system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Friday, 27 March 2009

the semantic mind

Will the semantic web create a semantic mind?

A post from David Armano, an article about predicting divorce and a feature on crime hotspots from hospital inpatients all got me thinking about how the semantic web might change the real - human world - as we're so often told it will.

The semantic web, data visualisation and the objective measurement of subjective phenomena fascinates me - and I began to wonder whether by putting different data sets together, the semantic web might in time, create a collective “semantic mind” – or to put it more simply – make us humans less psychologically dysfunctional, by enabling universal “truths” about the human condition to become more commonly known and understood.

In other words, if data on very subjective experiencing, like relationships and psychological health were made more readily available - might it help people to challenge and change their own, and other people’s behaviors?

Lets take the divorce case as an example.

The research paper I mentioned could predict, with remarkable accuracy, which couples were more likely to be unhappily married based on the language they used. To many psychologist and linguistic experts, this perhaps wouldn’t come as any great shock. But for the majority of people without a training in psychology - they’d miss the clues. More than that. Even if the dysfunctional language hadn’t escaped notice, what mandate would anyone have to intervene? We live in a society world where the private sphere is still almost unchallengeable.

In this case, the computer algorithm has bought an important, but complex psychological phenomena to within the grasp of the “ordinary” person with a web connection. The data has started a conversation (and critically done so in a psychologically “safe” manner, where anyone in distress isn’t being forced to hear it, but is instead introduced to the idea ambiently, and as such is more likely to allow themselves to “hear” the implications for them).

More importantly though, the information has provided concrete evidence of the phenomena of language being a significant factor or indicator of an unhappy marriage. It is there on the web, at the click of a mouse for others to use, reference and interpret. Its core implications can less easily be fudged, greyed out or spun.

In my strand of psychotherapy, it is suggested that as individuals we construct 1 or more “selves” around our core "organism". This organism is the "real" us if you like - the bedrock of our personalities – where our intrinsic value set and personality lie. It is inconsistencies between this organism and our constructed “selves” that create psychological disturbance (so it is thought). Many people believe that as a collective we display many of these same “selves”. It is fascinating to think how many unhelpful, but well established collective “selves” could be examined and broken down, by the use of data in this way.

A cost / benefit analysis on the economic implications of nations turning the other cheek perhaps?A study of adrenalin levels in the blood of delegates at the G20 v. the economic output of the world for the next 12 months?

More on this in later post I think...

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