of collaborators as part of the investigative process. This results in duplicate, incomplete, or inaccurate content, can lead to wasted journeys down unproductive dead-ends, and prevent them from uncovering abstract or unobvious connections between concepts, connections that could result in the creation of something truly insightful. To quote IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer” and yet currently all our entire content infrastructure is based on the premise that we already know the question we want to ask (Search) and have the content required to answer that question (Content Repositories).

In the future the knowledge worker will have immediate access to all allowed knowledge; and by this I mean the content, extracted facts, and derived insights. They will have a single set of interfaces designed to suit their particular interaction preferences (voice, text, gesture, …) and will be able to interact with the knowledge across a variety of delivery interfaces (mobile, web, …). Now this is where it completely goes off track :) They will be part of a set of communities built on trust models and aligned along common interests and goals. They will be able to share their personal knowledge map (or parts thereof) with their community and derive new insights through this community of interaction. The physical content will be replaced with a cloud of shared insights, backed up with concrete evidence (information), however as the breath of knowledge increases and the trust network grows, there will be increasingly less need to go back to the original information sources. Knowledge will be the cloud sitting on our shared information sources and will be integrated seamlessly with all our applications.

Next time I try to predict the future, just shut me up please! :)

2 Comments to “Trip down memory lane; never predict the future :)”

  1. “…and 650.000.000 will watch a video of a guy dancing Gangnam style…” if you only could have predicted that! Or Angry Birds Star Wars.

    Nice post, as usual.

    The interest groups did not form automatically through semantic web data exchange, nor did we automatically build trust networks using profile matching and digital signatures. So, most of the NEPOMUKian social semantic desktop vision was – though possible – not fesible nor propagated.

    Still… given the time, we were right in seeing a strong content integration. Take Yammer/Podio/Bluepages (and I shamelessly add my own here) where groups of people form around projects and topics. Trust forms by following social feeds and repeating/forwarding worthwhile messages. Data from all kinds of applications is pulled in and analyzed, shared, tagged, semantified, and at the end: used.

    It seems we overestimated the power of the individual who, with powerful semantic web tech, could become more “enlightened” and effective. Rather, it’s now the social group and effective communication and knowledge use which grease the wheels.

    If this is a lesson learned – that effective technology is based on a SOCIAL semantic desktop rather than a social SEMANTIC desktop – what would be todays prediction for the future?

    (I guesstimate your writing “a few years ago, during my semantic times” may have been during the NEPOMUK socialsemanticdesktop project. If not, I would be interested to learn more about that research and past of yours)


  2. Yep, you got me :-) This ramble stems from our Nepomuk days. I have very fond memories of that period and have to confess that a lot of my current thinking was seeded during that very productive time.

    In fact I was watching a video of one the bigdata analysts from Forrester talking about the future of bigdata and the notion of these “personalized assistants” (specifically Google Now) and it reminded me of the prototype we demo’ed at Lotusphere after the 1st year of Nepomuk; that must have been 5-6 years ago now. We called it SmartAss, a tongue in cheek reference to Smart Assistance :-) We demo’ed a scenario whereby the social semantic desktop was able to read your calendar, inbox, or filesystem during the night and actually do some of the heavy lifting while you were sleeping, such as prioritizing, categorizing, responding, searching, analyzing, etc.

    Then when you logged into your machine in the morning your SmartAss :-) would give you a nice synopsized view of your day and show you what she had prepared to help get you started, such as finding a good competitive analysis in preparation for a customer meeting or a code review that would help with that bug you had to fix.

    Nepomuk was ahead of its time :-)


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