In the last article we read for class today, Matt Crosslin discussed the “future” of the Internet — Web 3.0, or the Semantic Web. This quote caught my attention:
Some software development companies are creating SL clients that have integrated web browsers inside of them. Clicking on an object in SL with an embedded web link will bring up a transparent web browser next to the user’s SL avatar (3-D virtual representation of a person). Depending on the future direction of the Internet, this could be what surfing the Web could become. Surfers will have a virtual avatar that explores 3-D islands and cities online, and then displays more information about various organizations, companies, schools, and individuals by bringing up a website within the virtual world.
In the Futurama episode “A Bicyclops Built for Two,”the characters enter the Internet via a virtual reality machine. Their minds are uploaded to the internet and a realistic avatar is created for them to physically browse the Internet as if it is a large, sprawling city. They even play games online in a way that mimics physical activity like Laser Tag.
While Futurama’s image of the Internet is over the top and entirely unreasonable, Crosslin’s idea that the Semantic Web will allow us to represent ourselves online and search in new and unprecedented ways is much more believable. It outlines some sensible goals. His article was written in 2011, which is 5 years ago now. A lot can happen to the Web in five years. Let’s see if this idea for the future of the Internet has come to pass . . .
Argument: The Semantic Web is a current reality.
Supporting Evidence: Interconnectedness of current technology.
When most think of the future of technology, they think of a truly interactive experience. Like in the Futurama episode, most imagine an Internet that comes as naturally as anything else in the physical world, easily integrated into their current lives. It enhances our physical interactions as well as makes online interactions more realistic and informed. In many ways, this additive technology is already here.
Consider IFTTT (If This, Then That), a web-based service which allows users to create “recipes” to make their applications execute certain commands under the written conditions. In a Mic.Com article on Web 3.0, Greg Muender provides several examples of these conditional statements, including the a command to start the hot tub at home if several meetings are scheduled for one day.
Recipes through IFTTT rely on several things. One, that web-based applications can follow intricate conditioned commands. Two, that web-based applications can communicate with each other (via bluetooth and wireless Internet sharing capabilities). And three, that users can write their own codes.
One of the goals for the Semantic Web as outlined by Crosslin is the ability for users to contribute Application Programming Interface, or API. Essentially, users should be able to personalize their web-based technology for their own needs. IFTTT does not require a deep understanding of code, but still allows users to write their own commands, which fulfills this idea of an executable web experience. Not only do users read and write as established by Web 1.0 and 2.0, users can interact directly with their web-based devices in a meaningful way.
Predictive information is another huge facet of Semantic Web theory. In order to better integrate with daily lives, the Web should know what you want before you know you want it. In some ways, directed advertising fulfills this condition, but there are other more interesting ways the current Internet is individually tailored, via predicted text. Google Now is described as an “intelligent personal assistant“that answers questions, makes recommendations, and performs actions without the user needing to ask it beforehand. Google itself already makes predicative suggestions based on your area. If you search for Mexican restaurants, for example, it will show you restaurants near you.
I have a feeling this predictiveness is in other technology, too. I haven’t found a way to prove it quite yet, but every time I pull down on my Apple homepage to use the search function at the gym, the online radio I use is in the first suggestion, as if it remembers I commonly use this app at that location. It makes for a smoothly integrated gym experience – I don’t have to type in “Slacker Radio”. A truly predictive system would have already started the app as I walked indoors, but that’s a task for the future.
An even simpler technology that augments your reality is Push for Pizza, an app that takes away the decision making process of ordering a pizza and narrows it down to one simple question of whether the user wants cheese or pepperoni. Streamlining processes is an important aspect of the Semantic Web. Users should feel like the Internet is working for them, not that they have to make it do what they want.
Evidence against my argument: We Won’t Know Web 3.0 Until It’s Here
While Crosslin acknowledges that the lines between Web 1.0 and 2.0 are blurred, many argue that the jump to Web 3.0 will be so drastic that we won’t be able to ignore it. The problem with searching for arguments against Web 3.0 is that the Internet has been accessible to a large number of users for well over 20 years. This means that very old articles are still readable, such as this 2007 article against Web 3.0, which calls the very idea of the semantic web “destructive,” and this 2009 article that says Web 3.0 is “nonsense.”
It is easy to see why articles from the last decade would be distrustful of the promises of the Semantic Web. After all, we were promised flying cars in science fiction, and here we are in 2016, still tied to the ground. (I remember reading a Discovery magazine as an elementary student that said all households would have a robot by 2015. I suppose a roomba counts.)
The criticism surrounding Web 3.0 often derides the idea for its hype. Focusing on what the future might hold detracts from current technological advancements, says Tim O’Reilly. These interactive technologies are just Web 2.0 coming into its own. Trying to find evidence of a future that is fantastical doesn’t encourage people to look for new ways to innovate outside of these proposed ideas – we need more technology than just ways to make sure the kettle is boiling tea by the time we get home.
I feel like there are parts of Web 2.0 that are bleeding into the ideas of the Semantic Web. Moving away from the term “Web 3.0” is more agreeable for most technologically inclined researchers. If you take away this idea that Web 3.0 is a clearly defined event and more of a process of technological advancements known as the Semantic Web, I feel that more people would be willing to believe that we are well into the “future” of the Internet.
The scramble to achieve Semantic Web ignores the larger implications of this technology as well. If the Semantic Web hopes that technologies can “communicate” with each other and interpret data, then that means there’s a potential for technology to decide not to work. Without human intervention, the Semantic Web could spin out of control, and we would lose our hold on the situation.
Technology that augments our reality without being predictive is well on the way to existing. Google Glass is a major proponent of this futuristic technology, making interface more easily integrated into our daily lives. Other technology that could lead to this idea of the Semantic Web include Brain-Computer Interface. Though it’s not used for most able-bodied people, BCI is making huge steps in improving computer interaction for paralyzed users. BrainGate allows user to move prosthetics or a computer mouse using only brain waves. We could potentially harvest that technology to augment reality for all users, making it more easily navigable.
Eye-tracking is also something that could potentially be used for more streamlined link-clicking and information seeking.This takes us even closer to Vannevar Bush’s idea of the Memex. There is an application known as “Periscope” which allows users to stream what they’re seeing on their phone, which many use for adventures or to show them getting a tattoo or any number of things. If we could combine this technology of eye-tracking, link-clicking, and Periscope, we could get even closer to the Memex.
But that’s the problem with futuristic ideas like Memex or the Semantic Web. They are meant to inspire us as developers, inventors, and information scientists. Too many people get bogged down in the details into how to make the technology these theories say we should have. But imagine how impressed Bush would be by our Google system, even though it’s not what the Memex put forth! We can continue to advance our technology. We don’t need to worry about if it fits a theory.