Attention-slice status updates

May 2010 Scientific American
WCI-Electronics proposal

[Why] [How] [What] [More] [Video] [Credits]

Real-time data, about what each of us is thinking, has begun to flow through the internet...
...much as molecules flow through your bloodstream from each of your cells.

Why is this development of interest?

For example...

Through much of the cosmos, nature does not appear friendly to liquid-water-based complexity!
Complexity is built from correlations looking in/out from a finite # of physical boundary types.
The supply of free-energy per capita, needed to maintain our correlations, is decreasing.
Rapid e-communications can help to build, as well as to tear down, correlations.
What better reason is there to constructively use e-communications?

How might we harness such information and put it to good use?

For example...

Imagine clicking in the circle below to signal your preoccupation balance.
Now imagine that everyone on the planet did this regularly.
Such activity might yield attention-snapshots for any community, of any size.
Could this help to see how policies, disasters, & even messages affect communities in real time?

What kind of impact could this idea have?

For example...

The animation below illustrates one way for complexity to bloom and decline.
Each community member shows up as a dot, in each of the six triangular projections.
Layer-multiplicity, and each individual's freedom to choose, go up and down together.
When things get tough, science and even belief systems may fold up and leave.
Wouldn't it be nice to keep an eye on how layer-multiplicity changes in practice?

Read more about it... a nutshell:

The cells of animals and plants each help maintain their own microbe, tissue & organism selves just as each of us maintain our own organism, family & culture selves. One difference is that we each have unique organism, family & culture self-concepts that we can talk about to help us buffer correlations which look inward and outward from the boundaries of our self, family & culture.

Three physical boundaries surrounding your self-awareness.

What fraction of your time are you able to spend looking inward & outward from each? The quantitative significance of your answer may be explored with help from the "never-negative" quantity mutual information (a special case of KL-divergence which also underpins measures of perceived rarity, available work, species diversity, and model correctness), because it allows one to experimentally define matchup-multiplicities for all sorts of layered complex systems.

In this project we examine the multiplicity of correlation-layers looking inward and outward with respect to three physical boundary types of special interest to (at least some) metazoans on earth, namely: skin, family and culture. These boundaries underlie the individual, gene-pool, and idea-pool selves whose parallel evolution makes earth for the moment such a special place.

How would you like a mobile device-screen like this for YOUR attention-slice status updates?

Given generic information like this for members of almost any community, average niche-network layer-multiplicity (NNLM) characterizes the amount of multi-tasking that individual organisms take on while NNLM center-of-mass Zcm characterizes the correlation breadth (possibly an important feature) of the community in which they live.

In this context a single metazoan individual's niche-network layer-multiplicity Z is nothing more than their effective multiplicity of choices, expressed in terms of the fraction fi of their effort allocated to buffering correlations in each of the 6 primary layers i.e.:

This is expressed above also in terms of the state uncertainty or surprisal (between 0 and 2.585 bits) about "which specific correlation layer" they are working on at any given time, where #bits ≡ Σifiln2[1/fi]. Although center-of-mass multiplicity Zcm near 6 may be important to community stability, high individual multiplicity is a mixed blessing and so a variety of Z-values may be a good thing.

The foregoing can help define robust ad-hoc measures of community health with deep roots in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences. Objectively monitoring the state of communities via these measures is a future challenge, to which input from individuals in those communities will likely be important. Individual attention-slice status updates, using social media now accessible via mobile-communications across the globe, can help bring these multi-scale inputs on-line today.

...on the web: books: the scientific literature: campus-only joint-editing space:

The video link...


Instrumental soundtrack is the cc-licensed Maybe by DoKashiteru.

This site is part of an essay series on multiscale thinking and correlation-based complexity, in preparation for publication elsewhere.
It is hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis.