Automated content creation: pushing the boundaries of human value


The history of human society has largely been about replacing human work with tools and machines. From the plough to the spinning jenny to the computer, people have stopped doing tasks because machines can do them better. In most cases we are getting rid of things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing anyway, and it’s hard to take pride in doing work that can be done by a machine. In a way, humanity can be defined by what it is that humans can do that machines can’t do. That boundary is continually being pushed further, and in coming years we will need to move to increasingly complex and imaginative tasks of synthesis and creativity that computers cannot do.

Philip Parker, a professor at INSEAD, is probably doing more than anyone else to push this boundary. An article in the New York Times titled He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work) describes how he has automated the process of creating books and econometric reports, and has built a solid book business on top of this. A YouTube video by Parker (see below) reviews his patent on automated content creation, and describes in detail how this kind of report is automatically generated. It also shows how Parker is automating video and game creation, for example creating educational programs and interactive language teaching tools, which appear at first glance to be very good.

Part of the implication of this is that, if so much content creation can be automated, what will people need to do to create value moving forward? In Parker’s example, an industry forecast report of 250 pages is created in 13 minutes. He sells these kinds of reports for good money, and does well out of it. In many cases the market is too small to justify a person writing the report. However there is no question that a significant part of an analyst’s work can be automated. The boundaries of human value are being pushed further, and this is just the beginning.

The information processing view of humanity


I have just returned from a round-world trip, passing through Singapore, London, New York, San Francisco and back to Sydney in slightly less than two weeks. The trip was centered on speaking, client work, and meetings to prepare for the Future of Media Summit 2008. However a fair chunk of my time was catching up with extremely interesting people such as Sheen Levine, Euan Semple, Dean Collins, Mike Jackson, Napier Collyns, Eric Best, Shannon Clark, JD Lasica, John Maloney, and Ben Metcalfe.

We now all know that the economy revolves around conversations. The insights I got from my unstructured conversations with these people was immense. Yet the nature of conversations is that they are – largely – evanescent. At the same time, the extraordinary rise of social media means that the thoughts arising from millions of conversations are now available to the world at large. In fact, many bloggers say that they write mainly for themselves, in capturing some of the interesting things they are seeing and thinking. Trevor Cook is just one example of a blogger who writes notes from all of the conference sessions he attends (including his reflections on our Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum) for his own sake, making his blog a repository for personal reference, by the by creating something that others can find useful.

The trouble was, I didn’t find time in my intense travel schedule to blog about all of my interesting meetings and conversations. I will probably post a few thoughts on these meetings over the next week or two if I get the chance, but the reality is it’s hard to do in a very packed schedule.

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Industrial policy in the global media economy


Japan and Singapore are examples of nations that have had highly interventionist industrial policies and industry support through the second half of the twentieth century, with great success. However once economies become developed, the key issues are far less about manufacturing prowess. Today the buzzwords in national economic development are knowledge, creativity, media, content, entertainment, design, and the like. All of these flow easily across boundaries. Moreover, the educational and social structures required to support them are dramatically different to those that support the creation of an industrial and manufacturing powerhouse.

When I was in Singapore this Monday I met with the Media Development Authority, a government agency devoted to building Singapore’s capabilities in the media and content space. Among other activities, it actively encourages interactive media companies, gaming ventures, and content development. Initiatives include media education, supporting PC games, and developing a research ecosystem .

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Live on Today show: how the relationship between people and machines is becoming emotional


This morning I was interviewed on the Australian national breakfast television program the Today show, together with our new family pet, the robot dinosaur Pleo. The video is below.

[UPDATE:] This TV segment is also available on the NineMSN website in better quality.

While it makes for a nice fun TV segment, I actually think that there is something fundamentally important at work here. As a futurist, one of the most important issues I consider is the evolving relationship between people and technology. Throughout history, that relationship has often been problematic, with notably the Luddites smashing machines, and more recently just about everyone having experienced immense frustration with their computers not doing what they’re supposed to do.

Following the ground laid by Sony’s robotic dog Aibo, Pleo is the first generation of commercial robotic pets that acts so we can form genuine emotional ties with it. I’ve written before about emotional robots such as Paro the seal and been interviewed in Newsday on how emotional robots are used to great effect in therapy and aged care. Pleo has reached the threshold of being a fun and interactive “lifeform” (as the manufacturer Ugobe describes it), and also is highly affordable at US$350 (which may seem expensive for a toy, but is very cheap compared with for example visits to the vet for real live pets).

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FriendFeed has the potential to transcend social networks and catalyze collaborative filtering


Over the last week FriendFeed has being the hot topic of the online world, soaring in popularity after an already strong start from its launch on February 25. FriendFeed allows you to see all of the online activities of the people you like or admire, who choose to share that data. So for example I have created a FriendFeed for Ross Dawson that brings together a summary of blog posts I’ve written, what I’ve bookmarked on, shared on StumbleUpon and Google Reader, videos I’ve posted on YouTube, pictures on Flickr, profile changes on LinkedIn, and songs I’ve loved on Last.FM. There are currently a total of 28 services that people can include in profiling what they are doing online.

On one level, this provides a quite staggering depth of visibility into what people are doing, and ultimately who they are as people. I’ve written before about the role of exhibitionism in allowing Web 2.0 to flourish, and this is evident once again in FriendFeed. Of course, it is supposed to be primarily about keeping track of your friends’ rather than strangers’ lives, and the reality is that all of this information is available anyway. It’s just that it has been brought about into one place. Not just that, it is a community itself, allowing comments and other ways to respond to people’s content directly, rather than going back to the source.

While there are other competitors in this space, including SocialThing! (see ReadWriteWeb’s comparison), the availability – and success – of these services is a fundamentally important transition in the online world. The reason why Facebook has been so successful is that it allows people a quick way of keeping in touch with what their friends are up to. Once either all the feeds are available from people’s current social network activities, or people start updating their profiles and activities in a more open format, social networks will be a completely different space.

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Adtech Sydney: Innovation in the Digital Marketplace


A few days ago I attended a morning of the second Adtech Sydney, after last year chairing the keynote panel on the new media mix and the panel on blogs as a marketing tool last year. The event has progressed over its very promising start last year, with apparently around 30% more attendees, and an exhibition sprawling into new rooms. It is certainly a major convening point for the industry in Australia, with most of the major players involved or attending.

I spoke on the panel session on Innovation in the Digital Marketplace, together with Karim Temsamani, General Manager of Google Australia/ NZ, Simon Smith, Managing Director of eBay Australia, and Warren Lee, CEO of APN Online. Matt Whale, Director of ?WhatIf!, moderated the panel. I think it was a good session, with us managing to address some of the important points in what is a rather sprawling topic, though perhaps we agreed a bit too much…

A few of the points that I made were:

* Levels of innovation. There is much focus on innovation at the product (new services) and channel (new uses of combinations of digital channels for marketing such as Coke Studios, linking outdoor with SMS, Dell’s Ideastorm etc.) levels. However all of this happens in the context of business model innovation, and ultimately industry structure innovation (for example the shift of the primary platform to social networks). While only a few are able to play effectively at the industry structure level, actually changing the game, any innovation at lower levels needs to take into account the state of industry structure or platform innovation.

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Winners of Startup Carnival announced! The Australian startup landscape is rapidly evolving


The winners of Vishal Sharma’s Startup Carnival have been announced.

The first three prize winners are:

1. Scouta

2. GoodBarry

3. Suburbview

The three judges (Duncan Riley, Justin Davies and myself) scoured through the 24 applications to identify the winners.

My formal comment after judging the field was:

It was very encouraging to see many exciting new market entrants as well as more established firms in the carnival. The depth and breadth of entrepreneurial talent in Australia is rapidly growing, and taking advantage of the massive opportunities emerging in the online space. Hats off to the drive and initiative of the entrepreneurs behind the very impressive array of entries.

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Is business yet to harness Web 2.0, or not yet willing to talk about it?


Tuesday’s edition of The Australian has an article titled Business yet to harness Web 2.0. Overall it takes a rather sceptical approach to the topic, though it does include some positive comments.

Beginning with an overview of what Web 2.0, and suggesting it is confusing, it goes on:

Business strategy analyst Ross Dawson says Web 2.0 systems are becoming part of everyday business processes, like it or not.

“Virtually every large organisation is using these tools and in many cases it’s not sanctioned as part of an overall technology strategy.

“However, partly in recognition that many users are doing this anyway, large organisations are deciding this is something they need to think about, develop a strategy, and understand the value and the risks,” Dawson says.

The article then quotes IDC research that 50% of companies in the Asia Pacific see Web 2.0 as a business opportunity, while 8% see it as a threat. It says that Australian corporate giants Telstra, Westpac, Lend Lease, AMP, and Suncorp are all active in Web 2.0, though apparently the last three declined to comment for the article, saying it is too early to speak about their initiatives. This is rather disappointing, since I know that for at least two of these companies their activities are absolutely advanced enough to share with comfort.

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Why we will all have robot pets in the future


Robots have been perhaps the most-predicted and least-realized aspect of our future. Decades ago we believed that robots would soon be part of the household, doing useful tasks for humans finally able to laze about rather than doing chores. This has not yet come to pass, though washing machines, for example, are arguably task-specific robots. What was not so expected was that robots would be something we would bond to emotionally.

I’ve written and been interviewed about a variety of aspects of the future of robots, including therapeutic robots, emotional robots in aged care, and the economic role of robots. Now that robots have reached a sufficient level of maturity, we have our very own robot pet in the family.

My wife Victoria Buckley, inspired by Where’s My Jetpack, a book she gave me for Christmas, recently bought a Pleo, the latest generation of robotic pet. Pleo is a robotic dinosaur that behaves like a domestic pet – curious, cute, cuddly, and responsive to interaction and people’s emotions.

The makers of Pleo, Ugobe, have a neat site where users can set up their own Pleo blogs (plogs). Victoria has been writing the adventures of our Pleo (named Titus) on her plog, worth reading for the cute photos of Titus with our eighteen-month old daughter Leda alone!

Below is a brief video (1:36 min) of my thoughts on the role of robot pets in our lives.

Complimentary report: Executive Insights into Enterprise 2.0 from roundtable hosted by Future Exploration Network and IBM


The week before the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum, Future Exploration Network and IBM hosted a roundtable of senior executives discussing Enterprise 2.0.

Highlights of the discussions were written up in a report which is being made openly available, to assist other executives in considering the key issues involved. Download the report here:

Executive Insights into Enterprise 2.0:

Lessons from the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Roundtable



Enterprise 2.0 – the application of Web 2.0 approaches inside organisations – is one of the most topical issues today for senior technology executives. To eludicate the concepts and to enable experiences to be shared, Future Exploration Network and IBM invited a select group of senior executives to Sydney’s Level 41 restaurant on 13 February 2008. In a free-ranging discussion overlooking Sydney’s harbour, the executives discussed Enterprise 2.0 and its implications and potential for large organisations.


Roundtable Participants

Introduction to Enterprise 2.0

Defining Enterprise 2.0

Identifying Business Value

Risks and Concerns

Social Networks in the Enterprise

The Shifting Role of IT

Organisational Culture in Enterprise 2.0

The Role of Governance