How it began
My entry into communication technology began in 1989, when, after fifteen years experience as an entrepreneur in the world of fashion and entertainment, I saw a potential in multimedia. At that time, CD-ROMs were emerging as "the next big thing". Like many others, I saw this as a great opportunity to be a first mover in a new area of technology and become a pioneer in what seemed to be a field of unlimited opportunity. As I have described in "The Entrepreneurial Web", despite producing an award winning CD-ROM, this venture came to a sad ending as did similar ventures for so many others, who joined that first mad rush into the new CD-ROM technology.
What I did gain out of the experience though was an appreciation that along with the unlimited possibilities offered by this new world of information technology, there also came unprecedented pitfalls and dangers. I discovered it to be a world of constant and unpredictable change. This taught me to think carefully before plunging into any new business venture connected with the technological world of information.
Like a diver, who tests the water to see how deep it is before diving in, I decided to investigate the complexities underlying communication technology. I'd learnt the hard way that it isn't sufficient just to have good ideas, it was first more important to learn what makes an environment tick. This led me into the black arts of computer programming. I figured that if I was going to work with computers I should begin by learning how their power could be harnessed and controlled
Learning computer programming is something like opening Russian dolls. Just as you think you have acquired an understanding, a new level of awareness comes into view. It is like entering a cave to find an opening into yet another cave and in this cave is an opening to yet another. The whole experience is a never ending process of discovering new levels of awareness.
This progress through these levels of awareness is evident in the two books I wrote on computer programming: "Lingo Sorcery" and "Magical A-Life Avatars". First came the discovery of syntax and the thrilling experience of being able to write code that made the computer actually respond to the user and do things. Next came the discovery of objects and object oriented programming where highly complex systems can be constructed out of relatively simple modules that could be placed into the RAM space of computer memory.
Next came the revelation of the synergy that can be created between a human and a computer: the understanding that a computer can be used to enhance the limited powers of the human brain. As if this wasn't momentous enough, the Internet emerged. It is an all consuming entity that connects vast numbers of people and computer programs together into a vast conglomeration of unimaginable complexity.
As hundreds of millions became connected and millions of Web sites were built I looked for some order and stability in this seething, chaotic environment. Where could I fit in? How could I benefit? What sort of business could I create that would be able to exploit the opportunities that this phenomenon so obviously contained? I envisioned a virtual world that existed partly in computers, partly on CD-ROM and partly in the minds of the users. An enigmatic world where boundaries were continually changing and merging into one another.
My computer programming books reflected this view of the new electronic world that was emerging. I explored the potential of using intelligent agents, of software that extended and enhanced the human brain. Software robots with simulated emotions. Surely these would lead me into a successful e-business venture?
For many months I worked at these exotic software creations. I produced a system that could clone a user's character and personality onto an intelligent agent. It was designed to seek out other clones on the Internet and, with simulated emotions, choose those clones whose owner's would likely be compatible with their own owners.
When I'd solved most of the technical problems and made working prototypes, I decided to introduce these ideas to the world. Surely everyone would wonder at these creations and I'd have investors queuing up at my door? Then I hit the reality of the newly emerging information environment it wasn't what I had been expecting to find. I discovered I wasn't the only one with a brilliant idea. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of others also had brilliant ideas. I was just one voice in an unimaginably vast crowd of people waving their hands to seek attention.
I did get to speak to several funding institutions, banks and venture capital companies. I tried to explain my ideas and showed them demos of the software, but, they weren't interested in technical details. They were more interested in tangible concepts they were familiar with and could understand. To them, this new technology was a foreign world where they had no way of knowing whether or not they were dealing with genuinely break through products or cranks with weird ideas.
The banks wanted to see securities to back up loans. Funding bodies wanted to see impressive records of past academic or commercial success. Venture Capital companies wanted to see a business plan, a cash flow forecast and a strong management team. I couldn't satisfy them on any of these counts. When I explained the uniqueness of my agents cloning personalities, simulated emotions, able to search the Internet for compatible partners I fitted neatly into the category of 'the crank' and was quickly shown the door.