[FoRK] A Theory of Products: Magic, Alchemy, Science... and Beyond?

rob van kranenburg kranenbuster at gmail.com
Sat Feb 6 04:14:06 PST 2010

 Hallo from chilly Ghent,

Yes, great line up of what is inevitable!

Some years ago I wrote; " It has to do with my ability to visualise a
setting in which people resonate with media through simulating processes.
Simulating processes that are actual processes, for in a digitised real, any
process might become experiential, might resonate."`

I did not understand it then. Now I do. It is very simple:

The Internet Of Things is the death of any subject-object relationship. From
the moment it goes live, all and every relationship of me and my
surroundings, objects, clothes, mobility... w h a t e v e r, will have an
added component, a digital potentiality that is outside of my control.
Things are in threes now, forever. You, me and a hit somewhere. You, me and
the fix. So what? So what you say. Every generation builds it own add-ons to
the notions of reality, to what it believes are the foundations of the real.
What makes this move so different?

There is a table. On the table a glass. A glass of tea, jasmine? Jasmine
tea. Hmm, good tea. I reach for the glass in a hurry, I gotta run. My hand,
it feels like sweeping it off the table yet gently grasp it. I am not in a
hurry at ll. I can take it in my hand and admire the engravings. I can see
drops of condensed water gently not quite sliding over the edge. I am not in
a hurry. I pour you a glass. I offer it to you. Here, a glass of Jasmine
tea. There are a great number of ways to reach out for a glass. And now this
glass is the one your grandmother gave to you on her dying bed. You put it
on the table. Pour out jasmine tea. The affordances of a lifetime, the scope
of a generation, as your reach out for the cup, the gesture itself becomes
the reality that bridges worlds. No kidding. Just what it is. Try to argue
with that! I'm not afraid to write this.

Let me tell you what will happen, quickly, as all things will be going
quickly. A child will grow up and see a table. A glass on that table. She
will put her mobile phone/device/cuddle next to the glass. She wants to find
out what it is, what it means. She will for evermore and from the beginning
of time do this with and through mediating devices. And lo and behold, a
movie starts playing on her cuddle, triggered buy the tag embedded in the
glass. The movie is scripted by the jasmine tea providers who tell the
stories they want to tell. Finally the real has become scriptable and the
scriptable becomes the real. Really now!

All because for a younger generation the qualities of connectivity are
intrinsic to what they perceive as the object. For us it is still an
'add-on', for them it is the thing itself.

That is why I set up Council
to get some crazy messy human sense of being and becoming bargaining power
to hardcode some poetry into the heart of the protocols, desired frequencies
and get some clear signals out there to take all these horrible wireless
clutter out of the air,

but this is a lame plan as people always get it when it is too late, and so
I'm working hard with friends on a plan b and that is plain magic indeed,

Greetings! Rob

On Sat, Feb 6, 2010 at 3:11 AM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:

> Excellent conceptual map, thanks.  In my own experience with various
> people, including a few years interacting with the product manager for all
> of AOL (who had no vision), I learned that there is a huge difference in the
> ability to A) be creative in a variety of senses and B) be visionary.  I.e.
> to be able to construct a future where a product exists and other aspects of
> reality have evolved and then to imagine a wide variety of responses by a
> range of people.  Having vision ability, with out-of-the-box creativity,
> along with deep knowledge in as many areas as possible is the basis of being
> a Magician.  These capabilities are also important for everyone else
> described.
> Jeff Bone wrote:
>> ...
>> -- The Magicians --
>> In The Beginning we had product magicians.  Their product "magic" was / is
>> a process primarily of introspection;  they reflect upon their own attitudes
>> about, uses of, and desires for certain technologies and, from this
>> reflection, can (or attempt to) extrapolate the needs or desires of others
>> and synthesize product definitions accordingly.  The result is something
>> equally magical:  a "vision."  It is gestalt, genius, artistry.  It is
>> aesthetic, soft, egoistic, passionate.  The process is highly subjective,
>> intuition driven, and qualitative --- and success or failure relies entirely
>> upon the individual magician's ability to execute this mysterious, internal,
>> creative / synthetic / syncretic process that they themselves probably
>> cannot articulate, much less teach others.  Success or failure also requires
>> the ability of the magician to manage the efforts --- often dictatorially
>> --- of others in actually bringing the product to fruition while maintaining
>> the integrity of the original "vision."
>> ...
> Isn't this where the fun is?
> Even in the regimes below, you won't typically hill climb out of any
> serious local minima without at least some benefit from a Magician.  Google
> gets this at least by buying companies and giving people a lot of autonomy.
>> -- The Alchemists --
>> The product alchemists are product magicians that would be product
>> scientists, if merely they understood how.  They attempt to apply various
>> external, reproducible, objective laws, observations, measurements, methods,
>> and so forth to the product creation process in order to achieve the optimal
>> result.  However, there's still a kind of animistic, ad hoc, magical quality
>> to the effort.  They tend to reflect on the objects / artifacts themselves,
>> their abstract purpose and uses (use cases, etc.) and subjective musings
>> about how individuals might use any given artifact with any given
>> configuration of properties in some context to some end.  The methods used
>> tend to be a mix of qualitative and quantitative.  The alchemists have the
>> right goal in mind, but generally not the right tools (i.e.,
>> developed-enough models, relying instead on ratios of bilious and phlegmatic
>> humors) or methods (obsessive focus on quantitative means of taking actual
>> input data and turning it into objective meaning.)  The input is too
>> selective, the data sets too small, the processes too ad hoc, the
>> experiments too uncontrolled, and the objects of consideration too abstract
>> and animistic to really call what they do science.  To a large extent the
>> success or failure of the effort still devolves to the quality of the
>> intuition of the individual alchemists involved.
>> ...
>> -- The Scientists ---
>> There won't be any.
>> -- The Post-Scientists / The Empiricists ---
>> There won't be any science of product, no grand unified theory of product
>> creation / innovation / marketing --- not because it's impossible (though it
>> might be) but because we're going to leap right past that to something
>> fuzzier, spookier, more massive, more inscrutable, more data-driven, colder
>> and yet simultaneously "wetter" and more "biological" --- and more
>> effective.  Bigger, yet less substantial;  ectoplasmic.  Something much...
>>  Google-ier.  Cf. "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data,"  "The Google Way
>> of Science," "Science Without Theory," etc.
>> The basic idea here is:  stop guessing, stop "modeling," stop
>> extrapolating, stop forecasting, stop focus grouping, stop asking...  and
>> just measure and evolve.  Measure early, measure often, measure always,
>> measure everything, measure a *whole lot.*  Let the numbers guide the
>> decisions about what to build, how to build it, when to build it, *why* to
>> build it.  What color should that background be?  Try them all and measure
>> it.  Should I build X, Y, or Z?  Build them all, see which works best,
>> discard the rest.  Should that button be here or there?  Let the (very
>> large) masses decide.
>> ...
> This actually applies to what I'm doing.  I was already planning a
> folksomy-like approach.  This however has inspired me to go way beyond.
>> ---  Beyond-the-Beyond ---
>> For now, humans remain in the loop, the analysts and actors, human
>> judgments and proactivity still essential to acts of invention, to the
>> product-conceiving and product-making creative process.  That won't always
>> be the case.  The next meta-level up the stack is automating away that part
>> of the process, closing the loop entirely, humans merely as reactive agents
>> and input signals, the population as a whole an experimental testbed on
>> which the process operates.  Quo bono?  Us, hopefully.  But not entirely
>> certainly, and perhaps not forever...
>> At the end of the line, we will find ourselves back to magic.  Clarke was
>> right, of course;  "any sufficiently advanced technology..."  When the
>> technology in question is the meta-technology of technology creation, and
>> when you've moved beyond theory to pure, inscrutable, dense,
>> automatically-derived, data-driven mathematical models, predictions, and
>> processes...  the creative process is out of our hands, becomes recursive...
>>  the exclusive domain of focused (if global, hopefully friendly (*cough*))
>> optimizers, optimizing away, refining, perfecting, chiseling away at
>> product-space oh-so-efficiently.
> Should be fun.
>> And so we have a world of agents and daemons roaming invisibly through
>> virtual planes that intersect the desert of the real at select touch-points,
>> a whole bestiarum vocabulum of artificial, narrow beings so eager to please:
>>  barely-aware fabs and repraps and reality printers, vision-projectors and
>> consensus hallucinator-facilitators, stock feed logisticians,
>> meta-compilers, automatic user interface builders and mass customizers,
>> usage statisticians and reality miners, attention heat-mappers and
>> points-of-sale streamers, all manner of other localizers and trackers,
>> transaction and other pattern recognizers, time-on-page and other
>> attention-attenders, similarity-clusterers and preference-predictors,
>> action-modality specialists and subculture classifiers and fashion advisors
>> and memetic imagineers, cluestream-sniffers and cluehounds and sensor-node
>> watchers, remembrance agents and interest detectors, gaze gazers and
>> meta-suggestive sell suggesters, and so on...  more attention and effort and
>> urgent need-to-please lavished instantaneously yet continually on each
>> individual than the sum of human attention and effort throughout history...
> Nice.  Endlessly recursive spin.  Let's hope they don't start arguing
> politics.
>> A swarm of cold intelligences operating for and on us, navigating,
>> searching silently and tirelessly across vast multi-dimensional fitness
>> landscapes of shimmery, roiling, chaotic, noisy, raw, rich, pure data;
>>  mining it, sifting it, finding, reminding, refining, synthesizing...
>>  competing, negotiating, cooperating, mutating, replicating, mating,
>> creating, minimizing the experimental error, "understanding" their human
>> experimental subjects by reduction to pure math..  Climbing that hill...
>>  dancing some weird and intricate dance of creative destruction and
>> destructive creation...  Simultaneously the most personalized, customized,
>> bespoke user experience for each individual, a cornucopia of products, a
>> consumer's Elysium...  a reality tailored perfectly and obsessively to each
>> person, yet not lovingly;  so impersonal, so cold, too...  perfect.
>>  Flawless.  Nothing objectionable, nothing out of place, no surprises - ever
>> (except when you want one and don't know it.  They do.)
>> And the whole thing certainly begins to look like magic.  Spooky, virtual,
>> cold, alien magic.
>> "Wonderful?"  Certainly, if literally.  Desirable?  Arguable.*
>>  Inevitable?  Probably.
>> --
>> $0.02,
>> jb
>> * Me?  I guess I dig the idea.  Count me in.  But then, meatheads never
>> impress me much anyway. ;-)
> sdw
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