VINT Symposium 2012: Recorded Future | David Weinberger
Letʼs begin with two curiosities of knowledge...Systems biology is a new science, a little morethan ten years old. Itʼs interested in howchemicals interact across the cell wall, amongother things.
This signaling across cell walls is so complexthat it takes a computer to manage all of therelations. Humans cannot understand it withouta computer.Eureqa derives equations from data. Theequations and formulae work, but we donʼtunderstand them.So, at least we have the technology to let usscale up our knowledge. But, we sometimesget knowledge without understanding.
Two quick consequences. First, this traditionaldiagram expresses the Westʼs basic strategyfor dealing with knowing a world that is too bigto know: We reduce knowledge at every step.But now that we have technology that scales,we are able to have knowledge withoutreducing what there is to knowSecond, if we have computers by which weknow things that we cannot understand,imagine youʼre a government minister (or aCEO) who asks the computer a question suchas how to solve the current economic crisis,and it comes back with this answer. How do
A quick reminder of what knowledge has beenin the West.(a) Knowledge has been rare: It winnows outthe true from all those mere opinions.(b) Settled. We donʼt say we know somethingunless and until all reasonable people agreeon it. (cc) thomas23 @ ﬂickr
(c) Traditional knowledge is orderly. Everythinghas its place, and to know what something is isto know itʼs place in this order. This nowsounds medieval, which it was, but itʼs certainlysomething we believed all the way through the19th century and well into the 20th. To deny itwas to declare oneself either a heretic orItʼs not an accident that the traditional properties ofknowledge are the same as the properties of libraries.Paper, books, and libraries have been the medium forthe preservation and communication of knowledge.Knowledge winnows because the economics of thepaper publishing system and the limited space oflibraries meant we were forced to winnow, curate.Knowledge is settled because its medium didnʼt allow forKnowledgeʼs new medium is the Internet. Justas knowledge picked up properties from its oldpaper medium, itʼs now picking up theInternetʼs properties. Knowledge is becomingnetworked. Letʼs look at four familiarknowledge networks.
The ﬁrst example is the networking of science((cc) Howzey @ FlickrWhen scientists discovered data that indicatedneutrinos might travel faster than the speed oflight, which would have overturned Einstein’srelativity theory, this very important researchwas not published in a peer reviewed journal.It was published at Arxiv.org where anyscientist can post work at any stage ofreadiness, without any editor or peer having toThey posted there because it gets theinformation out quickly. And Arxiv includessome social tools.
As a result, a web of responses emergedquickly, ﬁlling every niche of the knowledgeecosystem. This is where knowledge ishappening because paper doesnʼt scale. I thinkitʼs fair to say in some sense that knowledge isliving in these networks now, not in paper andnot in individual nodes. This web has valueOn the hopeful side, weʼve seen theemergence of ways of living together indisagreement. For example, scientists in the19th century lost a lot of time arguing over howto classify the platypus.And we have many different names for it.
E.g., Encyclopedia of Life scientists can ask tosee information using whatever name andtaxonomy they want. This enablescollaboration across differences.
If you need to get started there are thousandsof tutorialsif you have a question you can get itanswered, and then iterated on.
If you want to build on someone else’s work.100s of thousands. Heading toward half amillion.For example, mbostock created d3, a fantasticset of visualization libraries, free and open toanyone.Public learning: Education should be a publicact that makes the public sphere smarter.
Weʼre very good at organizing things, but notjust so that we can ﬁnd them again.In the West weʼve assumed that to knowsomething is to know itʼs unique place in theorder of things.
But take a look at Flickr. The Library ofCongress posted some color WWII photosthere and let users add metadata. Messy.Inconsistent. At times even in error, althoughthose errors can be helpful. We are no longerstuck with coming up with a single “right” order.
We all know about the power of customerknowledge. This is collective knowledge.Markets now are networks. Together theyprovide a type of networked knowledge.And they are the best source of knowledge formany types of questions
Networked markets are smart because...What holds these networks together is humaninterest. Every link expresses something thatpeople care about.
These are properties of the Internet and arebecoming properties of knowledge too.Theyʼre also properties of humans trying toknow a world vastly bigger than them.Networked knowledge is thus much closer toour situation as humans.