The Fourth Dimension: Part 1

Technology Foot Print


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When the Berlin wall fell, it felt revolutionary, but the work had been going on for fifty years-evolutionarily, with huge challenges to overcome to get to that stage. The evolution of computer technology is the same. Changes break onto the world stage and create excitement. But we know years of theories and experimentation have gone into today’s capabilities. We are in one of these eras now—a new dimension uniting the digital world with the previous unreachable world of the senses. Computer technologists and the medical profession have worked for years on these types of problems, uniting the digital world and the world of the mind. These convergences are making their way into business systems—the world of the senses, the digital world and the world on the mind—creating a new dimension of capabilities.

The Human Computer

What are our experiences worth? Can we be replaced by computers? These questions tend to spark emotional opinions by both business professionals, as well as computer scientists. A human being is quite good at analyzing things, like spoilage, for example. We can look at it and see the tinge, we can smell it, or for the brave, a slight taste of the tongue determines if something has gone bad. We can feel the heat or smell the roasting before the process equipment generally does. For example, while talking to a security professional, he told us that he can feel the heat radiating from the suspects. We know that we humans are pretty facile, agile and smart!

Knowledge of the brain has evolved since ancient times. But though we have evolved in our knowledge and our ability to learn, the mind still holds many mysteries to us. Computer technology has also evolved. The evolution of computer technology has migrated from a binary approach—010—to the ability to build structures and models to analyze, infer and learn. We have begun a new generation of Moore’s Law nano-tech. And we have begun a new generation of processors—sensors, capable of some interesting feats, reminiscent of human capabilities.

Like the circuits in the brain—neurons which are less than 1/10,000 c, and therefore extremely fast, but more importantly capable of absorbing and constructing models and building scenarios (oh those suspicions!!!) —likewise, computers can approximate and sometimes exceed the speed of human intelligence. But equally important, the brain cells and neurons have specialized processors to handle unique processes. Small, we know, is faster—smallersmarterfaster! The mastery of sophistication of physical and chemistry (your brain creates thousands and thousands of chemicals) allow our synapses to grow the path to learning.

Which leads us to senses, which, by the way, are not know for their processing speed, but more importantly for their rich ability to connect with and preprocess a huge variety of physical and worldly attributes—chemical processing, electro magnetic, vibration, light, acoustics, etc.

The concept of computers becoming more human-like has been the pursuit of computer scientists—the creation of many complex communications that lead to models that synthesize, not just binary yes or no’s, but creating new perceptions.

This is not an article about computer mimicry of humans, but about new generations of technology and how it will evolve to support our world.

“No one can possibly simulate you or me with a system that is less complex than you or me…systems…can never capture the richness, complexity or depth of purpose of their creator. Beethoven once remarked that the music he had written was nothing compared with the music he had heard.”
Heinz Pagels, author of the The Dreams of Reason [1].

My Mind

My mind is a composite of not only biomechanical and chemical functions, but also the learnings—stored knowledge. The challenge becomes in how to access these. How to capture the ‘routines’, to mimic them in computer systems—not only the stored knowledge but the processing capabilities.

The human mind also thinks and behaves with networks as a prime capability of our thinking processes and social behavior. It picks up data through worldly interactions in a more random way than we like to admit. With many sensual inputs, it is very good at creating a sensing network, a platform—input, processing and outputting the data. Our physical network structures, all those lovely synapses, get to work on creating pathways and alternative pathways to bind our imprints into impressions, and knowledge.

Computers can store and processing many bits of information beyond sense—text, pictures, sounds etc. Many of these ‘constructs’ are now stored on your computer, and your mind is fairly good at noting a sensation, like a fresh breeze, say, and associating that with a piece of binary data, like a date, location or whatever. But your high priced information system that supports your work, your life, your billion dollar decisions, is probably not capability of associating the bits and pulling them together.

Take the colour red…

You’re in the auto industry and red cars are in. We know that the computers can store digitized information about colour (RGB is the digital translation) fairly analogous to what your eye can see. Photospectography is the term—the process your eye goes through with light hitting your photoreceptors—the intensity as well as the wavelength, curve etc, can also be captured by sensors and converted into digital knowledge, which is called microspectrophotometry.

In addition, I can find that red on my computer. I can break open my graphic files with a neat graphics tool and can access by pixel that certain red from the photograph. Then your design team can play around and look at your auto, apparel, paint, products, or whatever products you are designing, and make some important product decisions. Is there a match from one media to the next? The brain does not care about the various islands of technology and how the bits get stored, but our computers do.

The computer is just not very good at some things yet.
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Take perspective, a simple concept at its root. My six year old niece informed us that they were learning about perspective and horizons in the first grade. Must be a simple concept, then, right? Yet the computer has a great deal of problems deciphering what every child knows. Try this little exercise here by John Krantz from Hanover College Department of Psychology.

You know this, but your computer will have a great deal of difficulty inducing that these guys are actually the same size.

Not Google!

As one executive told me, “it’s the stuff inside the file I need.”

Or as one colleague stated, “the file name 102.jpg in no way indicates that this is a picture of a duck.” Seems like we have a failure to communicate!

Technology in use today by the general public is not very good at browsing within the file and visual or sound formats. And every Google user knows that ‘terminal’ means—dying, right? Ok, computer terminal. That is context, and unless you buy your own search tool or design your own semantic engine (many enterprises and eco-systems do!), you are left with a less than satisfying experience [2].

Figure 3: Google Search on “Terminal”

I Google’d ‘terminal’ and I got a movie. I am business person. Basic context would probably find computer terminal. That is, again, the difference between your brain, and what it automatically knows, sees, asks for, versus basic consumer software. Even your spell checker could use a context face lift!

A New Dimension

We have spent billions on laying digital footpaths on the ground, in the air, creating two dimensional models to represent our world. And even in the so-called binary zone of financials, we have found that to be insufficient to understand the nature of our business world.

However, we are entering a new dimension of computer technology. One that can access sensing as well as begin to break open these digital constructs and synthesize all these inputs, becoming more sensitive, more intuitive, and translate these and propagate ‘perception’ across the globe. That is what we call the 4th Dimension (please provide a better name if you can!). And it’s coming to the business process near you!

Let me try to describe more.

Whether it is acoustics, light, speed (relative experience), context, etc. —we are a long way off from human sophistication. But components are coming into the market that can approach scenarios that I have alluded to here.

Simply accessing what appears to be random and highly active events in relevant areas—collecting that data and making it make sense—is beyond your traditional two dimensional systems. 3 Dimensional models can grasp this.

Visual mapping was already an art (and science) early on—from the Libraries of Alexandria, to Leonardo, to Minard, naming a few famous sources. Engaging the mind and creating digital imprints (or vice versa), using digital (graphical) imprints and a physical representation were all the rage.

Note that the orange line shows the 400,000 troops leaving Paris heading East. Note the narrowing band of troops dying off before they get to Moscow. The narrowing black line indicates the westward retreat of his returning troupes.

We have gone from two dimensions to three, like this example from Netro City’s Event Radar, searching your universe and creating a model that becomes compelling from a business perspective. Creating models of traffic patterns, attendance at public events, fashion leaders embracing a new product, demographics, etc, can all be absorbed and driven to different products, markets and supply chain strategies.

Take the example of Nissan vs. Toyota, Ford, and GM. Nissan got back in the game by understanding the demographics as well as the issues around life style, and created a comeback market and product strategy.

We call this Digital Forensics—ways for humans to browse data stores. Your Digital Forensics technologies use ways that your mind works to store and access broad swaths of information. Several companies are tackling these problems. Like the example of Microsoft’s (figure 6) My Life Bits project. How to reach into these data stores and not just to associate with them (text with picture)—but to peer inside.
Figure 5: Netro City’s Event Radar

The next obvious question comes—the data sources, themselves.

Again, we are talking about moving from the canned digital in/digital out, into the physical world. Here is where RFID and sensors enter the 4th Dimension. The plethora of sources is exploding. The sensor world can grab those lovely or horrid chemical reactions. We are just at the beginning this kind of world.

That is why entering the 4th Dimension—fusion of absorbing a diversity of constructs, both sensing as well as analog and digital formats (pictures, sound)—is new, but oh so valuable.

Figure 7: The 4th Dimension

Entering the 4th Dimension

In the last two years, we have had the privilege of teaching and consulting to many many firms. And as the fundamental concepts get planted, the ideas—many quantum leaps in functional capabilities that we have today—get brought up.

The world of the physical, the digital and the mind are truly merging. In the early days of the computer field, the work was to create the first real functionality. Computers were the domain of scientists, EEs, and EEEs working through the world of technology to create practical processors, memory, and storage. These projects tended to be the domain of government and science applications that eventually worked their way into business.

Today we are at that same cusp. Witness the RFID investments—from Government applications of WW II through to simple, scalable business applications.

Applications for society and science create the ‘one-offs’, to workout the kinks and also innovations. Business gets us to scale—economic models that make mass deployments possible.

From a business perspective, the design of products, the understanding of markets—who will like this new sleek red design and how much will they pay for it—confounds structured approaches. Markets—people, weather, mechanics (aka speed of the truck) are fickle—and confound the binary models we have obsessively pursued to create the enterprises system of today.

How Does This all Fit?

Users are frustrated with the inability to access data, (finding that file, report, etc.,) [3] then trying to link and merge it into a cohesive model. So not only the Digital Forensics itself, but the GUI based on more synapse approaches are required (and in development at Microsoft and other firms we have referenced here). Data sources will come from sensors as well as RFID by creating new models from fresh information about the world.

Last year we created a model based (figure 8) on both business and technology progress in process and technology, the 3Pe. Federated business models, in a formative stage, will continue. They will leverage web based service more and more. More services will emerge based on freeware.

And companies are already exploring sensor based applications. This will evolve over the next few years as a real force. There are huge issues to get right here, such as data accuracy [4], and the practical limits of this highly mobile and dispersed network.

Figure 8: Evolving Technology Portfolio

Some Previous Treatises on these to provide background if you have not been keeping up might be important to put this whole discussion in context. We need to build on the infrastructures and all the work of the past to make the next phase work.


Related Article(s)


1st Dimension

Remapping the Supply Chain Universe Supply Chain Management is a truly dynamic field. Over the last few years the fundamental structure of the chains has changed to the point where many of the working assumptions have to be re-evaluated.
This article lays out the 3-D model while explaining the structural changes that are challenging the traditional working assumptions of SCM.
2nd Dimension


Mapping the End-to-End Supply Chain Process Ask 10 people to define “supply chain” and you’ll probably get 10 different definitions. After having discussed with a number of local companies and taught several programs in supply chain management to practicing supply chain professionals, I found that there is NO consistent understanding or definition of supply chains.
This article develops a comprehensive framework for defining the scope of Supply Chain.
In Enablers, It’s Domain Expertise – Not Best in Breed Understanding the Value in Domain Expertise in Technology Providers.
If exploiting the new technology requires process redesign, new knowledge, and new skills, then the solution provider’s ability to effectively transfer that domain expertise to the user team is a major consideration.
This article addresses that there are many intangibles that cannot be fully encapsulated in the supply chain technology application, so what else can the technology firm bring to the table?
3rd Dimension


Delivery Architecture –
What it Means
Once we cross the border of the enterprise, traditional enterprise centric systems fail to provide visibility, or a way to understand and act, all in sync with our supply chain partners.
This article explains how today’s systems are not just about the data, but also the infrastructure below, between, and beside the information (algorithms, transaction logic, etc.) that needs to be addressed in order to create today’s global solution.

Figure 9—Ann’s Learning Chain

Further Thoughts

Old models of business sent humans to ‘check things out’. Most of the infrastructure of today, the cross continental train systems in many countries for example, extracted a bigger toll than tax dollars to build and support them—costing human lives across the whole chain, from coal mining to building tunnels, bridges, etc. There are plenty of business scenarios where a sensor would be a way better idea than sending a person.

New models of business; Value human lives!

Sensors obviously replace the ‘beasts of burden’ in so many applications. There are so many applications that can replace the lack of presence—from environmentally dangerous and unpleasant, to poor access and reach, to highly repetitive activities.

Figure 10

Calibration, and complex computations that may be beyond the reach of humans—there are so many bits of data and process that computers address so much better than we can.

Supply Chain applications from planning, Market Sensing—those J Lo orange shoes that will now be the rage—to execution, inventory expiration, the practical solutions emerge!

We need to get beyond the stale air of the past data and move out into the world and experience the next market, custom, idea or critical event.

Apologies for this odd treatise, but it will be only the beginning of a communication process. We need to build our knowledge now if we are to gain an advantage later.


[1] BioMimicry- Innovation Inspired by Nature , Janine M. Benyus 2002

[2] Google search is just a Trojan horse, for another business anyway

[3] Part of the explosion of IT backlogs is ironically based on redundant work and the lack of ability for IT and uses to truly leverage reuse. You can reuse something you don’t know you have, or can get!!!

[4] More on that during the year.

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