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The future of employment? (loungesessions.wordpress.com)
33 points by bootload on Feb 22, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 11 comments

For a while I've had a vague sci-fi-like idea that the first true "group minds" are going to evolve from the intersection of Mechanical Turk, augmented reality, personal virtual assistants, and Twitter/Aardvark/Facebook/Ask MetaFilter.

Starting over a decade ago, it was possible to instantly "know" anything that was online just by searching for it. With the addition of Google, Wikipedia, search-inside-the-book, and massive amounts of content of all sorts - plus always-on mobile networks - this now means that we now have just about any fact ever published at our fingertips.

The number of people connected to the net has grown too, and so have tools for finding and talking to them. Most of us can contact dozens of friends at any given moment, plus friends-of-friends, co-workers, fellow members of communites like Hacker News or MetaFilter, and of course complete strangers. So in addition to raw data, we now have access to vast amounts of human judgement, experience, and research skill.

Once only high-powered executives had personal assistants. Now the Tim Ferriss crowd is getting into the game with "virtual assistants" who can work remotely, leverage all the above-mentioned internet superpowers, spread costs by serving many masters, and work off-shore wherever the cost-benefit ratio is right for a given job. Their services are still targeted at busy freelancers and business owners, but I'm sure someone will soon start selling virtual assistants to all sorts of information workers, teachers, programmers, and even stay-at-home parents.

So how long before I can simply touch a button to allow a remote assistant to see what I'm seeing in real-time and help with planning transportation, translating foreign text, taking notes, searching for relevant emails, and even advising me on what to say? Some jobs will just go to legions of cheap generic workers, some to my circle of friends or colleagues, and others to a personal assistant who is paid well to know my needs and background. And that assistant will then sub-contract out portions of each job as needed to computer programs, unskilled Turkers, or to his or her own network of friends and assistants. At that point, it's like I'm carrying around a whole network of brains ready to engage with any situation I face.

For a while I've had a vague sci-fi-like idea that the first true "group minds" are going to evolve from the intersection of Mechanical Turk, augmented reality, personal virtual assistants, and Twitter/Aardvark/Facebook/Ask MetaFilter.

How do you know it hasn't already happened? Are the individual cells in your brain aware of your existence? To a group mind such as you mentioned, would each of its component minds not seem as insignificant as one brain cell to us? Maybe that's why we have internet addictions. The Overmind does not want parts of itself shutting off. :)

A more alarming possibility is that just as it took us countless generations to arrive at a point in our evolution where we are aware of ourselves and even more generations before we know our minds are made up of cells (with the capability of each cell remaining more or less unchanged), the group mind might be an emotionally immature infant. I suspect though, that if it already exists, it is a reflection of ourselves, with 4chan and the like being the child within and wikipedia and such being the intellect. Do you think we might hasten the group mind's journey towards self-awareness by spreading this idea so that it takes root in more and more of its component minds? :p

If you have to turn to social networking to figure out how to do your job, you're probably not very good at your job.

I would say just the opposite - if you don't turn to your network of friends for help with your job, you're probably not very valuable.

I know how to do many things, but when I encounter a difficult problem, I will often turn to IM to query my expert friends, if not for answers, then to give me a sanity check on the approach I come up with.

This is especially true for start-ups. It's great if you work at Google, where you can get help from thousands of expert engineers. But if you are a two-man start-up team, you need to look outside for help a lot more.

I think it's even more meta than that.

There's "asking everybody you know how to do the bits of your job you're expected to know how to do", which is bad.

There's also "having a network of friends who are specific subject matter experts, and knowing which ones to ask in specific cases", which is _enormously_ powerful.

There's also a much smaller group of people who have such large and diverse social networks that they can ask pretty much _anything_ completely indiscriminately and get the right answer (look at jwz's blog for his "dear lazyweb" questions). If I had an opportunity to employ one of _them_, I'd jump at it...

I would say it depends on what you're asking help for.

If you turn to your network of friends asking them how to do your job then that that's a different story.

To IM your friends is one thing and to open Twitter and Facebook is another. Some companies do allow their staffs to access those sites but others don't.

In this situation, as an employee, you just have to be responsible.

Some companies are dinosaurs, and I would never work somewhere with Draconian internet policies.

It's perfectly reasonable to Tweet or post a Facebook message, or send a private message via either of those sites to ask someone for help, assuming you're not giving away confidential information.


I'm the author of the article mentioned.

It's a reasonable assumption to make that I'm just a shell with no knowledge that relies solely on my peers to prop me up and get the job done - however I think the level of network utilisation required if that were the case would be categorised as "abuse" and I would fairly quickly lose all my friends and colleagues.

The other thing to consider is that the network of peers I have available to me has been built up through sometimes years of social activity and sharing - do you really think my network would support me if we didn't have that mutual trust? I respect their knowledge and skills and they respect mine. That's why we're colleagues.

My peer network includes some of the smartest minds in my professional globally - you don't build up a network like that without having some skills and knowledge of your own to contribute back into the network.

What you describe is NOT a network but a ball-and-chain arrangement.

Finally - and I don't mean to boast but it needs to be said so we're clear - I'm well respected on my own merits as an experienced and knowledgeable professional independent of the wealth of external knowledge I have access to. Obviously I'm just talking for myself here so I can't substantiate any counter-claim that people who regularly access their peer networks probably ARE good at their job but I would like you to consider a more optimistic stance.

I don't think of it as turning to a network instead of knowing something. I think of it as turning to a network instead of Googling.

(We all look up stuff constantly. Price-checking, deadline checking, version validation, tactics, etc. We probably don't appreciate how often we do it.)

I have one staff-member who is a prominent member of a significant open source project. This person knows a LOT. So do my other staff-members. But the project member turns to his IRC window/mailing list, and gets answers really fast. Plus, he feels certain and comfortable because he typically trusts the answers he gets.

I won't say he's "better" than his peers, but this network, which he has put in a lot of work to earn, has definite value to him and us.

Three real world examples that have happened to me in the last 2 months:

- tasked with doing PL/SQL (something I've used once in 13 years) I asked a PL/SQL programmer friend about how to do x.

- tasked with performance tuning a database (I'm not a DBA) I asked a friend who has commit rights to the OSS DB project what baseline values I should start with given x, y, and z.

- tasked with determining the feasibility of using RFID for a project (something I did one time, four years ago), I asked a friend that sets up RFID systems for a living if the project was feasible.

Those questions took less than 5 minutes for each friend to answer, versus the incredible amount of time it would have taken me to do the research to find the answers -- and still not have the experience that my friends do.

In turn, each of those friends ask me questions about platforms that I have experience with and they do not. This goes back to the idea of "shit you know you don’t know." (http://jangosteve.com/post/380926251/no-one-knows-what-theyr...) Knowing what you don't know and knowing people who do know the answers is incredibly valuable to an employer.

If you've got the right friends in your network, it doesn't matter.

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