The Next Step for Intelligent Virtual Assistants

When we talk about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), the discussion often focuses on the advancements and capabilities of the technology, or even the risks and opportunities inherent in the potential cultural implications. What we frequently overlook, however, is the future of AI as a business.

IBM Watson’s recent acquisition and deployment of Cognea signals an important shift in the AI and intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) market, and offers an indication of both of the potentials of AI as a business and the areas where the market still needs development.

The AI business is about to be transformed by consolidation. Consolidation carries real risks, but it is generally a sign of technological maturation. And it’s about time, as AI is no longer simply a side project, or an R&D euphemism. AI is finally center stage.

Read the rest on GigaOm

Twitter is No Longer a Village

I’ve noticed a distinct change in how people use Twitter in the last year:

1. People are increasingly not using Twitter for actual two-way conversations or interactions. Instead it’s being used more for one-way “fire and forget” posting. People just post into the aether, without knowing or even caring if anyone actually reads their posts.

2. People are spending less time reading Twitter messages, they are paying less attention to what other people say. This is because it’s too difficult to keep up with what your friends are up to on Twitter: we all follow too many people now, and there are just too many messages flowing by all the time.

These two shifts are going to fundamentally change what Twitter is for, and how it is used. It is gradually becoming less of a social network where people interact, and more of a place to simply express opinions.

Maybe in a way this is a return to the original intent of Twitter — a place where you could post what you were doing. That was originally a one-way activity. However soon after those early days a community formed and Twitter became conversational and highly interactive for a while. Until it got so big that it lost that village feeling.

Twitter used to be a village — it was in fact the epicenter of the global village for a while. But now it has become a gigantic industrialized urban sprawl. A megacity. It’s lost that feeling of intimacy and community it once had.

Today Twitter is a mass market backchannel for consumers to express themselves to businesses and media providers, and for businesses to market to their audiences. It is also a place where people express themselves around live events like sports games, television shows and breaking news.

But while people and businesses are increasingly expressing themselves on Twitter, they are actually doing less listening to each other there.

Listening is on the decline because the message volumes on Twitter are now so high that it just is impossible to keep up. There are too many messages flowing by all the time. It’s information overload. There’s no point in even trying to pay attention to what people you follow are saying.

Of course people still pay attention to replies, mentions and Retweets of them — at least if they are not famous. Famous people get far too many mentions from strangers and so they usually just ignore them as well.

I’m willing to bet that you aren’t paying attention to Twitter. Your friends aren’t either. At least not like in years past.

So who is listening to Twitter if it’s not all of us? Businesses. They are listening, analyzing, and using this data to gauge perception, market and advertise. This is where the real value of Twitter seems to be headed: It’s a channel for people to express themselves around products, brands, events and content. And it’s a tool for businesses to learn about their audiences and market to them in real-time. Twitter is becoming our global backchannel.

As a side-effect of these shifts, Twitter is feeling less social every day. It’s no longer a place where people listen or pay attention to one another anymore. It’s certainly not a place where people have conversations beyond the occasional reply. Instead, it’s more like a giant stadium where everyone is shouting at the same time.

This probably means that as a publishing and messaging channel Twitter will become less effective over time.

As message volumes keep growing, what are the chances that your audience will be looking at the exact second that your message is actually visible above the fold, before it is buried by 1000 new Tweets? The chances are getting lower every day. And nobody scrolls down to look at older messages anymore. Why look back through the past when there are so many new Tweets arriving in the present?

This means that the likelihood of your intended audience seeing anything you post to Twitter is headed towards zero.

Unless of course, you’re famous. If you’re famous you can post once and get a thousands of Retweets and that might get your post noticed. But for most of us, and even most brands, most of their posts are going to be missed. They are like shots in the dark.

If you’re not famous you can still get noticed however. If you are willing to pay. You can buy visibility for your Tweets by making them into Promoted Tweets. But ads are different than conversation. And a network where people have to advertise to each other to be heard would not feel social at all.

Should this be fixed? I’m willing to bet that Twitter will probably not put much effort in reducing noise, or adding really good personalization, precisely because such measures would compete with Promoted Tweets. Promoted Tweets make money precisely because there is increasing noise in Twitter, just like Google Ads make money because Google is not as relevant as it could be.

These trends throw into question the value of posting anything to Twitter today, at least if your goal is to reach your followers organically and get attention. That is just increasingly unlikely.

If you really want to reach people on Twitter, the best bet will be to advertise there.

But advertise to whom? If attention to Twitter is declining because people are posting more but reading less, that would reduce attention to Twitter ads as well.

Ironically it’s the noise on Twitter that creates a need for Twitter ads, but it’s that same noise that will ultimately cause people to not pay attention to Twitter anymore. And if people pay less attention to Twitter’s content, there will be less of an audience for Twitter’s ads. It’s just too much work to find the needles you care about in all that hay.

The noise problem on Twitter is a side-effect of mass adoption. But it’s also a side-effect of a growing mismatch between how Twitter was designed as a product and the size of audience, and message volumes, it now supports today. Twitter was not designed for this level of audience or activity, and it shows. Twitter was designed to be village, but it’s now a megacity.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter evolves to meet this challenge. Can they restore the balance by creating ways for consumers to filter the noise? Can they attract more attention and content consumption?

My theory is that Twitter may inevitably focus more on advertising outside of Twitter, than inside, perhaps by using a retargeting approach on sites that use Twitter OATH to register their users. Here’s how this could work:

  1. Twitter can potentially see the interests of anyone who posts content to Twitter.
  2. When any member of Twitter uses their Twitter credentials to login to any site that uses Twitter OATH as a login (including Twitter.com), Twitter can place a cookie in their browser.
  3. Then any site that uses Twitter OATH can detect that user and associate them with their interest profile from Twitter.
  4. With this knowledge any site in the Twitter network can target ads to Twitter users’ personalized interests when they get visits from those users.

This technique is already being applied by one company, LocalResponse. I wonder when Twitter will start doing it themselves. If they do this, Twitter can become an ad network that uses what people talk about inside of Twitter, to target ads to them outside of Twitter.

Ultimately this may solve the attention problem in Twitter. Don’t even bother getting people to pay attention to content inside of Twitter. Just get them to talk about their interests and then target ads to them when they pay attention to content outside of Twitter. This “retargeting” approach is working well for Facebook and it’s only a matter of time until Twitter does it. Of course I’m sure Facebook has applied for a patent on this idea by now and that will also add a wrinkle to how this plays out in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

How Bottlenose Could Improve the Media and Enable Smarter Collective Intelligence

How Bottlenose Could Improve the Media and Enable Smarter Collective Intelligence

This article is part of a series of articles about the Bottlenose Public Beta launch.

Bottlenose – The Now Engine – The Web’s Collective Consciousness Just Got Smarter

How Bottlenose Could Improve the Media and Enable Smarter Collective Intelligence (you are here)

A New Window Into the Collective Consciousness

Bottlenose offers a new window into what the world is paying attention to right now, globally and locally.

We show you a live streaming view of what the crowd is thinking, sharing and talking about. We bring you trends, as they happen. That means the photos, videos and messages that matter most. That means suggested reading, and visualizations that cut through the clutter.

The center of online attention and gravity has shifted from the Web to social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Bottlenose operates across all them, in one place, and provides an integrated view of what’s happening.

The media also attempts to provide a reflection of what’s happening in the world, but the media is slow, and it’s not always objective. Bottlenose doesn’t replace the media — at least not the role of the writer. But it might do a better job of editing or curating in some cases, because it objectively measures the crowd — we don’t decide what to feature, we don’t decide what leads. The crowd does.

Other services in the past, like Digg for example, have helped pioneer this approach. But we’ve taken it further — in Digg people had to manually vote. In Bottlenose we simply measure what people say, and what they share, on public social networks.

Bottlenose is the best tool for people who want to be in the know, and the first to know. Bottlenose brings a new awareness of what’s trending online, and in the world, and how those trends impact us all.

We’ve made the Bottlenose home page into a simple Google-like query field, and nothing more. Results pages drop you into the app itself for further exploration and filtration. Except you don’t just get a long list of results, the way you get on Google.

Instead, you get an at-a-glance start page, a full-fledged newspaper, a beautiful photo gallery, a lean-back home theater, a visual map of the surrounding terrain, a police scanner, and Sonar — an off-road vehicle so that you can drive around and see what’s trending in networks as you please. We’ve made the conversation visual.

Each of these individual experiences is an app on top of the Bottlenose StreamOS platform, and each is a unique way of looking at sets and subsets of streams. You can switch between views effortlessly, and you can save anything for persistent use.

Discovery, we’ve found from user behavior, has been the entry point and the connective tissue for the rest of the Bottlenose experience all along. Our users have been asking for a better discovery experience, just as Twitter users have been asking for the same.

The new stuff you’ll see today has been one of the most difficult pieces for us to build computer-science-wise. It is a true technical achievement by our engineering team.

In many ways it’s also what we’ve been working towards all along. We’re really close now to the vision we held for Bottlenose at the very beginning, and the product we knew we’d achieve over time.

The Theory Behind It: How to Build a Smarter Global Brain

If Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks are the conduits for what the planet is thinking, then Bottlenose is a map of what the planet is actually paying attention to right now. Our mission is to “organize the world’s attention.” And ultimately I think by doing this we can help make the world a smarter place. At at the end of the day that’s what gets me excited in life.

After many years of thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the key to higher levels of collective intelligence is not making each person smarter, and it’s not some kind of Queen Bee machine up in the sky that tells us all what to do and runs the human hive. It’s not some fancy kind of groupware either. And it’s not the total loss of individuality into a Borg-like collective either.

I think that better collective intelligence really comes down to enabling better collective consciousness. The more conscious we can be of who we are collectively, and what we think, and what we are doing, the smarter we can actually be together, of our own free will, as individuals. This is a bottom-up approach to collective consciousness.

So how might we make this happen?

For the moment, let’s not try to figure out what consciousness really is, because we don’t know, and we probably never will, but regardless, for this adventure, we don’t need to. And we don’t even need to synthesize it either.

Collective consciousness is not a new form of consciousness, rather, it’s a new way to channel the consciousness that’s already there — in us. All we need to do is find a better way to organize it… or rather, to enable it to self-organize emergently.

What does consciousness actually do anyway?

Consciousness senses the internal and external world, and maintains a model of what it finds — a model of the state of the internal and external world that also contains a very rich model of “self” within it.

This self construct has an identity, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, feelings, goals, priorities, and a focus of attention.

If you look for it, it turns out there isn’t actually anything there you can find except information — the “self” is really just a complex information construct.

This “self” is not really who we are, it’s just a construct, a thought really — and it’s not consciousness either. Whatever is aware is aware of the self, so the self is just a construct like any other object of thought.

So given that this “self” is a conceptual object, not some mystical thing that we can’t ever understand, we should be able to model it, and make something that simulates it. And in fact we can.

We can already do this for artificially intelligent computer programs and robots in a primitive way in fact.

But what’s really interesting to me is that we can also do it for large groups of people too. This is a big paradigm shift – a leap. Something revolutionary really. If we can do it.

But how could we provide something like a self for groups, or for the planet as a whole? What would it be like?

Actually, there is already a pretty good proxy for this and it’s been around for a long time. It’s the media.

The Media is a Mirror

The media senses who we are and what we’re doing and it builds a representation — a mirror – in the form of reports, photos, articles, and stats about the state of the world. The media reflects who we are back to us. Or at least it reflects who it thinks we are…

It turns out it’s not a very accurate mirror. But since we don’t have anything better, most of us believe what we see in the media and internalize it as truth.

Even if we try not to, it’s just impossible to avoid the media that bombards us from everywhere all the time. Nobody is really separate from this, we’re all kind of stewing a media soup, whether we like it or not.

And when we look at the media and we see stories – stories about the world, about people we know, people we don’t know, places we live in, and other places, and events — we can’t help but absorb them. We don’t have first hand knowledge of those things, and so we take on faith what the media shows us.

We form our own internal stories that correspond to the stories we see in the media. And then, based on all these stories, we form beliefs about the world, ourselves and other people – and then those beliefs shape our behavior.

And there’s the rub. If the media gives us an inaccurate picture of reality, or a partially accurate one, and then we internalize it, it then conditions our actions. And so our actions are based on incomplete or incorrect information. How can we make good decisions if we don’t have good information to base them on?

The media used to be about objective reporting, and there are still those in the business who continue that tradition. But real journalists — the kind who would literally give their lives for the truth — are fewer and fewer. The noble art of journalism is falling prey, like everything else, to commercial interests.

There are still lots of great journalists and editors, but there are fewer and fewer great media companies. And fewer rules and standards too. To compete in today’s media mix it seems they have to stoop to the level of the lowest common denominator and there’s always a new low to achieve when you take that path.

Because the media is driven by profit, stories that get eyeballs get prioritized, and the less sensational but often more statistically representative stories don’t get written, or don’t make it onto the front page. There is even a saying in the TV news biz that “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Look at the news — it’s just filled with horrors. But that’s not an accurate depiction of the world. For example crimes don’t happen all the time, everywhere, to everyone – they are statistically quite unlikely and rare — yet so much news is devoted to crimes for example. It’s not an accurate portrayal of what’s really happening for most people, most of the time.

I’m not saying the news shouldn’t report crime, or show scary bad things. I’m just pointing out that the news is increasingly about sensationalism, fear, doubt, uncertainty, violence, hatred, crime, and that is not the whole truth. But it sells.

The problem is not that these things are reported — I am not advocating for censorship in any way. The problem is about the media game, and the profit motives that drive it. Media companies just have to compete to survive, and that means they have to play hard ball and get dirty.

Unfortunately the result is that the media shows us stories that do not really reflect the world we live in, or who we are, or what we think, accurately – these stories increasingly reflect the extremes, not the enormous middle of the bell curve.

But since the media functions as our de facto collective consciousness, and it’s filled with these images and stories, we cannot help but absorb them and believe them, and become like them.

But what if we could provide a new form of media, a more accurate reflection of the world, of who we are and what we are doing and thinking? A more democratic process, where anyone could participate and report on what they see.

What if in this new form of media ALL the stories are there, not just some of them, and they compete for attention on a level playing field?

And what if all the stories can compete and spread on their merits, not because some professional editor, or publisher, or advertiser says they should or should not be published?

Yes this is possible.

It’s happening now.

It’s social media in fact.

But for social media to really do a better job than the mainstream media, we need a way to organize and reflect it back to people at a higher level.

That’s where curation comes in. But manual curation is just not scalable to the vast number of messages flowing through social networks. It has to be automated, yet not lose its human element.

That’s what Bottlenose is doing, essentially.

Making a Better Mirror

To provide a better form of collective consciousness, you need a measurement system that can measure and reflect what people are REALLY thinking about and paying attention to in real-time.

It has to take a big data approach – it has to be about measurement. Let the opinions come from the people, not editors.

This new media has to be as free of bias as possible. It should simply measure and reflect collective attention. It should report the sentiment that is actually there, in people’s messages and posts.

Before the Internet and social networks, this was just not possible. But today we can actually attempt it. And that is what we’re doing with Bottlenose.

But this is just a first step. We’re dipping our toe in the water here. What we’re doing with Bottlenose today is only the beginning of this process. And I think it will look primitive compared to what we may evolve in years to come. Still it’s a start.

You can call this approach mass-scale social media listening and analytics, or trend detection, or social search and discovery. But it’s also a new form of media, or rather a new form of curating the media and reflecting the world back to people.

Bottlenose measures what the crowd is thinking, reading, looking at, feeling and doing in real-time, and coalesces what’s happening across social networks into a living map of the collective consciousness that anyone can understand. It’s a living map of the global brain.

Bottlenose wants to be the closest you can get to the Now, to being in the zone, in the moment. The Now is where everything actually happens. It’s the most important time period in fact. And our civilization is increasingly now-centric, for better or for worse.

Web search feels too much like research. It’s about the past, not the present. You’re looking for something lost, or old, or already finished — fleeting.  Web search only finds Web pages, and the Web is slow… it takes time to make pages, and time for them to be found by search engines.

On the other hand, discovery in Bottlenose is about the present — it’s not research, it’s discovery. It’s not about memory, it’s about consciousness.

It’s more like media — a live, flowing view of what the world is actually paying attention to now, around any topic.

Collective intelligence is theoretically made more possible by real-time protocols like Twitter. But in practice, keeping up with existing social networks has become a chore, and not drowning is a real concern. Raw data is not consciousness. It’s noise. And that’s why we so often feel overwhelmed by social media, instead of emboldened by it.

But what if you could flip the signal-to-noise ratio? What if social media could be more like actual media … meaning it would be more digestible, curated, organized, consumable?

What if you could have an experience that is built on following your intuition, and living this large-scale world to the fullest?

What if this could make groups smarter as they get larger, instead of dumber?

Why does group IQ so often seem inversely proportional to group size? The larger groups get, the dumber and more dysfunctional they become. This has been a fundamental obstacle for humanity for millennia.

Why can’t groups (including communities, enterprises, even whole societies) get smarter as they get larger instead of dumber? Isn’t it time we evolve past this problem? Isn’t this really what the promise of the Internet and social media is all about? I think so.

And what if there was a form of media that could help you react faster, and smarter, to what is going on around you as it happens, just like in real life?

And what if it could even deliver on the compelling original vision of the cyberspace as a place you could see and travel through?

What about getting back to the visceral, the physical?

Consciousness is interpretive, dynamic, and self-reflective. Social media should be too.

This is the fundamental idea I have been working on in various ways for almost a decade. As I have written many times, the global brain is about to wake up and I want to help.

By giving the world a better self-representation of what it is paying attention to right now, we are trying to increase the clock rate and resolution of collective consciousness.

By making this reflection more accurate, richer, and faster, and then making it available to everyone, we may help catalyze the evolution of higher levels of collective intelligence.

All you really need is a better mirror. A mirror big enough for large groups of people to look into and see what they are collectively paying attention to in it, together. By providing groups with a clearer picture of their own state and activity, they can adapt to themselves more intelligently.

Everyone looks in the collective mirror and adjusts their own behavior independently — there is no top-down control — but you get emergent self-organizing intelligent collective behavior as a result. The system as a whole gets smarter. So the better the mirror, the smarter we become, individually and collectively.

If the mirror is really fast, really good, really high res, and really accurate and objective – it can give groups an extremely important, missing piece: Collective consciousness that everyone can share.

We need collective consciousness that exists outside of any one person, and outside of any one perspective or organization’s agenda, and is not merely just in the parts (the individuals) either. Instead, this new level of collective consciousness should be something that is coalesced into a new place, a new layer, where it exists independently of the parts.

It’s not merely the sum of the parts, it’s actually greater than the sum – it’s a new level, a new layer, with new information in it. It’s a new whole that transcends just the parts on their own.  That’s the big missing piece that will make this planet smarter, I think.

We need this yesterday. Why? Because in fact collectives — groups, communities, organizations, nations — are the units of change on this planet. Not individuals.

Collectives make decisions, and usually these decisions are sub-optimal. That’s dangerous. Most of the problems we’ve faced and continue to face as a species come down to large groups doing stupid things, mainly due not having accurate information about the world or themselves. This is, ultimately, an engineering problem.

We should fix this, if we can.

I believe that the Internet is an evolving planetary nervous system, and it’s here to to make us smarter. But it’s going to take time. Today it’s not very smart. But it’s evolving fast.

Higher layers of knowledge, and intelligence are emerging in this medium, like higher layers of the cerebral cortex, connecting everything together ever more intelligently.

And we want to help make it even smarter, even faster, by providing something that functions like self-consciousness to it.

Now I don’t claim that what we’re making with Bottlenose is the same as actual consciousness — real consciousness is, in my opinion a cosmic mystery like the origin of space and time. We’ll probably never understand it. I hope we never do. Because I want there to be mystery and wonder in life. I’m confident there always will be.

But I think we can enable something on a collective scale, that is at least similar, functionally, to the role of self-consciousness in the brain — something that reflects our own state back to us as a whole all the time.

After all, the brain is a massive collective of hundreds of billions of neurons and trillions of connections that themselves are not conscious or even intelligent – and yet it forms a collective self and reacts to itself intelligently.

And this feedback loop – and the quality of the reflection it is based on – is really the key to collective intelligence, in the brain, and for organizations and the planet.

Collective intelligence is an emergent phenomena, it’s not something to program or control. All you need to do to enable it and make it smarter, is give groups and communities better quality feedback about themselves. Then they get smarter on their own, simply by reacting to that feedback.

Collective intelligence and collective consciousness, are at the end of the day, a feedback loop. And we’re trying to make that feedback loop better.

Bottlenose is a new way to curate the media, a new form of media in which anyone can participate but the crowd is the editor. It’s truly social media.

This is an exciting idea to me. It’s what I think social media is for and how it could really help us.

Until now people have had only the mainstream, top-down, profit-driven media to look to. But by simply measuring everything that flows through social networks in real time, and reflecting a high-level view of that back to everyone, it’s possible to evolve a better form of media.

It’s time for a bottom-up, collectively written and curated form of media that more accurately and inclusively reflects us to ourselves.

Concluding Thoughts

I think Bottlenose has the potential to become the giant cultural mirror we need.

Instead of editors and media empires sourcing and deciding what leads, the crowd is the editor, the crowd is the camera crew, and the crowd decides what’s important. Bottlenose simply measures the crowd and reflects it back to itself.

When you look into this real-time cultural mirror that is Bottlenose, you can see what the community around any topic is actually paying attention to right now. And I believe that as we improve it, and if it becomes widely used, it could facilitate smarter collective intelligence on a broader scale.

The world now operates at a ferocious pace and search engines are not keeping up. We’re proud to be launching a truly present-tense experience. Social messages are the best indicators today of what’s actually important, on the Web, and in the world.

We hope to show you an endlessly interesting, live train of global thought. The first evolution of the Stream has run its course and now it’s time to start making sense of it on a higher level. It’s time to start making it smart.

With the new Bottlenose, you can see, and be a part of, the world’s collective mind in a new and smarter way. That is ultimately why Bottlenose is worth participating in.

Keep Reading

Bottlenose – The Now Engine – The Web’s Collective Consciousness Just Got Smarter

How Bottlenose Could Improve the Media and Enable Smarter Collective Intelligence (you are here)

 

Bottlenose – The Now Engine – The Web’s Collective Consciousness Just Got Smarter

Recently, one of Twitter’s top search engineers tweeted that Twitter was set to “change search forever.” This proclamation sparked a hearty round of speculation and excitement about what was coming down the pipe for Twitter search.

The actual announcement featured the introduction of autocomplete and the ability to search within the subset of people on Twitter that you follow — both long-anticipated features.

However, while certainly a technical accomplishment (Twitter operates a huge scale and building these features must have been very difficult), this was an iterative improvement to search…an evolution, not a revolution.

Today I’m proud to announce something that I think could actually be revolutionary.

 

And here’s the video….

 

My CTO/Co-founder, Dominiek ter Heide, and I have been working for 2 years on an engine for making sense of social media. It’s called Bottlenose, and we started with a smart social dashboard.

Now we’re launching the second stage of our mission “to organize the world’s attention” — a new layer of Bottlenose that provides a live discovery portal for the social web.

This new service measures the collective consciousness in real-time and shows you what the crowd is actually paying attention to now, about any topic, person, brand, place, event… anything.

If the crowd is thinking about it, we see it. It’s a new way to see what’s important in the world, right now.

This discovery engine, combined with our existing dashboard, provides a comprehensive solution for discovering what’s happening, and then keeping up with it over time.

Together, these two tools not only help you stay current, they provide compelling and deep insights about real-time trends, influencers, and emerging conversations.

All of this goes into public beta today.

An Amazing Team

I am very proud of what we are launching today, in many ways — while still just a step on a longer journey — it is the culmination of an idea I’ve been working on, thinking about, dreaming of… for decades… and I’d love you to give it a spin.

And I’m proud of my amazing technical team — they are the most talented technical team I’ve ever worked with in my more than 20 years in this field.

I have never seen such a small team deliver so much, so well. And Bottlenose is them – it is their creation and their brilliance that has made this possible. I am really so thankful to be working with this crew.

Welcome to the Bottlenose Public Beta

So what is Bottlenose anyway?

It is a real-time view of what’s actually important across all the major social networks — the first of its kind — what you might call a “now engine.”

This new service is not about information retrieval. It’s about information awareness. It’s not search, it’s discovery.

We don’t index the past, we map the present. That’s why I think it’s better to call it a discovery engine than a search engine. Search implies research towards a specific desired answer, whereas discovery implies exploration and curiosity.

We measure what the crowd is paying attention to now, and we build a living, constantly learning and evolving, map of the present.

Twitter has always encouraged innovation around their data, and that innovation is really what has fueled their rapid growth and adoption. We’ve taken them at their word and innovated.

We think that what we have built adds tremendous value to the ecosystem and to Twitter.

But while Twitter data is certainly very important and high volume, Bottlenose is not just about Twitter… we integrate the other leading social networks too: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, and even networks whose data comes through them like Pinterest and Instagram. And we also see RSS too.

We provide a very broad view of what’s happening across the social web — a view that is not available anywhere else.

Bottlenose is what you’d build if you got the chance to start over and work on the problem from scratch — a new and comprehensive vision for how to make sense of what’s happening across and within social networks.

We think it could be for the social web what Google was for the Web. Ok that’s a bold statement – and perhaps it’s wishful thinking – but we’re at least off to a good start here and we’re pushing the envelope farther than it has ever been pushed. Try it!

Oh and one more thing, why the name? We chose it because dolphins are smart, they’re social, they hunt in pods, they have sonar. We chose the name as an homage to their bright and optimistic social intelligence. We felt it was a good metaphor for how we want to help people surf the Stream.

Thanks for reading this post, and thanks for your support. If you have a few moments to spare today, we’d love it if you gave Bottlenose a try. And remember, it’s still a beta.

Note: It’s Still a Beta!

Before I get too deep into the tech and all the possibilities and potential I see in Bottlenose, I first want to make it very clear that this is a BETA.

We’re still testing, tuning, adding stuff, fixing bugs, and most of all learning from our users.

There will be bugs and things to improve. We know. We’re listening. We’re on it. And we really appreciate your help and feedback as we continue to work on this.

Want to Know More?

How Bottlenose Could Improve the Media and Enable Smarter Collective Intelligence

 

 

How I Got Into College (by Doing the Opposite of What I Should Have Done). An Essay.

Today I had an interesting phone call with an alumnus of my alma mater, Oberlin College. He called me for an informational interview, asking for some career advice. It was a good conversation. At one point, on a tangent, he asked me why I went to Oberlin? It’s a funny story actually.

In fact, I didn’t want to attend Oberlin. It was my absolute last choice; I was forced to apply by my mother. She went to Oberlin and loved it. She said she knew me better than anyone and knew for sure that Oberlin was where I belonged.

But from my perspective, there was no way I was going from Boston to some tiny school in the midwest with no city, no ocean, no tech community, no anything! No frikkin way. I wanted to go to Brown, or NYU, or somewhere “cool” or at least “big.”

Never mind the fact that Oberlin was one of the most intellectually intense, creative, free thinking liberal arts colleges in the country. Never mind that Oberlin was the first college to admit women and to not discriminate against people of color, and never mind that it had one of the top conservatories of music in the world, or that it has long had one of the highest percentages of graduates to go onto get PhDs.

Never mind all of that. My mother went there, and it was in Ohio. And it wasn’t Brown University. Those three facts were enough to convince me I didn’t belong there.

I procrastinated until I had sent out all my other applications. But my mother would not leave me alone. So, at the last minute, one evening, in a very rebellious mood, I filled out my Oberlin application in a way that I thought would GUARANTEE that they would not admit me.

Here is the essay:

Nova Spivack – Oberlin Essay

I wasn’t going to take my mother’s advice, no matter what. I did my best to write an essay that was the very opposite of what a college application essay should be. It was not serious, well reasoned, carefully written, or intellectually brilliant, and certainly did not demonstrate my desire or qualifications to attend Oberlin. In fact, if anything, I was hoping that Oberlin’s admission staff would read it and cross me right off their list.

But fate or destiny had other plans for me.

Brown University lost my application (I received a belated apology from their admissions department months later).

And to make matters worse, much to my dismay, Oberlin loved my essay.

They called me and told me it was one of the most creative essays they had ever received. They were convinced I really wanted to attend and that my essay was actually a serious attempt to get admitted.

They didn’t believe me when I said that no, in fact, I really didn’t want to go there and that it was my last choice and that I only applied because my mother forced me.

Nothing I said would convince them otherwise. They were sure I was playing an elaborate game with them. They were sure I really wanted to attend, and the more I denied it, the more they thought I was playing with them.

Their admissions director said I was exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinker they look for. They called again. I said no. So they wrote, they spoke to my mother, and they even offered me a very generous scholarship. It was by far the best offer I got from any college. Ironically, in the end, I just could not say no.

It just goes to show you, everyone wants whomever doesn’t want them. Even colleges.

But on hindsight it turned out that my mother was right about me (as mothers usually are when it comes to their children). Oberlin was the best college I could have possibly have gone to. It was the perfect petri dish for an interdisciplinary, intensely curious, anti-authoritarian, free-thinking creative person like myself.

And the fact that there was no city to speak of and nothing at all to do off-campus (you could barely even find coffee off-campus when I attended) contributed to the most active, vibrant, non-boring on-campus community imaginable.

It was an absolute hotbed of thinking, activism, creativity, music, literature, art, science, philosophy, and basically just about everything but sports.

I tried my best to avoid it, and when I applied I tried to disqualify myself, but there was no escaping it. And it turned out that it really was the best place for me in the end; it was where I belonged.

I loved it. Every quirky idealistic isolated ivory tower dreamy minute of it.

Sometimes life works that way. What’s best for you is sometimes the opposite of what you think or want. And sometimes, when you are stubbornly certain that you know what’s best for you — just don’t listen to yourself, listen to your mother.

 

 

My Father and Me. A Memoir. For Mayer Spivack (1936 – 2011)

My father, Mayer Spivack, passed away on February 12, 2011, in the Kaplan Family House, a beautiful hospice outside of Boston. He passed away, at the young age of 74, after a difficult year and a half battle with colon cancer. During his illness he never lost his spirit of childlike curiosity, enormous compassion, and his dedication to innovation.

His passing was at times difficult, but ultimately peaceful, and took place over five days, during which he was surrounded by love from close family and friends. His presence and spirit, and the intense experiences we all shared over those last days with him are unforgettable: the most incredible experience of love and spiritual connection I have ever had. He was as great in death as he was in life.

This is the story of my relationship with my father: the things I appreciated most about him, what I learned from him, and what he gave to me at the end of his life. By sharing this, I hope to amplify and share his gifts with others.

My father was a truly unique person, and a Boston legend. He was multi-talented and worked in many fields at once, mastering them all (you can read more about his actual work here). He had a vast intelligence, a palpably original approach, and an even greater heart. He was a true Renaissance Man, a great intellectual and artist, and often an unintentionally entertaining and eccentric genius. He had a profound influence on all who knew him well.

As a father, he was a large, warm, loving, fuzzy bear of a man who never really lost his childlike innocence. He was the kind of father everyone wanted to have and when they met him they instantly wanted to hug him. His greatest accomplishment was his compassionate heart: Everyone could feel it.

But despite his brilliance, or perhaps because of it, my father never really fit in. There was no box that could contain him. He was an only child, a loner, and an outsider with little interest in conformity. He had a disdain for formality and social conventions, which always manifested, much to our embarrassment, in the most formal and conventional of settings. He described himself as an iconoclast. Despite his unconventional ways, he was loved and appreciated for his humor, his quirkiness, his unselfconscious originality, and his always out-of-the-box thinking, even (and sometimes especially) by those in the mainstream.

One funny story we recently remembered illustrates his irrepressible spirit: He was invited with his wife to a major European conference of art restorers in Italy. There was a formal reception at the home an Italian Duke. My father, never comfortable with any kind of formality, playfully took one of the candles from the reception, and wore it on his head for the entire night. During the 5 course formal dinner and the reception, he was introduced to various members of the Venetian nobility and the European art world, all the time, balancing this burning little candle on his head, yet also acting completely as if it wasn’t there and not acknowledging it at all. Everyone thought that, because of his first name, “Mayer,” he was actually the eccentric “mayor” of some city in the USA and so despite their horror they were too afraid to point out that there was a candle on his head.

In another infamous incident, my father sat on the Arts Council for the city of Newton, Massachusetts. One day a photo was taken of the Council members, none of whom were actual artists, aside from my father — they were prominent upstanding Newton business leaders and socialites. In the photo they are all wearing three piece suits and looking very formal and proud. My father is also wearing a three piece suit, except that, much to the dismay of the other Council members, his suit pants are tucked into gigantic calf-height silver moon boots (to him it was winter and it was perfectly logical to wear snow boots).

In a similar vein, whenever my father was invited to a black tie event, he would reluctantly attend, dressed appropriately, except with a black dress sock tied around his neck instead of a bow tie. Of course he would never acknowledge this to anyone, and they were all too shocked to point it out to him.

One more example of my father’s individuality: when we were children in the 1970’s in Boston, my father got a great deal on a World War One field ambulance. That was our family “car.” He also had a longstanding love affair with army surplus, to which he had special access through his position on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. From some special warehouse, he acquired a full Coast Guard extreme-weather helicopter rescue snowsuit — a bright orange practically bulletproof insulated monstrosity. To him it was extremely practical – warm, waterproof, and visible even in the worst white-out snowstorm conditions.  He was entirely unselfconscious of the fact that he looked like he had just descended from a rescue helicopter when he wore it. And so this was what he wore, along with his usual silver moon boots, all winter, every winter, through my early childhood.

My poor brother and I would have to be dropped off every morning at elementary school this way: We would pull up in an an antique white ambulance — a big man in an orange emergency jumpsuit, sunglasses, and silver moon boots would get out, tromp through the snow, and open the rear doors (where the stretcher would normally be) and then my younger brother and I would pop out, much to the shock and awe of our fellow schoolmates. Thus were the origins of my own life as an alien and outsider. While these experiences were a source of horror and embarrassment for us growing up, today we laugh hysterically when we remember them — they are what we are made of and I wouldn’t trade them back for anything.

My father was a huge influence for me as an innovator. He was a prolific, constant professional inventor and my childhood was filled with his inventions, in various stages of development. He was such a good inventor that corporations like Polaroid, Otis Elevator and others, would hire him to come up with inventions. I remember him once telling me that he made 100 inventions for Polaroid in 100 days. There was another time when my father was hired to invent new uses for Silly Putty — he received a giant vat of the stuff from the Silly Putty people. With the attention of my father, two kids, and all our friends, the Silly Putty gradually dispersed throughout our house, until little blobs of Silly Putty could be found in every corner, crevice, crack, cranny and nook.

My brother and I grew up inventing things with our father. In fact, we were not allowed to have or watch a TV as children – instead we had three rooms dedicated to making things, in which we spent most of our time: one for building things with wood, one for drawing and painting, and another was my father’s studio. These rooms were stocked with all kinds of tools and art supplies.

As an inventor, my father always had tools and various devices hanging off of him, clipped onto his belt, in fanny packs, in holsters, backpacks, special cases, and in holders of his own making. Our nickname for him at times was “Inspector Gadget.”  He was always infatuated with some new tool or device.

I remember, for example, what we refer to as his “Hot Glue Phase,” when I was in junior high school. Hot glue is a plastic that you melt through a device called a hot glue gun. It creates a white plastic goo that hardens as it cools and is unfortunately able to fasten just about anything together, much to my father’s delight, and our misfortune. I remember going to junior high school with a rip in my pants repaired visibly with hot glue, my sneakers repaired with hot glue, my book bag repaired with hot glue. There was nothing that hot glue couldn’t be used on, we discovered. Clothes. Plates. Furniture. Our house was at one time filled with little spider web strands of hot glue residue, stringing together our possessions, our home, our clothes, us.

One of my father’s most memorable inventions was “The Body Sail” – a precursor to the Windsurfer, on which the sail was not attached to the board  but rather was held by hand using a special boom. He once won the Charles River Boat Festival sailing that contraption – of course, wearing a full body scuba suit. My brother and I used to use his Body Sail on ice skates in the winter, on frozen ponds. My father, of course, preferred to sail it on roller skates, in full bodysuit, helmet and gloves, right through parting waves of startled lunchtime crowds in Harvard Square.

No story about my father would be complete without mentioning his love of sailing. It encompassed not only his Body Sail invention, but a series of boats, particularly multi-hulled boats such as catamarans and eventually trimarans. In his later years he moved to Marblehead outside of Boston, a worldwide center of sailing, where he became an avid fan of high-speed sailing, eventually designing and starting to build his own trimaran out of aerospace composite materials, which, had it ever been finished, would have been among the fastest, and certainly the most computerized and advanced, trimarans on Earth.

My father was also a classically trained artist and particularly a widely shown sculptor — I grew up surrounded by his artworks — photos, drawings, and sculptures made from found objects, industrial artifacts, natural materials. I played in his studios – surrounded by tools for making things, prototyping, and inventing. As an artist, my father was also truly unique. An early pioneer of the use of “found objects,” his artworks were made from rusty pieces of industrial machinery, wooden molds for casting pieces of ships, old rusty farm tools, pieces of found wood and materials from nature. I grew up surrounded by these artworks. There were hundreds of them and he had numerous exhibitions.

One series of works he called “Foundiron” consisted of pieces taken from the intestines of large industrial boilers and furnaces. Another series used wooden molds for casting brass for ships, appeared like a set of primitive human figures – perhaps from Easter Island. Later works included a two ton angelic shape made from the massive steel blades of a snowplow for train tracks, and gossamer drawings in air made from the unwound springs of massive clocks that reminded one of Picasso’s drawings. His Shrine Series included animal bones, bird wings, industrial spindles, parts from clocks, early computers, and metronomes, and melted industrial alloys. One of his larger installations is made from three giant steel train car hitches that he cut apart and welded back together like hands grasping each other, and now stands permanently in Boston’s new South Station.

He was also a photographer and some of his images — for example macro images of honeycombs and turtles, still remain in my mind as if I saw them yesterday. At one point his entire office was rigged up with a complicated system of prisms, blackout shades, lenses, reflective materials, and rear projection screens so that he could take photos of shapes made of pure light that he called Lumia – which he then blew up to massive size and animated with a bank of slide projectors — some of these images can be seen on his weblog.

Another area of life that my father dove into deeply was music. He had a profound connection with music. His music collection included many of the greatest works of classical music, but also Jazz and folk music, and even Indian classical music. Our childhood was filled with music, and also with musical instruments of all kinds – particularly unusual instruments: aboriginal instruments, vibraphones, banjos, harpsichords, flutes, guitars, percussion instruments. My own broad taste in music came from this. My brother, Marin Spivack, took it even further, becoming a masterful Jazz saxophone player, as well as learning to compose for and play guitar, drums, piano, bass.

My father’s fascination with science and his massive appetite for knowledge translated into a home filled with books about science, scientific journals, and discussions about physics, biology, chemistry, brain science, psychology, architecture, engineering, and anthropology. We spent countless hours discussing science, the future, the brain, and technology, and coming up with new theories and inventions.

In my own life as an innovator, my father was my biggest fan and supporter. He taught me to invent – it was his passion. He wrote about it, and refined his theories and methods for innovating and enhancing creativity over the course of his life, and as children my brother and I were his very fortunate experimental guinea pigs.

I can remember being brought by him as a child to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where my father had done his graduate studies — there my brother and I were subjects in early experiments on children and computers: we were observed as we played the early computer game, “Wumpus,” and learned how to use computers, by his colleagues. I still remember my father’s love for MIT — how he took my little brother and I on nighttime expeditions into the hidden catacombs under the campus, and the many times we met with his friends, colleagues and relatives from various MIT departments. My father wore his MIT ring proudly right until his last breath: It was the only club he ever wanted to belong to.

As I got older my father shared with me his work with architects and designers, and his “Design Log” methodology for documenting and improving any kind of design process. Later, as an adult he shared his new theories about human intelligence, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and what he called “syncretic associative thinking.” His theory of syncretic cognition proposes that there are two fundamentally different, yet complementary, forms of human intelligence — linear and syncretic. According to my father’s thinking, syncretic thought is associative and seemingly chaotic, yet out of it great creative leaps and innovations are born.

Dyslexics, of which my father was one, were examples of the extreme case of syncretic thinking: despite difficulties with linear logic, dyslexics are often brilliantly creative; in fact many great geniuses – especially artists, but also scientists — have been dyslexic. My father believed that instead of viewing dyslexics as “learning disabled” they should be viewed as “creativity enabled” and trained and taught differently, to leverage their unique cognitive abilities.

Instead of being viewed as bad at math or slow at reading, dyslexics might instead be viewed as unusually talented at associative thinking, brilliant in the arts and inventing. It was all a matter of perspective. My father advocated passionately for the often-overlooked talents hidden within dyslexia in his own writing, and also in his parallel career as a trained psychotherapist working with hundreds of people, especially learning disabled people, engineers and artists.

My father’s interest in the many flavors of intelligence extended not just to humans but also to animals: He had a long fascination with animal intelligence. His homes were always filled with animals – particularly highly intelligent parrots of various breeds, with whom he would speak, whistle, sing, and explore his theories about learning and cognition. When I was just a newborn, he had a pet crow — which he said was one of the most intelligent of birds.

My father painstakingly studied crows and eventually learned how to mimic their various kinds of calls. I can distinctly remember how, throughout our entire life together, he would suddenly start embarrassingly screeching, “Caaah  caaahhh Caaaaaaahhhh,” whenever he encountered a crow in some random tree.

In another famous story from my father’s MIT days, he became fascinated with echolocation — the form of navigation through sound used by animals bats and dolphins. Bats in particular became a bit of an obsession for my father. Bats navigate with high frequency clicks. These clicks bounce off of surfaces like walls, buildings, plants, insects, other bats and the reflections are turned into images in the bat brain.

My father decided that bat echolocation would be a great way to help the blind navigate through cities. So he invented a bat clicker device you could wear on your head. It would emit rapid loud clicks that were within the range of human hearing. He spent a week blindfolded, wearing this device, walking around the MIT and Harvard campuses, and apparently he was able to navigate successfully with it.

He recounted that after many days of using this contraption, blindfolded the whole time, his brain adapted and he was able to discern the different types of materials, objects and surfaces from the subtle differences in sound reflections. He was able to cross streets, navigate around buildings and obstacles, and could even find his way through crowds (although we all suspected the crowds were probably parting of their own volition around this strange blindfolded man with the clicking machine on his head). The astonished people of Cambridge who encountered him must have thought he was some kind of alien exploring a strange new world. And one can only wonder what the bats themselves must have thought.

At various times in my childhood my father also had pet frogs, lizards, turtles, fish, snakes, squirrels, cats, and later, his beloved pug. We grew up with enormous aquariums, terrariums, and aviaries — as kids these were wonderlands. This love of all kinds of living things would eventually guide him to his second wife: Boston artist, Louise Freedman. We knew they were made for each other when, for their first date, they chose to go to a local cemetery pond to collect pond water and frogs together.

As their lives merged, so did their always increasing menagerie of animals. And gradually there was less and less room, or time, for humans in their house. During my college years, my father and his wife had started raising African Grey parrots, and had also become close friends with Harvard/MIT animal cognition researcher, Irene Pepperberg, and her famous parrot, Alex.

When I would visit their home on school breaks, the parrots were as much a part of the family as my brother and I, and occupied a central location in the family room. A typical mealtime conversation in our family was a combination of English words, chirps, clicks and whistles, spoken by humans and parrots alike. My father and Louise eventually moved into a home that literally was like a tree — surrounded by trees on many levels, on the edge of a huge nature sanctuary on Marblehead Neck. There amongst the branches, they could almost live as birds. My brother I joked — half-seriously — that for an upcoming wedding anniversary, we would throw out their couch and instead replace it with matching human-sized perches for them.

But my father’s fascination with animals wasn’t just about intelligence, it was also about love. I remember one day as a child, while frantically evacuating from Cape Cod ahead of a fast oncoming hurricane, my father suddenly backed up miles of panicked traffic when he stopped the car in the pouring rain and lightning to scramble around on his hands and knees, risking his own life, to rescue a turtle that had strayed onto the freeway. This deep love of animals, and people, that he manifested throughout his life, was at times a source of embarrassment for me, but later became what I admired most about him. For my father, this simple love of all living things was his religion. But for most of my life, I didn’t realize what an accomplishment that was.

Although my father influenced me in so many ways, the most important facet of life that we shared — and struggled over — was spirituality.

He was a dedicated scientific materialist and rejected superstition, which to him included all institutionalized forms of religion. He even sometimes referred to himself as an atheist, although I think more accurately, he was an agnostic. I on the other hand, while also deeply interested in the sciences, had come to the conclusion that science alone could never fully explain reality or consciousness — I felt that there was a common underlying truth in all the great religions which science had so far completely missed, a truth that was essential for a complete and accurate understanding of reality. This debate between science and religion became the fulcrum on which we wrestled endlessly and in many different ways.

I had always known, even as a child, that there is something more than meets the eye about reality that is extremely subtle, yet at once vividly evident. Growing up, I had a number of spontaneous mystical experiences that I could not explain, and later I witnessed highly unusual phenomena taking place in monasteries in Nepal and India that convinced me that there must be more to the mind, and to reality, than our western scientific worldview could presently measure or explain. I was perplexed by the apparent incompatibility of these experiences, and the Western scientific framework that my father and I both lived and worked in.

In my attempts to reconcile these two worlds, I became obsessed with physics, computer science and artificial intelligence. I began searching for a grand unified theory. I sought to create software that could simulate physics, the brain, and the mind.  With some of the world’s most cutting-edge physicists and computer scientists, as well as at some of the top artificial intelligence companies, I worked on on several major initiatives in computational physics, parallel supercomputing, and artificial intelligence, as well as my own software projects and theories.

All of these attempts failed to achieve their goals so thoroughly and so repeatedly that eventually I began to question if it was even possible to do. I reached a point where I began to doubt the assumptions behind these projects — I began to question my own questions. This led me to a deeper exploration of the mind and the foundations of reality – a journey from cognitive science and physics to philosophy, and finally to spirituality. Paradoxically, I ended up back where I began, looking inwards rather than outwards, for the answers.

My quest for spiritual meaning took me through a survey of all the major Western and Eastern religions, and while traveling in Asia for a year after college, I landed in Tibetan Buddhism, with its intense focus on the nature of mind and consciousness. I was home. For me, Tibetan Buddhism had the perfect combination of rational and objective logical analysis (my father’s influence), and the mystical direct experience of the union of consciousness with divinity that I had tasted in my own experience.

In Tibetan Buddhism I finally found a rational yet holistic framework that could account for all the dimensions of observed experience: both the outer physical world and the inner dimensions of consciousness. From the Buddhist perspective, we humans are manifestations or projections of a deeper ultimate nature of reality, as are all sentient beings, and in fact all animate and inanimate things. This deeper level of reality is the origin of both the subjective and objective poles of experience, and it’s nature is transcendental, empty, yet aware.

The direct proof and experience of this can be found many ways: through logical reasoning, through prayer, through love, through nature, through art, through meditation, and perhaps most easily, by searching for the source of one’s own consciousness. Consciousness is a unique phenomena that we all have direct, equal, and immediate access to, yet which science cannot measure let alone explain. By persistently searching for the source of our own consciousness, and discovering that we can’t find it yet it is not non-existent, we are inevitably brought to a direct realization of the ultimate nature of reality.

Over decades of searching for consciousness, first through science, then through Buddhism, I had come to the conclusion that rather than consciousness emerging from the brain, it had to be the other way around: All experience, and indeed the body, brain and even the physical universe, emerge from consciousness. I had discovered that consciousness is a gateway to a sourceless, deep and endless wellspring of mysteries. And more importantly, I had found what I thought would be conclusive evidence that would finally convince my father that I was right.

But when I tried to relate these realizations to my father, he was entirely unconvinced. He argued that my experiences were not really objective, and that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain; a wonderful side-effect, a remarkable illusion that nonetheless could be reduced to neurochemistry and atoms. I countered that in the special case of consciousness, subjective observations could in fact be objective, under the right circumstances. I claimed that it was possible to scientifically and objectively observe consciousness by looking at it under the microscope of carefully trained meditation. But he cast doubts on these claims, citing numerous examples from psychology and neuroscience.

So I tried many other arguments. I cited the work of philosophers like John Searle who provided many illustrations of how conscious experiences could not be reduced to the brain or any kind of machine. I used lines of reasoning from Buddhist logic. I even cited recent findings in quantum theory that seem to imply that the act of conscious observation interacts with experimental results. But all of these arguments failed to convince my father that consciousness was fundamental or irreducible. He remained a skeptic and I felt invalidated. And so I strived even harder to find a way to map my experiences to his worldview, so I could finally prove the scientific foundations for my experience and belief in divinity to him.

This ongoing debate between my father and I — between science and religion — was not unique to us; it had been going on for millennia, and yielded many great works of both science and art. Our conversations were often frustrating and ended in exhaustion and exasperation, but we also sensed that somehow we were getting somewhere, if not mutually, then at least as individuals. We were foils to one another, worthy opponents. Like many who had come before us, the dialectical process of trying to convince one another of our conflicting views of reality, caused us to generated volumes of new writing, theories, inventions, and ideas we could not have arrived at on our own.

Nevertheless, despite my father’s strong rebukes of superstitious belief systems, and his skepticism towards my Buddhist beliefs, he was in fact a deeply spiritual man, in a very human, unembellished way. His spirituality was not tied to any system or institution — it was natural and basic: it was how he lived and the ideals he lived by: Love, Science, and Art. His spirituality was not about words, it was about actions. He expressed it in his art, his good deeds, his compassion, his joyful creativity, and his ability to love and be loved.

What I failed to see was that my father’s spirituality was immensely humble. So humble that he would not even claim to be spiritual, and certainly wouldn’t go so far as to conceptualize it. Instead, he was simply a truly good man, a mensch. While I continued to try new tactics in my campaign to convince him, and as I judged him as closed-minded and non-spiritual, he was in fact actually living my spiritual ideals better than I could understand at the time. But, not realizing this, I was certain he was missing out on something of vital importance, something that I had to convince him of before he died. And so our debate continued.

Then, in the last few months of my father’s life, we were finally able to bridge this divide. As his illness progressed, his wife called me and urged me to visit before it was too late. “He’s really getting worse, and I want you to have a chance to be together while he’s still strong enough,” she said. And so I flew to Boston and we resumed the debate.

Perhaps it was our mutual sense that time was running out, or perhaps it was that we had both exhausted all our prior arguments, but this time we reached a level of discourse that was essentially mathematical in nature; pure logic, pure set theory. Without imposing the assumptions of either science or religion, we started anew from first principles and through pure reason and observation, we derived a new common language, on neutral ground. And with this in hand, we arrived at a single nondual phenomenology — At last we had arrived at the basic nature of reality.

When we finally reached the point of agreement and mutual understanding, after decades of debate, and we both witnessed the simultaneous unification and transcendence of our prior belief systems — we saw that we had always actually agreed on a deeper level. And on that December afternoon, as we sketched out the full picture together, in a way that neither of us had done before on our own, we both breathed a sigh of relief. It was an incredibly cathartic moment for both of us.

At the conclusion of our decades long debate, we sat quietly together, just being in that understanding — a meditation on awareness and knowledge, on physics, time and space — on our mutual respect for the immensity and majesty of the universe. I will always treasure that time.

The day after that experience, before I left to return to California, I sat by my father’s bed. He was almost unable to walk at this point. As I said goodbye, thinking I might never see him again, I said, “Don’t forget what we discovered together, it is the highest realization.” He replied, “There is still one more realization that is higher.” Surprised, I asked him, “What?” He answered, “To live it!”

About a month later my wife called again. “He’s dying,” she said, “come back as soon as you can.” The cancer had advanced unexpectedly fast and so I flew back to be with him one last time.

I stayed by his side, looking into his eyes, talking to him, even though he had lost the ability to move or speak. His eyes smiled back. My brother and I kept telling him, as he labored to breathe for the final two days, “It’s ok to go now, you can let go, we love you, we’ll be ok, we’ll take care of each other.” But his drive to love and protect us all was so strong. He wasn’t ready to go. Even while in the depths of his own suffering, he was still filled with compassion, he was worried about what would happen to all of us. It was noble and beautiful to witness.

We played him the music he loved, the music he played for us as we grew up. We laughed and told him our memories and stories of him. We stroked his hair and his beard and tried to make him as comfortable as possible as he lay there, struggling, and probably frustrated that he couldn’t communicate, and at times in terrible pain. Yet through great effort he still found ways to let us know he heard us, loved us, and was still conscious.

As his breathing changed and we saw the signs of death advancing further through his body, he maintained his clarity and brilliance and even got brighter — we could feel his heart, and see his kind and intelligent spirit in his eyes. He tried to speak to us by making what little sound he could and moving his eyebrows in response to us. “Remember what we talked about, what we realized,” I said to him over and over, and I could see he was living it.

Finally, on the evening of February 12, 2011, he let go and died peacefully in his wife’s arms as she sang to him gently. All of us felt at that moment an incredible, all-embracing, boundless love and bliss, even as we grieved. It was him. My father, Mayer Spivack. Our Buddha. He went into Love.