Fascinated by the concept of Liberature, I wanted to invite the even more fascinating writer, speaker and analyst David Amerland to a conversational search for meaning beyond the traditional form of the interview. However my understanding of what the author of the best-selling book Semantic Search does, as disruptive and non-traditional it is, stopped me, reminding me of the subtleness and the courageous commitment with which David fosters and nurtures change in the world he wants to live in: one concept, one relationship, one smile at a time. So, I followed David’s lead.
About David Amerland
David has been online since 1993, using Veronica (part of the Gopher system protocol) to discover documents on the web. He is the founder of Cool Publications, a digital publishing house, pushing for the promotion of new authors’ work and a democratization of the traditional publishing monopoly.
In the early days of his career David Amerland was a stringer for The European and contributing finance and health articles to various newspapers and magazines. Having spent seven years working for the John Lewis Partnership, these days David does only strategy, advising companies globally. He shares insights and advice on the rapid development of semantic search and the disruption of traditional business and life models on his website davidamerland.com, and also writes for Forbes, Social Media Today and several other online editions. Among David’s most popular books are: Google Semantic Search, Google Hangouts for Business, Getting to Number 1, SEO Help The Book, The Social Media Mind.
What the above facts won’t tell you right away is that without wasting a single precious second, everyday, with every activity, David Amerland does what he believes has to be done: make his time spent on Earth meaningful to more than just himself.
David never misses to nudge people, to share their content, to encourage their endeavours, to look from the bright side of things. He is always happy to help no matter at what speed he is running to catch his next deadline. And all this he does as if standing still, never stopping to be human, humble and pure.
I am honoured and thrilled that for this first dance around meaning I have David to answer my questions. The only slightly untraditional thing I will allow myself to do here is rewrite David’s tagline “Author Speaker Analyst” with the roles I see as a mirror reflection of each of the words, and they are Explorer, Connector, Ripple Maker.
On routines, creativity, dark humor and gifts
How does immaculate discipline foster creativity outbursts?
Discipline allows me to function, observations, thoughts and insights (as well as a tonne of stupid ideas) accumulate and then gel. I always respond when that happens. It doesn’t mean the outcome is always perfect. For every book and article and post I have published that has worked there are a dozen that were simply trash.
Do you have a routine that you never break?
When I need some time to think I play “The Last of Us” (I used to play “Uncharted”) I’ve logged 3.410 hours on it at the moment. It’s made me a so-so player but it affords me a totally different headspace to think in. So I always play for half an hour or so, maybe longer if something complex is teasing my mind. [ed. I first thought David listens to the soundtrack of these games, so I linked to the music on Youtube; they are worth listening though]
What is the bridge between your dark humor and that inexhaustible faith of yours made of?
I really believe that we are capable of extremely great things. When we do ‘bad’ things there are always circumstantial events that have led to that outcome. I know we are fragile in so many ways and are inherently weak. Yet we never cease to strive. The sense of that constant striving is something that fills me with hope.
What’s the gift that you are meant to give?
It’s the same one I try to give myself: make my time spent on Earth meaningful to more than just myself.
Favorite oxymoron? “We know what you think”
Favourite myth from Greek mythology? Icarus
Favourite similarity between photographing and writing? Perspective
Semantic search, love and AI
What is in the empty space between nods (objects) and edges (relationships)?
The potentiality of connections not yet made and objects not yet discovered.
Do you think the search for knowledge and certainty will substitute the search for love?
It would be a great thing to happen but personally I hope not. We need a mystery that reduces us all to imbeciles at some point. Love is the one emotion we can analyze to death and yet still remains a mystery for which there is no equivalent substitute.
Will AIs dream electric sheep?
They will dream of their version of electric sheep. A mind once awakened cannot really be silenced but we have no way to really know what an AI will dream of.
Is AI the Philosopher’s stone of the semantic search?
It is, though it could also be Pandora’s Box. I am reading a lot of books sounding the alarm bell on this at the moment. I have yet to process everything but I think we should also be aware of the risks, involved.
What’s the story behind Revelations [David Ameland’s book from 2009]?
It brought together academic and scientific training with a study of the occult that started when I was 13.
Which unsolved problem in chemistry do you find most fascinating [David has a background in Chemistry]?
The fact that some hydrophylic reactions accelerate at the water interface. They find an accelerant which we have not yet to understand though we have tried.
Do you think the age when “ the collective sensemaking ability of mankind is just a couple clicks away from us” deprived us of the notion “impossible”?
It has broadened the horizon of the possible significantly. We know some things are harder than others but that should never stop us from trying.
What do you suppose Nike [David Amerland’s cat] knows that me and you don’t?
Total peace of mind after some food.
Let’s get back to your imagination that “you are in space, in a spaceship and search is your umbilical cord with the world”. Now imagine that you meet Bowerick Wowbagger what will you tell him?
What’s the best place to take a date to?
David can interview too
Trying to keep it as live as possible, I used free writing
[Start: 9.21 pm, November 11]
David: If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
I don’t want to change the world, it’s a self regulating system.
David: Does being a woman matter in the online world?
Can we switch the filter? Let’s talk minds not gender. It matters exactly as it matters in the offline world and exactly as much as you believe it does or doesn’t. [I promise to get back to this when I go through the role of mom, I sense that I will cross all that out]
David: How does having a multi-cultural perspective help you?
Cultures are paradigms of coping with reality, everyday life and the sense of the invisible world. I just have several that I can load (when my mind is not agitated).
David: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I would grow a … patience :) I am super impatient and do not take into consideration the time in the equation. I would love to be able to know what “it takes time” means.
David: How does Latin, a dead language, help you make sense of the world?
Oh, you found my almost secret weapon. It helps mainly through deep understanding of words and also leaves me with the luxurious comfort that if nothing else left I could at least sit down and read Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae in original (if I don’t forget Latin soon)
[End: 9.25 pm, November 11; Edited, emoticons and typos removed: November 15, 11.01 a.m. to 11.03 a.m.]
After answering David’s questions the interview was supposed to be ready for publishing and finding its epilogue. Yet, there was something missing, I knew I haven’t asked the most important question but I didn’t know what it was. Thankfully the Muse spoke to me in a while when I got to writing the intro, so I sent it to David and he replied back, giving a magnificent final touch to this dialogue.
How Indra’s net is similar to the Semantic web?
And now you found the one question I cannot be pithy on: Indra’s net is a concept designed to negate the mind. It is a way of perhaps reconciling opposites and feeling one’s self. At a distance it presents itself as a concrete element, its components easily discernible, its function clear. Yet as you get closer it devolves into a sense of images of images of images, each reflective of each other and everything else. So, just like the Matrix “it is everywhere and it is nowhere”. The semantic web brings together not facts (we had that before) but meaning. It takes knowledge and attempts to distil it into wisdom. As such it can be as real or false as our perception of it, the use we choose to put it into and the context of our interaction with it. For example, exploring conspiracy theories and chasing down all the leads can become such complete time-consuming activity that it validates the conspiracy that something is happening and we need to be distracted from it otherwise we will take active measures, and the conspiracy theory wild goose chase is part of the conspiracy, itself.
Most times our interaction with the semantic web will be small, highly contextual and practical. Yet there will always be times when we will dive deep into it, seeking to find just where the rabbit hole leads and in doing so we will realise that it is infinite and, perhaps, we with it. There really is nothing new under the sun. What was before, in our minds, we see now made real with our technologies but those technologies were born from our minds so where did they come from? Buddhism uses the concept of Indra’s net to nudge us in the direction of mindfullness, the absence of self and the idea that who we are and what we become is an inseparable expression of a greater dynamic whole. The web, as it is manifesting, now, is formalising these concepts. We are all linked. No man can be an island. No one has any value, alone.
With this the first conversational search for meaning from the Dialogues series ends. But the conversations that David Amerland ignites actually never do. You can find David and his thoughts on Google+ or enter one of his many curiosity cabinets called Sunday Reads at any time when you feel like you need someone to talk to while changing the world.