Saturday, July 23, 2011

PLL Summit - Esther Dyson on Technology Changes in Business and Libraries

Second on at PLL Summit is Esther Dyson on technology changes in business and libraries.  See her website: Note: these are my notes from this Q&A session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own.

She started out with a response to James Jones' talk. She characterized the changes in law firms as part of the larger movement we are seeing "from fuzziness to clarity," allowing us to commoditize legal work. She suggested that librarians join outsourcing firms where information is the core business rather than law firms where we have supporting roles. 

Is the world getting smarter or stupider? Dyson quoted William Gibson "The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed."  You are getting more and more at either end of the range. Google is not destroying our ability to think, but it is changing what we are finding as important to remember. Lawyers think logically--someone still needs to read the laws to determine if they are fair and just and internally coherent. Google affects our ability to think deeply.

What percentage of AALL PLL's membership is female? It is a female dominated profession working in male dominated organizations. Dyson says it is wonderful to see a group of women in this area. She started as a reporter and fact-checker. As a young female reporter she was able to get a lot of high level executives to "be indiscrete" in what they shared with her. However, she didn't work in a male-dominated organization. 

Talking in global terms, she says it is easier to get rid of a government than it is to re-build the government with a new social contract. In social networks you can leave if you don't agree with something; it is harder to leave a country if you don't agree.  Help people know they are not alone.

In the US there is a tolerance for failure and taking a risk that is not tolerated elsewhere. People who step out of line may be despised or even shot. US individualism is mostly good, and not appreciated. Americans are not as kind and generous without social circles, but willing to take a risk. 

Young people in other countries don't have a lot of role models to try something different; they look to the US for those role models. They see what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have done, but not what their local people have done.

She sees the future of search as more oriented toward actions or transactions: search with verbs when you want to do something. She wonders about a legal search engine that focuses just on legal information put into context.

What does she think about the new web domains? We have no shortage of domain names; the shortage is space in people's heads. E.g. you could have a domain name and add 1,2,3,4 etc. She doesn't see the need for these new domains. She doesn't see the need for having to buy domains with all different extensions.

Re: access to your genome information. The issues are more around privacy than healthcare. If you want information private, don't put it online. It is your own information and you have the right to it. In terms of health, your family history and lifestyle are more important right now for predicting your health; however in the future knowing your genome will become more important. She also thinks checking your blood on a regular basis will provide a lot more information in the future--can show changes in your health. 

The only problem is that people get the data but don't change their behaviour; however, social networks can impact this. She compares it to frequent flyer cards, what people do to get free miles and get status. If you had a similar card that measures how many steps you take that gives you the perks for your health care - earning status. Sharing data with friends and competing or collaborating (such as through Facebook or iPhones) is going to be more motivating than seeing just your own data.

People are far less naive than 15-20 years ago as far as advertising goes; they may not understand the advertising industry, but they know what it means to get an online service for free and where the revenue comes in - you get the service for free because it is supported by ads, for example. She talked about where people with diseases can voluntarily share their data to pharma companies etc. to allow them to help fight the diseases. allows people to share their genome information with their doctors. You can do it with a fake name if you don't want your insurance company to find you. You can also share genome information with friends.

Is Facebook uniquely American or uniquely Internet? When she sees people use online tools in other countries, she sees they may be more open but they are still the same people, e.g. Russians online are still Russian. The culture online will be affected by the users. However, the Internet is making people more open with the people they don't know. It is changing people all over the world; she sees the idea of the "global village" is "way overdrawn."

She is trained as a cosmonaut with 6 months training in Russia, which she says is generally not useful in the rest of her life. Most people in law like logic - when you search online you cannot currently get the whole context. People who do that will have an advantage of people who don't. People who think and value knowledge will be needed and have an edge. 

Google's "filter bubble" that provides you with information filtered for you - she sees value in going beyond your own filter bubble. She speaks metaphorically - people have the choice to go beyond their own filter bubble or they don't. We have more opportunity for regret; we have more opportunity to do exciting things.

She feels the US government has not done a good job of getting people excited about space travel, which has led to the cancelling of the space shuttle. She is on the NASA advisory council, gets to visit the research centers; however the people who need advice is Congress, not NASA. They cut back budget on needed programs; they keep fostering projects that are way over budget. It is all about to be privatized, and she expects it to blossom.

Space law will become interesting.

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