Wolfram Alpha

On the knowledge management front, it looks like Wolfram is about to take a major step forward.  I don’t make these predictions often – based on Wolfram’s track record and what it sounds like they’re set to deliver – this could be the next step in knowledge search, research, and computation.  Meaning – it looks like it’s going to make the Google/Wikipedia method look a tad bit dusty.  Wolfram Alpha is set to go live sometime in May. There’s a blog which gives us a bit of a tease.

Dr. Stephen Wolfram demonstrated Wolfram Alpha yesterday at Harvard.  The video (embed below) gives us tons of mouth watering scenarios, video of Dr. Wolfram typing, but almost no views of the product performing.  It sounds like it’s working.  It sounds like he’s demonstrating something quite amazing.

Hat tip to Joel Katz for the heads up.

Stay tuned…

Questions for Social Media Man

We teeter hysterically on the consequences of rumor
about President Eisenhower’s viscera.

These are Marshall McLuhan’s words (circa 1955) about the impact of electronic media on the human psyche and society.  Substitute ‘twitter’ for ‘teeter’ and virtually anything for Eisenhower and you have a compelling picture of the present age. Information moving instantaneously to all parts of the globe, he writes, is explosive. 

We can, and do, have world events pouring through us like electricity.  I can easily become a twitching, twittering nerve cell in a massive identity-robbing global network.

What are the emotional impacts of this for the individual?

Do we have a moral obligation to be present to all of this information – to feel it?

How can I live if I do not put up walls or selectively empathize?

Who do I become if I do put up walls and selectively empathize?

How Powerful are the People?

Lawrence Lessig just won me as a new fan. I feel like I can breath better after listening to this interview (below).
(For those of you reading via syndication, click through to the original post to see the video.)

Topics include Professor Lessig’s relationship with Obama, national emergencies, transitional government, trust, the virtues of amateur creativity, hybrid economies, copyright (the entrenched policy, the dangerous reaction, and a more reasonable reform), remix as fair use, Creative Commons, his shift into focusing on corruption as the core underlying problem, the influence of money on politics, how to break the political dependency on money, and getting congress to put their reform chips on the table.

Favorite Quote:
“These are not the hard things that congress are getting wrong; these are the easy things that congress is getting wrong.”

Update: Here’s the powerful presentation on changing congress that he refers to in the video.

Why do the 5 Whys Work?

Earlier this year, I wrote about the “5 Whys”, a problem-resolution technique honed at Toyota.  Eric Reis yesterday posted his experiences using the 5 whys in his own organization, and adds an important piece the I wasn’t previously aware of.  The technique starts by taking a problem and asking ‘why’ 5 times, successively.  Why did the server crash?  It didn’t have the latest patch.  Why didn’t it have the latest patch?  Our policy is to only patch once a quarter.  Why do we only patch once a quarter? We don’t have enough staff time to patch more often. etc. This process helps you identify some of the root, systemic causes of the problem.  What Eric adds is the following:

So far, this isn’t much different from the kind of analysis any competent operations team would conduct for a site outage. The next step is this: you have to commit to make a proportional investment in corrective action at every level of the analysis.

There’s where the technique hits the pavement.  Is it better for an organization to have deep knowledge of their problems if they don’t act on them?  There are usually ingrained habits and policies that go against addressing problems occuring on the deep policy and organizational functioning level, but it’s what seperates dynamic living organizations from walking corpses.

It’s important to tease out the knowledge, and even more important to be comitted to acting on it.

How are we Going to Beat Oil?

In case you haven’t heard, Better Place is the effort to completely wire-up an electric car infrastructure. It’s starting in Israel, and Denmark and Australia have also signed up. Tim O’Reilley sat with Better Place founder Shai Agassi for a solid half hour discussion at the recent Web 2.0 conference.

While at PresenTense, I heard Mike Granoff, the first investor in Better Place, tell a story of the formation of the company. While still at SAP, Shai pitched his plan to get the world off oil to Israeli president Shimon Peres, wanting the Israeli government to take up the charge. Peres called him late that night, and told him that it wasn’t going to happen that way. A government couldn’t do it; something like this is the job of a business man – “It’s your job”, he said. Shai protested that he was near the top of SAP, one of the most important software companies in the world. Peres responded – “I don’t know what you’ve got in the pipeline over there, but it better be some damn good software.” The next week, Shai left SAP.

The conversation jumps into the brass tacks of how the technology and the business will work. A lot of my questions on the business model were answered here. It’s a great to see Shai Agassi in action, and really worth watching the whole thing.

I’m psyched to trade in my gas guzzler – really psyched.