Nova Spivack: World Renowned; Pioneering Global Technology Visionary, Innovator, Strategist, Entrepreneur, Investor
ChinaValue.net interview with Nova Spivack conducted by Alex Lin (CEO of ChinaValue) and Stephen Ibaraki.
Nova Spivack is a technology futurist, serial Internet entrepreneur, and one of the leading voices on the next-generation of search, social media, and the Web. He works as a producer of emerging technology ventures including Twine.com, Live Matrix, Klout, Bottlenose, The Daily Dot, StreamGlider, and a stealth-mode new energy company.
In 1994 Nova co-founded one of the first Web startups, EarthWeb, which led to a record-breaking IPO in 1998, and a second IPO DICE.com in 2007. Nova worked with Stanford Research International (SRI), to conceive and co-found their global business incubator nVention, and on the DARPA CALO program, the most ambitious artificial intelligence project in US history.
He is a frequent speaker and blogger, and has written guest-articles for TechCrunch, GigaOM, and SiliconAngle. Nova has authored more than 30 granted and pending patents. He earned his BA in Philosophy from Oberlin College in 1991, with a focus on the philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence. In 1992, he attended the International Space University, a NASA-funded graduate-level professional school for the space industry.
In 1999, he flew to the edge of space with the Russian Air Force and did zero-gravity flight training with the Russian Space Agency as one of the early pioneers of space tourism, which later led to his angel investment in Zero Gravity Corporation, which was acquired by Space Adventures.
He is chairman of The Earth Dashboard initiative, a new non-profit initiative to build a shared online dashboard to visualize the real-time state of the planet, and he serves on the board of directors and advisory boards of numerous startups.
Nova is the eldest grandson of the late management guru Peter Drucker.
He writes about the emerging edge of the Web via Twitter at @novaspivack and his site novaspivack.com. Additional details and history related to Nova Spivack can be found on his site, and his Wikipedia page.
Nova speaks internationally and advises governments and corporations on product strategy and the future of the Web. He has co-authored books on Internet strategy and collective intelligence, and has authored hundreds of articles about the Web.
During the late 1980's and early 1990's while in high-school and college, Nova worked as a software engineer and product marketer with artificial intelligence and supercomputing ventures including Xerox Kurzweil, Thinking Machines, and Individual Inc. He also participated in computer science research at MIT focused on cellular automata.
Nova has been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for over 20 years and has pursued this interest extensively in monasteries, refugee camps and communities in Nepal, India, Europe and the USA. He focuses his philanthropic activities on helping to fund the preservation of Tibet's unique wisdom culture.
While a student at Oberlin College, Nova did a winter term internship as a production assistant at Paramount Studios, working on Star Trek, The Next Generation.
In the mid 1990's Nova co-authored a series of patents for early Web-TV convergence for a product called HyperTV, owned by ACTV. The patents covered simulcasting URLs and metadata on the television vertical blanking interval (VBI) in order to display relevant Web pages next to live television content on suitably instrumented TVs and PCs. The patents were later sold to Disney.
Nova is also currently running a $10K challenge to create unblockable, anonymous, encrypted mobile internet access, in response to recent brutal crackdowns in Tibet, Myanmar and Iran where local governments were able to block, censor, and spy on Web access by their citizens.
Media & Press
Nova has been featured, cited, and has contributed guest articles in numerous media outlets such as: AdWeek, Atlantic Monthly, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0, The BBC, CBS Evening News, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, CNBC, CNET, CNN, Der Spiegel, the Discovery Channel, Download Squad, the Economist, Entrepreneur, the Financial Times, Gartner, GigaOm, the Guardian, Guidewire, Industry Standard, Infoworld, Information Week, Interactive Age, International Herald Tribune, the L.A. Times, Mashable, the MIT Technology Review, the New Scientist, Newsweek, the New York Times, NPR, the Observer UK, PC Magazine, PC World, ReadWriteWeb, Red Herring, Reuters, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, SiliconAngle, TechCrunch, the Times Online, Venturebeat, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, WIRED and ZDNet
Nova has authored hundreds of articles and co-authored several books on Internet strategy and technology, and led the EarthWeb Press publishing imprint with Macmillan Computer Publishing.
Nova gave over 30 talks in 2009 – 2010, to both technical and business audiences. For videos of some of these talks please click here.
He has spoken, moderated, and served as a judge at numerous conferences and industry events including: BlogTalk, Defrag, DEMO, DigitalNow, the Financial Times Digital Media Conference, the Future in Review, GigaOm's Bunker sessions, the Highlands Forum, Internet World, Internet Expo, the International Semantic Web Conference, the Island Forum, the Kleiner Perkins CIO Strategy Exchange, MIT's Emtech, NextWeb, NewTeeVee, SDForum, the Semantic Technology Conference, SIBOS, the Singularity Summit, Search Engine Strategies, Stanford/MIT's VLAB, Supernova, SXSW, TTI Vanguard, and The Web 2.0 Summit.
Nova has also given guest lectures and keynotes for the MBA programs at Harvard University, Stanford University and Berkeley, as well as to several business schools in Europe. In addition, Nova has advised governments, defense and intelligence agencies in the United States as well as Asia on the near-term and long-term future of the Web.
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Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Stephen Ibaraki: Welcome today to our interview series with outstanding professionals. We are conducting an exclusive interview with Nova Spivack: celebrated, world-renowned pioneering global technology visionary, innovator, strategist, entrepreneur and investor. Nova, you have an incredible history of notable historical distinction, significant outstanding contributions in so many fields, as a globally top ranking authority in technology, innovation, strategy, entrepreneurship and investment. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise deep accumulated insights and wisdom with our audience.
Nova Spivack: "....You're welcome. I'm happy to be here...."
Stephen Ibaraki: So Nova, as I mentioned, you are really a historical figure, and you continue to make significant contributions to the world. Can you highlight what you consider to be your top four contributions and their lasting historical significance?
Nova Spivack: "....I helped start one of the first web companies in the world called EarthWeb....I helped launch and evangelize Java technology, working on a number of projects with Sun Microsystems, one was called Gamelan and [we] started the World Java Developers Alliance....I worked on the early days of Semantic Web, pioneering the concept of smart data, helping to evangelize that through Twine.com....What I'm doing now is a new model for innovation, which I think of as a production studio, but for creating technology ventures....I have 7 different new startup ventures, working on emerging technology frontiers....I'm also working on Wireless Power and other interesting projects...."
Stephen Ibaraki: It's interesting you mentioned that you worked with Java early on at Sun. Did you also work with Eric Schmidt at that time?
Nova Spivack: "....I certainly knew Eric, and we did interact at the time he was CTO over there...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Can you profile (and you've mentioned this already in terms of some of your venture work) your current and future areas of focus and why they resonate with you?
Nova Spivack: "....Some themes in my work....Trying to use massive amounts of data to create smarter applications and services....Entrepreneurial endeavors, and helping to start ventures and figuring out ways to get early stage ideas to market inexpensively and quickly....Augmented reality, where I think in partnership with intelligent assistants we'll be annotating and extending our experience of the physical world as we move around....New energy technologies, new ways of generating and distributing energy that can free us from fossil fuel, and can also make the use of existing energy far more efficient...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Wow, that's a really amazing array of projects you're working on with your ventures and themes. I guess then from your current role there must be some top challenges and top opportunities within all of these different ventures that you're working on.
Nova Spivack: "....Finding [good] investors is always a challenge; we've been lucky to find a lot of them....I think the next big challenge is talent, attracting entrepreneurs to be involved in these companies...."
Stephen Ibaraki: What kinds of lessons shaped your life and you think would be useful to the audience?
Nova Spivack: ....Growing up with my grandfather, Peter Drucker, who is a well-known management theorist. He was a huge influence on me as a child and through my college years....When I attended the International Space University, which is an international program to train business and technical leaders of the Space industry....When I started EarthWeb....More recently, a very big experience was the death of my father, which just happened few months ago...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Now, can you make your predictions of the future, their implications, how we can best prepare?
Nova Spivack: "....What happens as we augment reality and if that trend continues?....There will come a point when we have so much information about any decision that we're going to make and information of what other people have done in the same situation....We'll have so much information influencing that decision that it won't be even our decision anymore...."
Stephen Ibaraki: How does that tie-in with this concept of singularity or with Kurzweil's concept of singularity, or does it?
Nova Spivack: "....I think this is a similar concept, you can think of it as he's talking about technological singularity, and I suppose, I'm talking about a psychological, or spiritual singularity...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Wow, that's really fascinating. I can see the implications, and it's good to get this into the broader conversation as you were doing. Now, the next thing series of questions comes from Alex Lin, who is the founder and CEO of China Value. And I'm going to be quoting him through the next series of questions.
Alex Lin: Thank you for accepting this interview with China Value. Your contributions into semantic web and global brain will change the world. Please explain your ideas around the concept of the global brain, a term coined by Howard Bloom. And can you quickly profile and comment on critical ideas in this field from a few others that you feel are noteworthy?
Nova Spivack: "....Probably one of the earliest references to it started with H.G. Wells who predicted that one day in the future there would be a global encyclopedia that everybody would have equal access to....Teilhard de Chardin believed that there was a realm of ideas, the environment of ideas and intelligence, and that we were heading towards a point in time when the whole universe would wake up and become conscious and aware....Gregory Stock wrote a book called Metaman in which he talked about how there are many systems today: economic systems, medical systems, agricultural systems and manufacturing systems around the world that really cannot function without the rest of the global infrastructure supporting them....Francis Heylighen spent many years on a big project online called Principia Cybernetica, which is basically a set of algorithms and essays about collective intelligence and how to help large collective intelligences learn on the Web....Howard Bloom's primary contribution has been to remind us that the global brain is already here, and has been here since the beginning of time....Ray Kurzweil and his concept of singularity....Kevin Kelly has been working writing books and papers about his views on collective intelligence...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Those are some very interesting ideas and people you brought forward. I'm just thinking in 2012, they are saying that there is going to be a solar max, so what impact will that have on the global brain that is really dependent on computational power, and then there's this other concept, or Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am).
Nova Spivack: "....We do have terrible solar storms that some people have predicted. That will be something catastrophic, but we'll survive it....As far as, "I think, therefore I am", I actually as a Buddhist look at it the other way, I think it’s "I am, therefore I think", which is I think a more Buddhist view on that...."
Stephen Ibaraki: I guess this ties into Penrose's work in this area about consciousness.
Alex Lin: Now, what do you think about the argument that there will be an emerging global brain, and we've talked about this already, the worldwide mind? What are your views on the emergence of a global group of simply connected entities of independent people?
Nova Spivack: "....I do think the worldwide mind is already here, it's existed for ages....You can look at all those different technologies, adding up to really improving the efficiency with which humans distribute knowledge.....Knowledge and intelligence are two different things. You can say knowledge is the data, and intelligence is the program, the process....So the next big step is we're doing for intelligence what we're doing for knowledge. As that happens, then I really think we can start to say that intelligence lives on its own, outside of us in the Web...."
Stephen Ibaraki: It sounds like something that you can get Paul Allan to fund as he was funding the SETI project.
Nova Spivack: "....Effectively, that is what he is doing. He has a number of projects that are working on the frontiers of artificial intelligence today...."
Alex Lin: Now can you explain your key points about WebOS and the software-understanding based web (that is machine-understanding based web). Do you have any new updates since you published your map of web evolution?
Nova Spivack: "....Today that operating system is no longer on the desktop; even though we have operating systems, the important operating system is out on the web....Right now there's fierce competition in that space – just like there was for desktop operating systems in the 90s....If it develops, it will enable much more universal, powerful, more intelligent applications...."
Stephen Ibaraki: I guess there have been enormous strides made in what you call machines learning, it's used widely today (although it's more the brute force method).
Alex Lin: Now, what do you mean by the singularity in 2029 (when the human brain equals $1)?
Nova Spivack: "....That's really a Kurzweil idea. One set of predictions shows that in 2029 the computing power, equivalent to the computing power of a single human brain, will cost about one dollar....If we had an infinite amount of time, will it ever happen?....Ultimately we may find that every brain is just a piece of a much larger computer, the universe - and you can't separate those two things....So it's a deep philosophical question, but on a technical level, whether it's all the computation of the human brain or just a huge amount of computation, I think it will happen within a few decades...."
Stephen Ibaraki: I guess then this extends into quantum computing, twin particle effect, and all the possibilities that can come from that.
Alex Lin: Now the next question is about the global brain, not just being related to information technology, but also philosophy, sociology, economics, politics and cultural anthropology and so on. We can even say it's related to the next stage in civilization: the question "Who are you?" is based on our evolutionary definition of the concept of human. Can you give us your idea of how matter becomes imagination, this idea in a book by a Nobel Prize winner, Gerald Edelman?
Nova Spivack: "....When we talk about the global brain, an analogous thing might arise: if there ever is a global brain, will it have a self? Will it have one self, or many? Will it be an actual real thing that we can point to, or will it just be some data somewhere, that's just a bunch of labels but not really an actual self? So what is self? Same question, just a different level of scale...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Fascinating, all of these ideas, that you're putting out and gives much pause for everybody to contemplate. I guess it goes into this next question from Alex.
Alex Lin: I think the evolution of the Internet starts with the evolution of philosophical thinking. The founder of LinkedIn is a philosopher and you're a philosopher, as the founder of Radar networks and as the philosopher Nelson Goodman said, "The world is made rather than the world is discovered." For me my ideas are influenced by Popper and Kuhn, László. Can you share who influenced you and tell us something about your philosophy?
Nova Spivack: "....If we really want to see what's going on at a larger scale, if we want to see outside the system that we're in, if we want to see the background not the foreground, then you have to go to a different level...."
Stephen Ibaraki: That's fascinating, and I guess it extends beyond Daniel Dennett and "Consciousness Explained" or the work of Brooks at MIT, this sort of insect behavior being modeled very simply by very simple rules and computers. There's this next question, and Alex says, he's one of the advisors of the Peter Drucker Academy in China, and he wrote an article in 2009, in the year of 100th celebration of Peter Drucker. He says:
Alex Lin: I hold in high esteem his "Knowledge Society" and I'm putting all my efforts to make it happen through chinavalue.net. What do you see as the top three influences of your grandfather, and how has your grandfather's global influence shaped your thinking and your life? Mr. Drucker once commented that knowledge is enterprise. Can you please comment on how knowledge sharing, creation and management help business?
Nova Spivack: "....His [my grandfather's] mind wasn't limited to one field, and he made amazing connections and really integrated different fields, different trends and different thoughts in ways people had never seen before....He is well known for coming up with the term "knowledge worker" and he pioneered this whole idea that instead of creating value with their hands, people were going to create the value with their minds, and that was going to be the next big thing....At a later part of my grandfather's life, he focused on helping non-profit organizations and the social sector to develop new disciplines, new tools, and to become more professional, more mature, more evolved as a sector...."
Stephen Ibaraki: I can see the influences though, and then you adding to those influences to make your long-lasting historical contributions. It's a really interesting this idea of reaching back in the past and integrating those lessons, contrary to Eckhart Tolle's idea of living in the now. This concept that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and maybe they're in conflict; how do you resolve that?
Alex Lin: Now, in your social semantic solutions, how do you deal with this fragmentation of the semantic web? And a follow-up question would be: I think Nick Bostrom's simulation hypothesis sounds like a contemporary version of the incompleteness theorem of Gödel's mathematics. What are your views on this?
Nova Spivack: "....How you deal with the fragmentation of the semantic web?....There are standards the World Wide Web consortium Tim Berners-Lee and the standards of the semantic web were designed to get everybody using one language for saying what a piece of data means, so all applications and software could understand it...Unless people adopt those standards, it won’t be solved....Nick Bostrom's simulation hypothesis essentially says that "probability indicates that it's likely that we are living in a simulation"....I think the problem with Nick Bostrom's hypothesis is that it leads to a conclusion that it's simulations all the way down, so it doesn't necessarily tell us anything all that useful....The answer you get from that is basically more concept. The answer is beyond concepts...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Great. It's quite a fascinating discussion. We sort of turned in questioning back to the global brain and semantic web.
Alex Lin: So in your view, what are the visionary milestones of the global brain and semantic web? And the next question is what would be the evolution in the business model and the future with regards of these two?
Nova Spivack: "....The global brain already exists and has existed since we've had language. It's just gotten more global and become more and more of a brain over time. You can just say it's a collective intelligence of humanity....I think the critical threshold is when the parts can no longer function independently of one another, when they become a part of a whole....That new organism would be a combination of humans and machines and software, and maybe other species too, and we'll be operating at a global scale...."
Stephen Ibaraki: So the global brain is the Borg of the future?
Nova Spivack: "....It's a very negative view of the global brain, that by being in a global brain, you somehow become an automaton, you can lose your value, you can become a worker bee in a hive, become expendable. That's one vision of the global brain, but that's not the only vision of it...."
Alex Lin: I found some amazing accidents. You and I were born in the same year, 1969, and Nick Bostrom and I were born on the same day, March 10th. It's the call of destiny. I'm thinking that we should build a long term dialogue between us around both the technology and philosophy of the West and China. Last year I talked to a managerial guru, Peter Senge, the concept coiner of Organizational Learning. Chinese philosophy, especially the philosophy of Taoism and the Book of Change, can make great contributions to the world civilization during this '2nd Axial Time' (Karl T. Jaspers, 1883-1969). In speaking draft, I'm integrating the wholeness and dualistic-symbiosis change of Chinese philosophy with the Theory of the General System and Evolution and Quanta Transition of Western philosophy. History always replays: about one hundred years ago modern physics owed its achievements to a combination of Chinese and Western ideas. Now as Internet stories happened, I see an integration of Chinese and Western ideas again evolving further. What are your thoughts on this?
Nova Spivack: "....I think that China and the Chinese philosophy bring history, and the Western approach (The United States, Europe and emerging Western countries) can bring new ideas and if you combine them, you can do something really good. I don't think either one on its own would be as good as the combination. ...."
Stephen Ibaraki: It's interesting, (Alex brought this out), this idea that you were born around the same time. Do you believe in those kinds of coincidences?
Nova Spivack: "....I think there are a lot of people that were born the same time, not necessarily the same day, but the same generation, who all have the same idea that is driving them...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Or maybe it ties to what Malcolm Gladwell talked about people who were born in mid-50s (Gates, Jobs and others), who made these contributions. It seems to be these different sorts of eras.
Nova Spivack: "....It's interesting, for example, how the different people from different parts of the world who have never met all start thinking about the same thing. You get a bunch of startups, which were all worked in secret, and at the same time they develop similar ideas...."
Stephen Ibaraki: A hundred years from now when we reflect back, there was this recent IBM-Jeopardy Challenge. Do you think that will be some kind of an inflection point?
Nova Spivack: "....I think it was a nice PR stunt. Does it say anything significant, does it establish anything of lasting importance? No, I don't think so...."
Stephen Ibaraki: Nova, it's been a real pleasure talking with you, and I know your schedule is very demanding, so we are fortunate to have you come in and do this interview. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, substantial experience and historical contributions with our audience.
Nova Spivack: "....Thank you. It's been my pleasure and I look forward to hearing the interview...."