Can ‘Spiritual Computing’ Drive Web 3.0?

From the Industrial Revolution through the Information Age, technology
has, in almost equal measure, improved our standard of living and wrecked
havoc on our quality of life.

The march of progress has gutted our
countryside of farm labor and filled our streams with foamy discharge;
stamped out smallpox and scarred us with birth defects; brought us
the insect repellent and the endangered species; alienated us from
our roots and helped make the world a global village.

No wonder so many people have invested technology in general, and the
Internet in particular, with their hopes of filling whatever hole modern life has dug.

And maybe it will. Maybe the improvements in productivity, consumerism and
communication represented by Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 are nothing more than a
collective clearing of the throat, the revving of a truly revolutionary
engine.

Technology and the people

If that’s the case, though, how will Web 3.0 change our lives and make us
happier? And what will be the technological and economic drivers to make
that a reality?

Computer scientists and visionaries today see a future in which Web 3.0 will
help us engage in virtual battles with cancer cells, keep us physically
independent as we age, and achieve a deeper emotional connection to things
that matter most to us.

Dana Pavel believes that
technology can make a profound difference in our lives if computers can
understand more about where we are and how we are feeling.

“At some point you want to do something more than accomplish
tasks through technologies and devices,” said the researcher who studies affective and context-aware computing at Nokia’s Helsinki Research Center.

“You want to also address users’ spiritual needs.”

Pavel calls this “spiritual computing,” but is careful to explain that this
doesn’t imply a specific dogma or religion.

“It has to be about whatever ‘spiritual’ means to any individual,” she said.
“It’s more about bringing certain knowledge or experience, not necessarily
with religious connotations.

“But if technology can help people understand
themselves better, that would be good.”

According to Pavel, if computing devices can be made more aware of our
surroundings and our emotional states, it can make recommendations that are
more important and relevant than what color shirt to buy.

For instance, a portable device could “know” you’re in a city’s museum
district and recommend a nearby exhibition that includes some of your
favorites to lighten your mood.

“The systems should know much more about you than they do right now,” she
said. “If the machine knows something about your affective state, for
instance, it can improve its reasoning.”

Other computer scientists have a much more three-dimensional view.

“Web 3.0 is robotics,” said Illah Norubakhsh, associate professor of
robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Taking that leap

According to Norubakhsh, the next leap forward in technology is to take what
has already been done in artificial intelligence (AI) and relate it to the
real world.

“We all occupy physical space and ether simultaneously,” he said. “3.0 is
about taking the ether and tying it back to the physical world.”

So how would this work exactly?

Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft’s robotics group, imagines robots
helping lonely grandparents isolated in the Great Plains states, reminding
them to take their meds, giving them hugs from their grandkids and helping
them up when they fall down.

“The more we can use technology to allow us to remain in contact so we don’t
have to be put in special care centers, the happier we’ll all be,” he said.

Other computer scientists are working on semantic issues.

Chris Dance,
manager at the Xerox Research Center in Grenoble, France, said that semantic
understanding is one trend his team has identified in brainstorming sessions
on the theme of Web 3.0.

This is not to be confused with what Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee called
the semantic Web, which is about machine-to-machine communication.

This is more
about machines gaining a better understanding of human intelligence in order
to better mimic it.

“I prefer to target resources and methods for taking existing
humanly expressed information and turning it into a machine-processable
form so that the information can be of greater utility,” Dance explained.

Such systems will be able to provide more meaningful
experiences because they will have a better “intuitive” understanding of
what users want, Dance added.

“They will more efficiently construct the service that is exactly the one
that one needs.”

Next page: The role of science

The role of science

One such solution could allow cancer patients to visualize and wage virtual
battles against unhealthy cells, said Craig Warren Smith, a Seattle-based
consultant who counts Nokia, Microsoft and Intel as customers.

He said that advances in neuroscience and computer science will create
the backdrop for a richer interaction between technology and spirituality.

This is where the idea for using gaming technology to help individuals heal
themselves emerges.

Smith said that with Web 3.0, technology could finally catch up to spiritual
constructs that have taken thousands of years to develop.

But Smith noted that this does not mean “turning everyone on to
spirituality.”

Rather, he said, “it’s about a more sophisticated system architecture and
designers shaping new technologies that are going to be able to draw people
into a deeper understanding of their human experience.”

Daniel Ries, a senior vice president at Health Dialog Services and a former developer of AI systems, also sees the potential of Web 3.0.

He predicts it will help
people engage in sophisticated role-playing games to help determine courses
of medical treatment, as well as access information from other people with
similar health issues.

“We’ll see a deeper level of emotional involvement with systems than
anything that exists today,” he said.

Many aspects of Web 3.0 are already present in the social networking
aspects of 2.0.

Bill Dunk, a management consultant based in Raleigh, N.C., noted that whereas an individual bee can be fairly called dumb, a
swarm of bees demonstrates enormous intelligence.

The problem to be solved
by Web 3.0 is differentiating the swarm from the mob.

According to Dunk, the answer will lie in diversity.

“If you go to a movie and everyone in the theater looks the same, chances
are it won’t be a good movie. But if you have the same number of people, but
from a variety of backgrounds and genders, then you’re likely to have a
great experience.

“The general idea is that we are going to be accretive to each other. We’re
not going to succeed by entrusting our knowledge pods to a narrow band of
experts,” he said.

And the economic incentive to make this happen is not very far-fetched at
all.

According to Smith, companies that take the trouble to develop a greater
understanding of people’s spiritual needs will reap the rewards of greater
customer loyalty.

“Companies need to develop a vision for transitioning their customers to
more value-added services once they have or can sustain their loyalty.

“They
have to understand, ‘you’re not in the entertainment business or the whatever
business, you’re in the spiritual business.'”

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