The prehistory of data miners

One of the things that I tried to do in writing Sea of Dreams was to base the technology, social and political structures on the present as much as possible. I wanted to make what I was writing a plausible future, even if it turns out not be the exact future we live. In that regard, the data miners, who play an integral role in the story, are based on the current activities taking place with Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

This article in the New York Times on IBM’s plans for the next-generation Watson super computer could, therefore, be a seen as a crucial point in the future. In the world of Sea of Dreams, this may be one of the steps that leads to the development of the independent AI’s who are contracted to find, analyse and present insights based on impossibly complex and/or difficult-to-find data. In a sense, the article already recognises the potential importance of this step.

“The next generation will look back and see 2013 as a year of monumental change,” said Stephen Gold, vice president of the Watson project at IBM.

“This is the start of a shift in the way people interact with computers.”

Maybe the IBM technology will not last and it goes the way of the Betamax or Alta Vista. In any event, the importance is in the change in how we interact with a particular type of technology and the new opportunities that emerge from that interaction. Borrowing from my friend Jay Venti and his research into the emergence of bicycles, there are likely to be many different types of AI in this period, then most of the different types will disappear, leaving only a couple that will exist for an extended period of time and form the basis of a new paradigm. Regardless, the world will have changes as result.

In the Sea of Dreams, the data miners and their human counterparts, the data scanners, are the results of this paradigm shift. Who knows, perhaps they celebrate the 14th of November as a holiday, the mythical beginning of the Data Age that they inhabit.

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