The Connected Vehicle

We've been mainly talking about information and knowledge management on our blog here, but I wanted to shift gears to discuss connected vehicle technology (bad pun completely intentional!).  Somat has a long history with infrastructure and transportation engineering, so we've been applying that experience to intelligent transportation systems (ITS), which includes connected vehicle technology.  With our headquarters being in Detroit, there is a natural fit and base here for such work - not to mention a major need to rewire our economy and create new jobs in this space.

Technologies whereby vehicles "talk" to each other are on the horizon and hold so many exciting possibilities and benefits.  The Department of Transportation is taking a hard look at various approaches with safety as the first priority.  For instance, imagine your car alerting you when the driver next to you is about to do something stupid (or alerting the other driver to prevent the potential dumb move).

But safety is just the beginning of the benefits.  Traffic congestion reduction is another potential plus - major cities in Europe are already starting to employ the latest information technology to reduce their traffic problems.  The benefits here are multiple - smog reduction, stress reduction, less idle gas burning, more productivity, etc.  Another benefit of ITS can be security - countries like Mexico are using innovative vehicle identification technologies to crack down on drug trafficking, etc.

We've got a number of initiatives in ITS underway and look forward to talking about them more in the coming weeks and months.


What are YOU searching for?

I previously discussed the impact of information or data on people, and concluded how information management is evolving to thought management and, ultimately, to thought control.

Today, more than ever, there is a concerted scientific approach to presenting information to obtain a desired result.  As the volume of information available grows, it becomes difficult to parse through it and understand what it means.  We now need help not only in getting information but also in analyzing it and coming up with a conclusion.

There is a humorous saying about statistics: “Statistics is like a bikini.  It may reveal a lot but it obscures the essential.”  We can say the same for unprocessed information.  To get to the essential, we have to filter out the unwanted chaff and get only the relevant nuggets of information.  This leads us to smart mining of data.

I read an interesting piece by search expert Steve Arnold on this matter.  Mr. Arnold talked about the concept of “context sensitive search” and how search engines were trying to implement this idea.  The example he used brought home the concept to me in a simple yet lucid manner.

Simply put, “context sensitive search” routines attempt to understand the background and history of the person or entity searching for information, and then retrieve information based on that history/background.  Mr. Arnold spoke about how a zoologist working for a government research organization and looking for information on “bats” should not have to endure the hassle of going through tons of information that a ten year old Little League baseball player would get by typing in the same “bats”, or vice versa.  I’ve had similar situations at home when my nine year old and interpret the same word or phrase completely differently.

While all this seems obvious enough once it’s laid out in front of you, divining “context” and user intent is no easy feat, and some serious math and data mining is being put to use by Google, Microsoft and others to get us there.

Exciting times lie ahead for all of us in the field of information and knowledge engineering!  We have a real opportunity to be an agent for change.


Defense Department relaxes social media restrictions

According to a new policy released on Friday (view it here), the Department of Defense is now lifting restrictions on the use of social networking and collaboration tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter on their non-classified computer networks.  A good posting about the announcement appeared on the New York Times' military blog.

This certainly has positive implications for deployed troops trying to keep in better touch with their friends and families, as well as for more open communication between the DoD and the public, in America and abroad.

During a briefing we held at the National Press Club in the fall, there was a robust discussion about the increased use of more open sources of information to enhance national security itself - you can view some of the discussion on our YouTube channel.  It will be interesting to see if this new embracing of social media will also further our real-time and open intelligence gathering capabilities, sharing and coordination.


Information and Thought Leadership, Part 2

A continuation of my thoughts from the other day.  There has been a huge explosion in the amount of information that is available in recent years, given the exponential growth rates in internet usage, mobile tools and social media.  This has created significant opportunities for peoples and companies - in the fields of collection, collation, coordination and creative display of information.  In fact, it has even economically lifted entire countries, such as India, and enabled them to grow their middle class and enjoy higher standards of living in record periods of time.

At the same time, the overload of information has often led to rampant confusion, contamination of data and inefficiency in our ability to process this information.  The elixir of “freedom of information” has often become the poison of “unreliable” information.  The focus of the technological elite has shifted from managing the storage and retrieval of data to “smart” or “intelligent” data mining and management.

Also, in a world where disinformation and misinformation are being actively and fastidiously introduced by unscrupulous elements, the battle for the management and control of information is translating to a battle for the management and control of thought, and thereby a battle for ultimate power.  Our field is helping government organizations facilitate new calls to action for openness, transparency and public participation – I hope these efforts will quell some of that misinformation out there.


Aggregation and collaboration during a disaster

While our thoughts go out first and foremost to those affected by the Chilean earthquake and the potential coastal tsunamis it could result in, I found it interesting how the latest information technology tools are being leveraged to the hilt for the benefit of journalists, aid workers, government workers, and concerned friends and family.

Visit this site - a public Google Docs page is being used to aggregate (and update in real-time) a number of social media and news sources for the benefit of the various people who need the information fast.