Engineering Serendipity in a Semantic Search Space

Transcript:

Serendipity has a miraculous feel to it. It is the experience of coming across something of value to us that we were not looking for. Even more to the point what we unexpectedly find may be even more relevant than the thing we were actually looking for. 

Serendipity is so important to the development of our working and personal lives that an incredible amount of time and energy is being spent trying to understand it better. Search engineers spend valuable computer time running simulations to help them increase it. Company directors try out corporate experiments to see if they can make it happen easier within their organisations. 

Why? The key word here is value. Serendipity has a way of increasing the value of the moment to us, at a personal level, in a way that makes it incredibly rewarding. Depending on what we have found by accident we may end up saving countless of hours researching something, break through to a new level of our understanding of a particular subject or event, we may make a valuable connection that leads to the completion of a project, the solution of a problem or our getting a new job. 

Serendipity is valuable, it is catalytic and it resists easy attempts to make it happen. 

The reason it is not easy to bring about is the same with the reason why it is so important to us: In a word, again: Value. 

Serendipity comes about because we discover something that is of true value to us. Let’s think about this for a moment. In order for something to be valuable to us it has to reflect what we really want to know or find (remember we did not even know we were looking for this particular thing or solution in the first place). 

For that to happen there has to be some way for our general interests, knowledge and intent to be mapped beyond our immediate awareness. Beyond even our conscious understanding. The miraculous feel to serendipity comes from this sense of unexpectedness coupled to its deep personal value to us. It is almost as if the universe suddenly reaches out and talks to us. 

Well, it is not quite as miraculous as that but it is nonetheless quite magical. We do not operate in a vacuum. Our personal network of friends and connections reflects an overlapping patchwork of shared interests, personal likes, and dislikes aligned to a series of professional and personal aims. 

In a sense when we connect with someone we do so because we sense there is something of direct value to be derived from that connection. Whether it is spiritual, emotional, cognitive or material the connection is important to us. Similarly, our interests in work, love and play become the channels through which we funnel our attention to particular aspects of the world. The more important that channel is to us at that stage in our lives the more attention we are likely to channel through it. 

These are elements that can be reverse-engineered, taken apart and calculated, almost like attribute values that go into the making up of an individual. Here’s where things get interesting: the net that captures all this is made up of our devices, search history, social media network connections, online conversations and general online and offline activities. The more invested we are in something the deeper is the footprint we leave behind in relation to it. 

When we go looking for answers we don’t have to problems we experience it may feel like we have gone off into the dark in hope of finding some light but really what we are doing is entering a space that’s made up of everything we are and everything we want to be, defined by our activities, impact on others and connection to others. The richer and denser that space is the greater are the odds that serendipity will take place. Someone, somewhere has the answer we seek. To know it, we simply need to have a bridge of connections to them. 

A Martian coming to earth for the very first time who uses the web to look for something is highly unlikely to experience serendipity in search. No one knows him. He knows no one. His online activity has just began. His interests and habits are unknown. Worse than that, they are totally alien. Lacking any similarity to human interests there is not even that affinity to start off with. 

So if serendipity feels a little like the universe talking to us it’s because in a way it is. It is our universe of connections, interests and contacts ‘listening’ to what we do and responding to our activities in a way that reflects back at us who we are and where we are headed towards. 

   

© 2017 David Amerland. All rights reserved