It would be easy to write this question off under the category of being one that is far too soon to ask. It appears that this question, and a host of others, will be stuck with us for the decades ahead, due to the irrational exuberance that poisoned the dot-com bubble. Hopefully once the Web 3.0 bubble truly gets under way, and there definitely will be one, bloggers like her will remain the sober watchdogs that were missing from the tulipmania of the dot-com bubble. I fear that many of the ones now linkbaiting in their blogs with early cries of foul against Web 3.0, will rapidly change course once the rampant euphoria begins to flourish. They will do so to persist their linkbaiting activities and because the euphoria that will accompany Web 3.0 will make the current Web 2.0 mania seem harmless by comparison.
Why do I make such troubling assertions now, especially when you consider that I am one of those looking with great hope to Web 3.0? Although many are looking at Web 3.0 as the next extension of the social networking technologies pioneered in Web 2.0, and others are dismissing it as a marketing ploy to rekindle interest in the Semantic Web, I feel there is a stronger theme that will drive Web 3.0 to explosive levels.
First I need to make a crucial point about what I feel will be the primary driver of Web 3.0. I will return to my cautions on the upcoming hyper-euphoria that will accompany Web 3.0 in a few paragraphs. Please read on.
I feel that Web 3.0 will be characterized and fueled by the successful marriage of artificial intelligence and the web. Artificial Intelligence? Isn't that the kool-aid that the Semantic Web community is drinking? Yes and no. The technologies considered pivotal in the Semantic Web are indeed considered by many to have their underpinnings in artificial intelligence. But, most of the Semantic Web projects I've seen are focused squarely on the creation of, and communication between, intelligent agents that do the natural language and topical matching work in a transparent manner, behind the scenes, without requiring human intervention.
This approach may eventually be viable but I feel that it misses a key ingredient of Web 3.0 that will finally bring artificial intelligence to the forefront. Currently the vast majority of artificial intelligence is embedded in various niche areas of commerce such as credit card fraud detection, or the speech recognition application that converts your voice to text as you dictate a document, etc. The reason for this of course is that we are still decades away from computers that will have the incredible and flexible pattern recognition capabilities of the human brain.
The reason Web 3.0 will lift artificial intelligence into the limelight is it will fill in the technological gaps that currently hamper the key uses for artificial intelligence. It will do so by shunting out the parts of the problem that require a human being to human beings with the help of the web. But, it will do so in a manner that is transparent, massively parallel, and distributed.
Amazon has taken a unique and innovative step into this area with their Mechanical Turk web service. Yes I know this is the second time I've written glowingly about Amazon in regards to Web 3.0, but as a web service junkie you have to love what they are doing. The Turk service allows developers to shunt out the parts of their applications that require human intervention to a paid participating group of volunteer workers, in a manner that mimics a standard web service call. This creates a standardized platform for utilizing human pattern recognition capacity in a modular manner. Google is another company experimenting with something similar with their Google Image Labeler game. From the game page:
"You'll be randomly paired with a partner who's online and using the feature. Over a 90-second period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see."
The players have fun and Google gets thousands of images tagged with relevant text labels.
Now let's take this bold new technology and extrapolate further. Suppose Second Life created games where the players were solving complex problems to have fun, except these problems were actually key commerce problems that needed to be solved?
For example, imagine a game where players compete to clothe a runway model that will be judged in a contest by other players. This game could very well be a job requisition submitted by a major fashion company that wants to get advanced market research on what clothes buyers will prefer. The virtual clothes in the game could be detailed in-game 3D objects that are exact duplicates of the fashion company's artwork for their clothing. The difference between this and someone just holding a contest will be the way that is structured. All the set-up, problem specification, and solution propagation aspects of the problem will be part of a standardized Web 3.0 service call instead of the ad hoc hand crafting of a live virtual contest event.
This could be taken to an even more abstract level where instead of a problem that has a direct mapping to a real life business event, like the fashion designer example, but instead requires a more subtle decision that needs human intervention. For example, the player is in a game and is presented with two different kinds of sounds coming from different directions. He or she is told to follow the sound that feels the most pleasing in order to find the treasure. This could actually be a sub-job submitted by an automotive company that is trying out different interior designs for a car. As each interior design is acoustically modeled, an MP3 file is generated using various environmental test sounds, which are then punched into the game. The game player is having fun chasing ambient sounds looking for treasure, but is actually telling the car manufacturer which interior acoustic space is more pleasing. Since there could be potentially thousands of players, the car manufacturer can have thousands of sound files analyzed in parallel leading to an immense time savings. In the end, the players have fun, the game company gets paid extra earnings for this service, and the automotive company saves money avoiding designs that people won't like because they sound bad.
It's not hard to see that once this kind of service becomes popular, other additions to the typical service call would include the number of redundant tests to make for each case, plug-ins for getting textual input or votes from the task assignee (the player in the game examples), etc.
I will conclude this article with a warning on the upcoming hyper-euphoria. I saw first hand how people lost their fiscal sanity during the first wave of the artificial intelligence hype a few decades ago. Can you imagine how easily investors will become hypnotized by the spell of new technology offerings? Offerings with Star Trek sounding buzzwords, that will make some of the insane claims on the average dot-com prospectus seem tame by comparison. The raw fear of being left behind by technologies and services so futuristic, that images of flying cars will abound in people's heads, will make wallets gush cash again and retirement plans evaporate.
This will only happen if we haven't learned our lesson from previous manias. In closing I have this to say to the doubters and the pundits out there currently warming up to covering Web 3.0, whether for or against. Stay sharp and focused. We'll need you.
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