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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/10/2012

Josh Klein on finding and exploring hidden connections: ‘Start with what you're curious in’


Technology consultant and host of the five-part documentary series "The Link" on National Geographic Channel.
Josh Klein is a technology consultant and recently hosted the five-part documentary series “The Link” on the National Geographic Channel He is also the co-author of “Hacking Work.” Here, he answers five questions about innovation.

Question: What is the most remarkable innovation you have come across so far?

Answer: It's impossible to say! Comparing the invention of penicillin with the escapement that enabled clocks with basic metallurgy with the stock certificate with the printing press… They all had massive impact on human beings.

How do you determine what an innovation is?

Good question; I'd have to go with the dictionary definition of"making something better." That's pretty subjective, but I'm OK with that.

What is your take on the use or over-use of the word "innovation"? Do you think the word is in need of a replacement? If so, what word would you replace it with?

I don't think it needs replacement so much as obsolescing. We don'tt alk about "ambition" all the time anymore because it's an assumed quality most people today share. Innovation needs to fall into the same category; we've all got access to nearly endless opportunities to innovate, along with copious free resources to do so. It's not necessary to talk about innovation anymore, it only remains to do it as a normal part of our role as human beings.

How do you recommend individuals investigate the connections between seemingly disparate and fully-formed technologies on their own? Where should they start?

Yes, definitely, and start with what you're curious in. We've got near-infinite access to information and education out there, and staying a hyper-focused specialist following only pre-designated lines of inquiry is just a sure-fire way to be irrelevant. Crossing disciplines is where the majority of innovation has always happened — supported by expertise, of course.

I'm often asked "how do I become a hacker?" and it's fundamentally the same question with the same answer. Find out what interests you, get better at solving the problems associated with it, and share your results. Then repeat.

Given that you connect seemingly disconnected technologies, what is your take on the Singularity? Is it inevitable, possible or merely a pipe dream?

If you use the Wikipedia definition of an "emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means" then I'd say we're already there. After all, there are lots of types of intelligence, and while it'd be glib to say that stuff like "memory" is a kind of intelligence (and therefore computers are already better than human beings at it), I think the comparison stands. Just seeing how big data and machine learning have advanced in the last few years seems a lot like "greater-than-human intelligence" already.

Put another way, there are numerous kinds of intelligence, and we can only truly understand the human ones. It's similar to our inability to understand how a fish experiences water or a dog experiences scent; despite our lack of capacity to relate or understand them, those experiences are still there. Rather than trying to anticipate emergent intelligences as a mirror of human thought, I think the real question is about how new kinds of intelligence could emerge in ways we don't like and have trouble anticipating, and what we can do about it ahead of time.

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/10/2012

 
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