A step change

A step change impact on how computers and other devices are programmed or used

 

By Darrell Mann

 

Over the course of the evolution of the IT and software industries there have been precious few genuine step-changes that have emerged to fundamentally alter the way in which users go about their daily lives. The development of the Windows operating system was one. The emergence of so-called ‘Web 2.0’ technologies might collectively be seen as another. In this latter instance, the behavioural step change has centred around a shift from an essentially one-way flow of information from a provider to a user, to a Twitter-Facebook-blogosphere, social-media, crowd-sourcing world of everyone able to talk to everyone.

One of the clear consequences of any such step-change in capability inevitably comes with some form of downside. “Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem” said Henry Kissinger. And very quickly it became apparent that when everyone is engaged in conversations with everyone else, there is an awful lot of noise in the system and it becomes increasingly difficult for any of us to make sense of even a fraction of the whole. For every opinion found on the Internet, it won’t take long to find someone with its polar opposite. Usually to the point where the only consistent factor is unprecedented confusion in the minds of the majority of people.

While this might be an acceptable compromise for each of us as individuals, it can and frequently is catastrophic when we think about anyone in a management role within government or public body, or commercial organisation. It becomes increasingly impossible for designers, for example, to understand the needs of their customers; for politicians to understand how to respond in any given situation. Incredibly high levels of scrutiny mean that even the most trivial of decisions are subject to opposing views that politicians and leaders ‘somehow’ have to demonstrate that they have taken in to account during their deliberations.

The next step change in the IT world will be the much touted, thus far little-understood ‘Web 3.0’ world. The big underpinning idea behind this still nebulous shift is that the IT world finds ways and means of intelligently analysing enormous quantities of information and separating the useful signal from the meaningless noise. So-called semantic search engines, such as those developed by companies like Invention Machine and Autonomy, are a first step along this road. Thus far they are both very expensive and only capable of performing quite specialised knowledge management tasks. Organisations like Cognitive Edge have taken a more complex-systems-theory approach to the problem and offer a range of services built around what they call ‘sense-making’ software. The main problem of their approach is that it requires time-consuming tagging of information, manual construction of data ontologies and inputs from users that need to be delivered in a highly constrained form.

“Akumen is the first organisation on the planet”

To date no organisation has found what might be considered to be the holy grail of Web 3.0, the ability to extract genuine ‘wisdom’ from unstructured input data. In my opinion, Akumen is the first organisation in the world that has created a potential solution to the problem. Their existing ‘knowledge tree’ capability has already seen extensive user validation in a number of real-world case study examples from a spectrum of different domains of activity, all of them involving highly complex human systems featuring many players holding many different views. The next evolution jump being proposed by the company represents what is, in my mind, an extremely potent solution strategy that will allow the capability to be extended not just to controlled case studies within organisations, but to societal problems at large.

My organisation currently has a number of projects with overseas governments that concern themselves with the creation of politician ‘dashboards’, the aim of which is to provide the leaders of the country with real-time information on the traditionally very difficult to measure ‘intangible’ factors that drive the actual behaviours of a population (as opposed to what they say they will do – there usually being an enormous difference). A mature version of the Akumen technology would allow us to build a massively enhanced version of such ‘society scraping’ engines – in effect giving the capability to track unstructured inputs from any and all sources of electronic media and to make-meaning from them to provide politicians and leaders with the context-relevant wisdom they need in order to make meaningful decisions. I wholly endorse the project and feel that its successful delivery would be quite literally as world changing as any IT innovation to date.

Darrell Mann

Author of the world’s leading IT innovation book, ‘Systematic Software Innovation’

Featured in Who’s Who in the World, Darrell is now recognised as one of the world’s most prolific inventors. His consulting clients include Infosys, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Samsung, BAT, Nestle, Mahindra, MindTree, Telekom Malaysia and the Hong Kong government.

With over 600 papers and articles to his name, plus the best-selling ‘Hands-On Systematic Innovation’ books, Darrell is now one of the most widely published authors on innovation in the world.

In 1998 he started teaching Systematic Innovation methods to both technical and business audiences, and to date has given workshops to over 3000 delegates across a broad spectrum of industries and disciplines.

He is a director of ‘Systematic Innovation Ltd’ based in the UK with offices and affiliates in India, Malaysia, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Denmark, Turkey, Australia, US and Austria. For the last 10 years he has helped many of the world’s top companies to create stronger Intellectual Property, participating in the creation of over 400 inventions.

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