You have arrived at the web home of Noah Brier. This is mostly an archive of over a decade of blogging and other writing. You can read more about me or get in touch. If you want more recent writing of mine, most of that is at my BrXnd marketing x AI newsletter and Why Is This Interesting?, a daily email for the intellectually omnivorous.

March, 2008


To be honest I have no idea what this is about as I start writing, all I know is that over the last half hour I have had a wonderfully serendipitous reading exploration that I felt like sharing. There may be conclusions to draw, there may not, I won't really know until I'm done writing.

It started with a quote from Tim Berners-Lee's original proposal of the world wide web. In discussing why he was doing this, Berners-Lee explains that the storage system for ideas must mirror the ideas themselves. As he wrote:

In providing a system for manipulating this sort of information, the hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could grow and evolve with the organisation and the projects it describes. For this to be possible, the method of storage must not place its own restraints on the information. This is why a "web" of notes with links (like references) between them is far more useful than a fixed hierarchical system. When describing a complex system, many people resort to diagrams with circles and arrows. Circles and arrows leave one free to describe the interrelationships between things in a way that tables, for example, do not. The system we need is like a diagram of circles and arrows, where circles and arrows can stand for anything.

This reminded me of a quote from Black Swan that I emailed my Mom recently:

These nonlinear relationships are ubiquitos in life. Linear relationships are truly the exception; we only focus on them in classrooms and textbooks because they are easier to understand. Yesterday afternoon I tried to take a fresh look around me to catalog what I could see during my day that was linear. I could not find anything, no more than someone hunting for squares or triangles could find them in the rain forest...

In other words, the internet and it's non-linear foundation is much more "normal" than the command and control hierarchy that was previously imposed on information.

So, next I read a Wired interview about memes with Dr. Susan Blackmore. She explains that "Memes are using human brains as their copying machinery" and goes on to say:

Up until very recently in the world of memes, humans did all the varying and selecting. We had machines that copied -- photocopiers, printing presses -- but only very recently do we have artificial machines that also produce the variations, for example (software that) mixes up ideas and produces an essay or neural networks that produce new music and do the selecting. There are machines that will choose which music you listen to. It's all shifting that way because evolution by natural selection is inevitable. There's a shift to the machines doing all of that.

I don't even know if I'm ready to tackle that one. It's just one of those things I know is important. I also find it interesting in the face of the next quote I read from Anil Dash who wrote: "I've been obsessing lately over what it takes to make change happen, in both culture an technology. And the answer to me seems to increasingly be the embrace of iteration." In reality, this is also what makes life. Evolvution is not anything if it isn't the embrace of iteration. So what is the impact of machines that evolve? What can we learn about our own behavior and evolution? (These are all questions Blackmore addresses in the interview).

Continuing on I came to Zeus Jones writing about the advantages of just the kind of iteration Dash was discussing: "... because of the fact that it's very difficult to research services in the abstract - our research methodology has typically been: build, test and learn. Rather than spending lots of money in researching an idea, it's been far more economic to simply build the idea and then research the actual product." I can't help but feel like the reason all of this works better is that it's the natural way of things. The other architecture, as Taleb put it, is the square in the rainforest.

Finally, I turn to politics, and specifically a piece by David Brooks on Obama (via Steven Johnson). Discussing a speech in 2007, Brooks writes:

Obama sketched out a different theory of social change than the one Clinton had implied earlier in the evening. Instead of relying on a president who fights for those who feel invisible, Obama, in the climactic passage of his speech, described how change bubbles from the bottom-up: "And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world!"

For people raised on Jane Jacobs, who emphasized how a spontaneous dynamic order could emerge from thousands of individual decisions, this is a persuasive way of seeing the world. For young people who have grown up on Facebook, YouTube, open-source software and an array of decentralized networks, this is a compelling theory of how change happens.

Not even sure where to begin with drawing conclusions . . . Need some more thinking time. If you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them (about any of the quotes, or anything else for that matter).

March 4, 2008
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.