Over the past few days I’ve seen the term “Intelligence Amplification” thrown around quite a bit. This is an interesting technology theme that seems to be progressing under a variety of names: Dynamics of Information, Digital Cortex, Context Aggregators, etc. I like the “Intelligence Amplification” name; I’ve been referring to this same theme around the office as “Contextual Information Awareness,” but it never really stuck.
What is this stuff all about, anyway? Ryan McIntyre describes it as:
software that lets computers do what they excel at (fast computation, “perfect memory”, gruelingly repetitive tasks, statistical analysis, etc) [while leveraging] what humans are far better at (face recognition, voice recognition, any cognition, matters of cultural discernment, language generation, etc).
David Henderson also strikes at the core of this subject, under the “Context Aggregation” moniker:
Web 3.0, the semantic web, Intelligence Amplification, Return on Attention, the wisdom of your crowd, context aggregators, whatever you want to call it is the new king! And the new king works on behalf of the user not the content creator or distributor! And the new king will use ALL meta data, implicit and explicit, about users interactions (attention and intentions) with people, services and content (created and consumed), not just metadata around siloed content to supply the value.
I love this stuff — automated mechanisms that utilize meta-data, click-streams, tags or any other information to keep the user better informed as they use a computer. This is the core of what my company has been working on for some time now. Here’s an example of two mashups we’ve created during product testing that might fall into this Intelligence Amplification theme:
Popup-Politicians – a widget from Sunlight Labs that adds popup mini-profiles for Members of Congress to your blog. A neat tool, but only useful if a blog author or web-site creator actually chooses to embed it in their site. Here’s a modified version of the widget that lets you see information on Members of Congress for any web-site you visit (CNN, blogs, etc.):
I find this modified widget useful when reading political news to check on the campaign contributions and voting records for those individuals quoted in articles, etc. Mashups like these are great because they only bring information to the surface when it’s contextually relevent to the user. Price comparison widgets and similar tools also fit into the same category.
Here’s another example of a mashup that I think fits into the IA theme:
Menu-izer – sorts/colors/rewrites a restaurant menu based on a user’s preferences and allergies. In this scenario, I’m telling the system that my favorite ingredient is tomatoes and that I’m allergic to nuts:
Menu-izer is something I’ve been using around the office as an example of a “specialized purpose” or “single use” mashup. These likely hold value only for the person using them, and should be capable of being created extremely quickly and being thrown away after being used. Use of specialized IA mashups like Menu-izer and more generalized ones (such as Pop-up Politicians) is likely to increase as better tools for creating, manipulating and sharing mashups are made available — especially if these tools can be non-intrusively integrated into a user’s existing habits.