THE FUTURE OF HIGHER
(All chapters are intended for continuing revision)
Volume II - Chapter Two
(Last updated Dec. 19, 2007)
COORDINATING ALL THE WORLD'S KNOWLEDGE
THINK BIG about organizing human knowledge to make it more usable and accessible!. That is not a job that can be done `top down' for it will require the coordination of many local community data bases. The organization of all knowledge (not necessary all data and wisdom, although they are important) can be facilitated by easy and flexible `tagging.' (Rogers 2007) thata "makes the web look like a practicable, semi-organized.thoughtful. warmly cooperative civilization rather than....a chaos."
Weigel (2005) reminded us of the difference between data and knowledge. It is data and information that are increasing faster than we can keep up. ""Data are raw undigested facts...Information is data paced within a meaningful context." Knowledge requires "skills of interpretation and judgment." Knowledge tells us `what' but wisdom--knowledge that is an almost timeless voice of authenticity--that can filter the timeless from the insignificant tells us `why.' These definitions are crucial in the task of organizing, preserving, communicating and developing knowledge...and wisdom.
This is where we begin now to look at some possibilities for under girding efforts to provide lifelong education for all by looking at emerging, powerful technologies that can empower larger-scale research. The task of organizing and making available the world's increasingly vast store of scientific data and knowledge--when and where needed--is difficult and yet essential for high level research, especially on the scale required if humanity is to cope with some overwhelming problems. Can we in cyberspace bring some order out of this chaos? This chapter examines two possibilities (and there are and will be others) for a universal system to cope with and make better use of the knowledge explosion . Both might involve an electronic archive which stores "snapshots of almost the entire World Wide Web" which already contained about eight terabytes (a thousand trillion) of data in 1998 (Gleick 1998). Lamb (2004) suggested that wikis may turn to be more profound than just instruments for knowledge management. Norris et al 2004) have proposed that adults who have moved through today's educational system "will need an order-of-magnitude leap" between now and 2010, the date by which landmark changes in global education will have taken place. They will not only need to handle "knowledge faster and to greater effect," but the very nature of `knowledge experience' will have changed "to more dynamic ways of engaging with knowledge."
One coordinating system might be a worldwide digital encyclopedia/cosmpedia, the beginnings of which are seen in linked data and knowledge bases which can evolve into something awesome. Print encyclopedias are still for the most part organized alphabetically and thus do not provide a totally satisfactory way to link information and ideas. Levy (1997) proposed that the World Wide Web and other technologies now make it possible to replace the encyclopedia with a cosmopedia (1.3). Everything might be interlinked with everything. Wolf (2003) points to "the fondest dram of the information age" to create an archive of all knowledge. However, that is but one step towards the organization and management of knowledge. The beginning of this can be seen in Google, and the continually updated international Wikipedia.
Another system, which some see beginning in cyberspace, is a larger Global Brain/World Mind system for collective thinking, collective and creative imagination, collective action and more. Is it going to happen without well researched blueprints and design? It may require a mega-mega -science project to link all that is known with questions about what is not known. What research is needed for a new architecture of knowledge, for the digital maps that may be the nerve cells of a global `research brain?' <http://benking.de/benkingmapping.htm> Also see Kurzweil <www.singularity.com>.)
The necessary technology is coming and we speak here of `virtual space" because ultimately it will include far more than the Internet, Web, hypertext and hypermedia. For example, FermiLab scientists and engineers have faced the problem of analyzing unprecedented amounts of data. Their 1990's projects involved the collaboration of "hundreds of scientists from far flung laboratories all over the world, all requiring rapid access to huge quantities of shared data." To meet such severe demands they needed to extend "the concepts of parallel processing (Fermi's ACPMAPS can perform billions of operations per second) to parallel access to data." <http://www.fnal.gov/pub/acp.html>.
Hunt (1997) pointed to meta-analysis as an antidote to the chaotic output of today's research. Teams compare research findings that disagree or are challenged, a process which can continue to improve the precision and certainty of scientific findings. It is also a method for establishing causal connections. Human beings in early history were nomads, then settled down in agricultural and industrial eras. Now, Levy says, we are again becoming nomads, this time in cyberspace. He sees maps and `cognitive prostheses' as helping us find our way. These, he says, are transforming our intellectual capacities "as clearly as the mutation of our genetic heritage."
Systems are being developed (Klemm 2003) for `shared document conferencing and to organize online discussions, content and papers according to topic. Hopefully this is the way to proceed in designing a global learnng and researchs ystem.
Just before the invention of the printing press, all human knowledge could be kept in one place. Even in the early 1700's a large room could contain nearly every book worth reading. Now we are told to expect a billion `pages' on the World Wide Web soon. What of that data and information should--and can--be saved for future generations? Will it be possible for some future historian to publish a book of a president's e-mail letters? The Internet has no adequate archival system or institutions for preserving electronic communications. Much of it should be saved but who is ready to trust some mechanical system to decide what to save and what to let go?
Whether stored digitally, on film, in books and print journals or whatever, human knowledge is now dispersed all over the earth. It is at this time difficult to see how there ever will be one geographically located library of all new knowledge. All can be digitalized and indexed, however, and linked so as to be available to anyone, anywhere. Whether databases are managed and controlled by libraries, professional associations, business corporations, individuals, or government agencies (there are many other possibilities), won't those organizations and groups most likely, as now, decide what to save and what to discard? Will old memory drop out of the World Brain/Mind as it often does in the aging human brain, when much new information is added?
Can `cognitive prostheses' make it possible to capture in digital form each new day's additions to scientific data? (SciAm 1997) So that it can be stored, organized, indexed, authenticated, use authorized and made easily accessible through new graphic systems? Research at Xerox Parc on the design of digital library systems (Hearst 1996) has been too exhaustive to be summarized here. It asks, however, what values determine what is to be saved? Judge (1997) pointed to research which takes into account a too-small list of values. Can everything be saved in digital form? To illustrate with a small example, can a global-system of knowledge include the life records of every individual, the detailed history of all families and villages? What about privacy issues if a world brain system does index `everything?' Who is to do the job; i.e., of including all broadcasts? Is a global consortium of research librarians going to create a supreme court to decide what is to be left out? These issues alone suggest that mega-scale research may be needed in the design of an architecture for knowledge. Perhaps the blueprints are already being created without adequate attention being given to them.
Hawkins (2001) foresaw that the digital era requires a new approach to knowledge management, defined as the process of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value and wisdom. It connects people with the knowledge they need to take action, when they need it." This requires man/machine collaboration. Much important (tacit) information is in the minds of people and not in databases and that which is in the Web is difficult to acquire "because of the "bottom-up nature of the Web." So much is buried in links to other sites, databases and publications. He quotes those who speak about the value-added dimension of the academic community. So, he says, educators must be challenged "to design a customized. yet flexible infrastructure that supports both individual and collective learning."
What will be some of the characteristics of a more intelligent semantic Internet (and we here will continue to use the term Internet for the grid and whatever else succeeds it)? Below in 2.2.4 we will elaborate on the analogy of the human brain, suggesting that the Internet will receive data, have memory, will filter and sort incoming date, will organize knowledge. will coordinate and structure data to transform it into knowledge--and sometimes into wisdom by enlarging and empowering collective human reflecting on knowledge. It will empower human cooperation and joint thinking, collective intelligence, collective imagination --with a sentient dimension of art and emotion. Like the human brain it will have a body (human society), a brain, a nervous system and biological-like system. It will coordinate and manage intelligent actions. See: <http://hipersoft.cs.rice.edu/vgrads/>.
Floridi of Oxford (1997) suggested in a lecture at UNESCO that the Internet, without changing its "liberty and refreshing anarchy,' needs an "infrastructure of centers"--like a virtual National Library System (and we would say the emerging Global Brain) --to coordinate five tasks:
When H.G. Wells proposed the `world brain' idea, he felt that each encyclopedia article would need to grow continually, with an expanding number of well-documented subdivisions on every important topic and subtopic. Each article should state what is verifiably known, alongside the history of the data's development and what was wrongly believed. It should clarify needed research, define areas of disagreement with provocative questions, and with links to the persons and institutions where research is underway. Now it can have electronic www-type hyperlinks to definitive articles and bibliographies.
Two almost contradictory statements seem true. On one hand, most organization of knowledge involves a structure imposed upon it from the outside, often from the perspective of cultural biases. The textbooks we create leave out important transdisciplinary dimensions of knowledge and limit it so that the presentation is inadequate; and the imposition of structure often twists and abuses knowledge. Should order come from the top down or the bottom up? This problem is seen in the World Wide Web search engine schemes because many kinds of knowledge, such as music, poetry/metaphor, emotion/allegory in fiction--are hard to classify or index (See Steinberg 1996).
On the other hand, knowledge involves organization, the framework that we use to make sense out of the world of data around us. We need to relate it to our other personal knowledge. That means that the Web, whether or not it becomes a great encyclopedia, cannot be the "be-all and end-all." The metaphor of the spider's web, clusters of human relationships, or the complex web like connections in the human brain, provide good analogies."<http://www.DEV@hermes.cab.unb.ca>, 3 May 1996). Also there will be a process of contuinng `purge, updating, replacing old information with new."
Perhaps the global electronic `cosmopedia' is taking shape as an interconnection of many kinds of online reference books, such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <http://plato.stanford.edu>. Each article there can be regularly updated and the system alerts authors, via-e-mail, to new material which should be reviewed for possible updating. In one sense the global encyclopedia begins with a global digital map to show where knowledge is stored in hundreds of thousands of databases worldwide. However, isn't such a map only part of the blueprint for a rough scaffolding for mega-research on a a global knowledge system? A Council of Europe discussion on "how to survive the coming flood of information without losing meaning and context" proposes the construction of a `Cosmic Panorama.' It would be a Conceptual Superstructure that identifies topics as logical places. Then we can know where we are and what we know, what we miss and misuse--and which displays relations and connections. Without that, participants decided, researchers face a `lost in space' syndrome.
We already begin to see some of the technologies; for example, personal agents (2.3, 3.8) that will automatically explore the web to find what an individual or a research team needs. In time the will link to our empowering individual and research group memory systems as well as mechanically perform the tasks that H.G. Wells proposed (in the next paragraph.) Also see Houston and Jacobson 2001) 3-D virtual interface. <http://www,exocortex.org>
A World Brain/World Mind group, for many years since H.G. Wells first proposed that idea, has sought ways to improve "the generation, storage, transmission, synthesis and filtration of information and knowledge, in order to facilitate. . . decision making and. . . action -taking in all spheres of human endeavor." (Buell 1997). Collective cognitive ability is the greatest resource of human society (Martinez 1996) and it is now proposed that memory, intelligence and problem-solving can be greatly empowered. Much more research is needed on how to do it, Martinez said, but intelligence can be enhanced in ways that might hold back the tide of social crises "and even turn it back" by unleashing a tide of "human creativity. . . manifest in artistic and scientific endeavors--a New Renaissance."
Lenat (1997) wanted access to "all the stuff encyclopedias leave out," guaranteeing cultural diversity, for example. His CYC project seeks to add common sense, including models of emotion. He estimated that it would require a hundred years to add such human dimensions to a world brain although he assumed it to be essential for decision-making. The Global Brain,'--before any possible automation thus begins to consist of the collective work and intelligence of millions (ultimately hundreds of millions?) of human minds. Lenat's CYC already in 2002 included "1.27 million assertions--including names, abstract concepts,, descriptions and root words." It's common-sense inference engine, for example, "allows it to distinguish among roughly 30 definitions of the word `in' "and is one a variety of new technologies to sort and retrieve vast quantities of data...so that the unruly jungle of human knowledge can be tamed." (Hiltzik 2002)
Some scientists seem to despair of human intelligence. They work now to develop a massive electronic mechanical brain that can supplant human minds. Hans Marovec (1997) has predicted that the human brain will become obsolete. Ostman (Brandt 1997) reported that the Brain Builder Group of the Human Information Processing and Research Laboratory in Kyoto, Japan intended "to have a billion-neutron brain completed within six years." Again see <www.singularity.com>.
Perhaps artificial intelligence and related new systems and technologies will converge to empower a World Brain system that will be a partner of the human scientific community, empowering human collective intelligence? This process has been slowed, Wyllie (1997) foresaw a conflict between "those who see knowledge as somehow evolving from a nonhuman information network substrate" (he called them world BRAINers) and those who believe that "a uniquely human transformation process must take place for information to become knowledge (worldMINDers). Knowledge, experience and communication (involving interpretation, meanings, feelings) are in a "qualitatively different universe from tools such as computers and networks). Levy says that "through the intermediary of virtual worlds," we can "think together, share our memories and our plans to produce a cooperative brain." Probably instead of studying the individual brain, models for the global brain will require study of shared or `collective cognition.
An American Society for Information Science (ASIS) study group used `world brain' (lower case) for what they saw coming into existence now. Interconnected data bases become the `worldwide electronic encyclopedia,' linking libraries, educational institutions and much more yet to be created and understood. They used `world mind' for the sentient: moral, aesthetic dimensions of a system that perhaps could help research on humanity's problems. They used use `World Brain/World Mind' (capitals) for what they foresaw as coming into existence that could not yet be seen clearly, a global `data knowledge/wisdom system' of all humanity that we cannot yet describe. Their 2002 successors in the Global Brain group (1.3) have been seeking for ways to define and help facilitate that which can not yet be described.
A most important research task in the new millennium will be that of organizing and managing the information glut. How could the job ever be complete, as knowledge, data, information and wisdom continue to enlarge in each generation and each day! Current developments proceed without plan or overall direction, happening incrementally in tens of thousands of places at once. We know how to produce vast amounts of information and how to transmit it but not how to manage. link and reduce it, Eli Noam (Shenk 1997) said. "The organization of information is the one major counterforce to entropy." Society may lose control and drown in the glut. Heylighen (2002) proposed that since humanity is going to have "more information and possibilities' than can be effectively processed, "we will have to increase our capacity...by integrating...partial approaches into an encompassing, collective or distributed, cognitive system."
Perhaps a research system will evolve in a more or less self-managing way, much as the Internet operates. Management by a type of World Wide Web Consortium has been suggested. In the Human Genome Project's research system much of the process of organizing and managing vast amounts of data is now automatic. Moravec (1997) proposed that the global `mind' will be "compartmentalized, with many relatively independent components and areas, separated from each other by subject boundaries" and also other interests. "Knowledge servers may have different world models, incompatible or conflicting opinions," he said. This can help insure overall stability, versatility and insure the safety of information from hostile corruption. A computer network, he said, "can store more information about a global condition than can a human brain." Levy uses the term `hypercortex.'
If we are to speak of a more intelligent and powerful Internet as a stage to a `Global Brain' we might profitably draw some idea from the intelligence and power of the human brain, although there is not--yet at least--evidence to support t he idea that a human being--connected to many other humans--can be compared to a single neuron or any other component of a human brain, although perhaps they may be compared in the complexity of interactions. Nor is the `global brain' just accumulated knowledge as in an encyclopedia, but is a process. How does a biological brain/mind functions and how might each of the following functions is empowered by information age technologies and human/computer empowered collective intelligence.
(1) The human brain receives vast data. This process is now enlarged through satellite eyes and other such technology that helps produce an almost unmanageable explosion of data. Computers can search through millions of photographs of cloud patterns in a way no human being can do, but the problem (Arbib 1997) is that the data are too numerous.
(2) The human brain has memory. Each individual's memory is augmented by the collective human memory, which now is overwhelmingly enlarged and empowered by a global system of interconnected digital databases. More is needed than an indexed storage system. The World Brain may also be an interconnection of the `knowledge constructs' (KC) of each individual scholar and scientist. We are entering a time in which each individual can develop her/his own KC or a `personal digital memory bank" to augment memory, to keep it organized and comprehensive. This electronic record of all thoughts one wishes to keep could begin in secondary school to include a lifetime of significant papers, reports, reading notes, lectures and favored ideas. Software could be used to organize this personal `mind' around each individual's own needs, interests, work and plans. A community of human minds (CM. `common mind', see point 8) at the center of the World Brain might also include and interconnect a multitude of personal KC's as part of the human core of the World Brain. Jonietz (2002) reported a data storage system made up of `collective intelligent bricks' that that recognize each other and self-organize without any outside help. Combined, they can create a massive storage system
(3) The brain filters out unwanted or unneeded data. The filtering problem is also complicated by a general `infoglut.' Shenk (1997) pointed out that omnipresent radio and television are only part of the `data smog' which "begins to cultivate stress, confusion and even ignorance. Lies (including the pressure of ads) move faster than truth." Information-age technology can now help filter out unwanted knowledge and can empower thousands of human minds to work at deciding what to accept and what to reject. A suggestive model has been the Cochrane Center Collaboration that presented a way to filter medical literature. It began with a criticism of the medical profession for "failing to provide systematic, up-to-date summaries of the results of reliable research for practicing physicians" (Harmon 1997). This resulted in the 1992 establishment--in relation to the research program of the National Health Service in England--of what "has evolved into an international network of individuals and organizations, all committed to preparing, updating and disseminating systematic, rigorous. . . reviews of the effects of therapies." < >..
This Collaboration, Harmon has said, "provides one model for "knowledge aggregation, synthesis, quality filtering, access, sustainability and overall management." Its Strategic Plan includes a statement of mission, operating principles, goals and specific objectives. It has a Steering Group, sixteen Centers on three continents and an annual colloquium. A World Brain may link tens of thousands of such systems, perhaps many more than that.
The scope of the filtering task will also be more manageable when duplication of publication is better managed. Many research monographs, now produced for professional advancement in the university system, are rarely afterward cited or used by other scholars. If this is because other scholars do not know that a paper exists, a World Brain system can correct that. If the scholarship is not adequate, if it adds nothing new to knowledge, then a World Brain system can clarify this in two ways. Only what is verifiable will be incorporated, and there can be much less pedantic research when a scholar can use the global electronic encyclopedia to see who else, anywhere in the world, is doing related work. The Yale Human Area Relations Files project in Anthropology, for instance, has sought to leave out all duplication in new monographs and research reports. Such a process omits historical and background information that is repeated in many texts and retains only new verified information and facts. When duplication is eliminated the body of exploding knowledge is sometimes not as unmanageable as it appeared to be.
For some provocative ideas on knowledge management see : <http://www.anti-knowledge.com/Book/13_KM%20Fallacies.PDF>.
(4) The human brain organizes its knowledge. Wells envisaged "a global intelligence and learning system" in which universities could plan together to mobilize their resources more effectively and avoid unnecessary duplication of research." After reviewing many library and encyclopedia plans for organizing knowledge, Harmon (1997) proposes the use of Systems Theory classifications. Miller's (1978) Living Systems proposed "seven interrelated hierarchical levels: cellular, organ, organismic, group, organizational, society, and supranational." Harmon explains the value of this scheme. "Systems at any level--political, social or biological--include nineteen critical subsystems." They specialize in such tasks as making decisions, allocating resources, learning, reproduction, motivating action. Miller also isolates dozens of fundamental relationships between systems and among systems and their subsystem components. Finally, Harmon said, systems theory supports humanity's long quest for unified knowledge and can provide a basis for organizing vast research findings.
(5) The Human brain codes and structures data in a memory system. Floridi (1995) points to a `human' encyclopedia that has been evolving in culture--encoded in one way or another--from the beginning of human time. The individual brain has thus been collectively empowered across many centuries. What, he asks, will be the transformational significance of the information-age system of encoded knowledge? For example, information about the past is increasingly scattered all over the world, as for instance the history of every village and institution. All this data becomes a swamp unless effective management makes it usefully and adequately available. Human intellectual space is enlarged as "the translation of alphanumeric texts, images and sounds," encoded in the simple language of bytes," Floridi says. This makes possible an increasing integration of the various domains of knowledge into an ever wider and more complex system.
Mayer-Kress (1997) suggested that a linked hypermedia document may be compared to a neural cell-assembly in a human brain. There "the stimulation of a small number of neurons can cause the excitation of large areas in the cortex that have been associated with the given stimulus through learning." So also the activation of a Web page can open a whole network of linked pages. Perhaps hundreds of billions sometime?
The Internet, Floridi said, has made possible a management of knowledge that is faster, wider in scope, more complete in types of information and easier to use; but it is only a stage in the "endless self-regulating process" by which `the human encyclopedia' grows. "Whenever a radical change occurs in the way we handle our knowledge, those who master it"--as the Internet/Web and whatever comes next--may then "become aware of other domains of knowledge yet to be explored." Information technology now makes it possible "to query the digital domain and shape it according to principles which are completely different from those whereby the primary data were initially collected and organized," providing answers to secondary questions which were not originally meant to be answered. Thus new patterns emerge.
(6) The human brain uses information, applies it to turn it into knowledge. It seeks patterns and meaning and tries to understand how the world works. . It uses imagination to develop ideas, systems of thought and mental maps and models. It solves problems and thinks through the consequences of alternative actions. In his paper, "A Brain for Planet Earth," Arbib (1997) examined global-scale models--used for weighing alternatives actions--(5.7) showing how computer modeling can extend the power of the human brain. "Computer simulation and data-base management" he said, "allow decision-makers to construct models of complex systems and explore their dynamic implications." The effort can be much more effective when grounded in an adequate database. He showed how large groups of human beings can be empowered by global-scale tools such as `networks for distributed planning. These can link local, regional, national and global networks into a vast system.
(7) Our biological brain reflects upon knowledge and turns it into wisdom as a basis for acting, with societal implications. Science's production of more knowledge may be of little use unless humans can use it well. In relation to the World Brain Special Interest Group of the American Association for Information Science, Manfred Kochen (1972) elaborated Wells' idea so as to reflect, in coherent, maximally useful form, "mankind's total image of itself and its environment." He called it a World Information Synthesis and Encyclopedia (WISE), or Worldwide Intelligence Service for the Development of Omniscience in Mankind (WISDOM). In 1988, while a consultant to the Library of Congress, he proposed that the Library develop "the architecture for a proactive electronic system based on content." It was a precise and comprehensive scheme under which the Library might evolve into the national nucleus, an American part of the World Brain. If alive today, he would probably be much more enthusiastic about his proposal now that multimedia technology makes it possible for films, music, arts, etc., to be included in a global system of computerized maps and other graphic ways to synthesize knowledge (See Mayne 1994).
(8) Our human brain/mind cooperates with other minds, even to develop grand schemes and systems. The world brain will also involves collective imagination. Will there be a substantial increase in the functional intelligence of the species because of information age communications? By linking millions of minds together for research? Floridi points out that we already have online "the most educated intellectual community that ever appeared on earth, a global academy that, like a unique Leibnitzian mind, thinks always." Humanity can now undertake collaborative research enterprises for which we are as yet unprepared. How the Internet and world brain are going to effect organized knowledge is most difficult to predict because "it is hard to give an initial shape to our ignorance since there may be much more we do not know than we would guess." Will the World Brain be a partnership of individual human minds and technology that come together and work together more and more? In his efforts to develop a theory of collective intelligence, Smith (1994) says that many minds working together to do what no one can do alone--becomes a "kind of intelligent organism." (2.4.5).
We are moving into a time when a global-scale team, working on a common project such as the space program can use powerful forthcoming technologies to develop a `common mind,' (CM) which may be preserved in a shared computer-empowered memory system. Many such `common minds' will be part of the World Brain. Lucier (1990) described the CM (not his term) of the scientists in many countries who collaborated on the Human Genome project. That CM has been centered at the Johns Hopkins University library. It has been a partnership between users and technologists who maintain an open system to which any scholar can add notes to the text--which are then peer evaluated. The amount of data in this `common mind' of thousands of researchers would at an earlier time have been considered unmanageable. Such CM's, as well as the `scientific method' itself, can continually evolve--and be transformed--to adapt to the new environment being created. Increasingly each CM could be linked to many other CM's, perhaps in ways similar to human brain, within a global knowledge management system.
(9) Left-brain/right-brain? What about the sentient dimension that involves emotion, art and values? The brain develops in culture so perhaps this point (9) should be point (1).The emerging Global Brain, like the university-global research system that is at the center of it, has a sentient dimension, including the humanities, art, music, poetry, religion, culture. Will the World Brain have a "heart, a dimension of compassion?" Sentience, Ostman says (Brandt 1997), "is the next order of intelligence." Kirby (1990) pointed out at a Brain conference in Britain that some of the impulses that energize the emerging World Brain are love (at least the love of truth and humanity) and the quest for wholeness, (the fact that all sciences, all data are interconnected). Here we might also mention the noosphere of Teilhard de Chardin (1964). He foresaw humanity's collective memory being passed on through "pulsating computers," research becoming the principle function of humanity, collective cerebralising into a brain; and predictions in 2005 that the next age, beyond the current `information age' will be a right-brain age of enhanced creativity. Perhaps beyond that, in future centuries, a left-brain+right-brain that can promise a great life to everyone on earth including new kinds of music and art and other `content' not yet conceived.
(10) The human brain is part of a body that has eyes, ears and other data receptors. The `virtual university' is the pulsating heart of, if not the body of the emerging World Brain. The global higher education system as `body' suggests an answer to the questions (a) of where the organization and administration of the World Brain will take place; and (b) how its nature and shape may be determined by location. If administered at the Vatican, for example, it would have a different shape than if controlled by a business corporation that gave the highest priority to profit. A government agency might politically decide what information was to include, as at one time in the Soviet Union's encyclopedia! If managed only by engineers it might become only an automated machine. (2.8).
Is there a danger that the `body' of the Global Brain could develop something like muscular dystrophy? Human society in this terrorist age shows some signs of that! Marvin Minsky speaks of our biological brain as a `kludge,' a system that is a disorganized mess, clumsy, patched together, an illogical network of connections. Is the evolving Global Brain likely to mirror the human brain in this sense as well? Perhaps not unmanageably so because it will be universities that will most likely develop the structure (beginning with a Global Brain/ cosmopedia/library system. It will be essential if scientists and other researchers are to function adequately.
Wells (1938) proposed that the universities would be the place of verification, of continual testing and revising. "Thus every conflicting system of thought, idea, theory. . . would be brought into continuing dialog with every other." So a world encyclopedia would become, he thought, a world brain in that it "will be much more than an assembly of fact." Presumably existing peer review procedures could be improved, via electronic communications, by including scholars from many cultures and disciplines? The human brain's crucial elements are human. The `university' needs to become the locus of the vision, motivation, leadership, research activity and linking of scholars and scientists. We might say that these energize the electricity that causes a brainstorm, the chemical elements in collective intelligence that spark the `World Brain' synapses.
(11) The human brain solves problems and deals with crises. We propose the virtual global research university as the place for crises to be tackled. Yet how will the pollution of the knowledge pool be managed if anyone can put anything, correct or incorrect, on the Internet? Floridi (1996) worried about disinformation there. Won't error best be corrected in the university system? Wells was prophetic, writing long before computers and online data bases, in predicting a worldwide coordination of knowledge that would be "alive and growing, changing continually. . . every university and research institution feeding it. . . every fresh mind brought into contact with it." He saw it as a clearing house of misunderstandings, an instrument for synthesis, a place to coordinate all research, a global network of intelligent workers and researchers; in other words a virtual super-university. Wells pointed to the enormous waste involved in the duplication of uncoordinated research and foresaw a correction of that leading to a renaissance and renewal of humanity--of more than education alone--through and along with the development of a continually enlarging "world encyclopedia."
(12) The human brain conceives of and develops tools to augment its powers and the powers of its body in cooperation with those tools.. Technology tools will be discussed in other chapters. Here we suggest that the global electronic cosmopedia will be a crucial such tool, the global virtual university is another. So also is the emerging Global Brain that we cannot yet adequately envisage.
Kochen, when at the Library of Congress, said that "for good or evil the World Brain is now being born, whether humanity wants it yet or not." Therefore, he said, adequate World Brain developments now require: (a) vision, that is, an intention about what to do; (b) mobilization of capacity, that is, who is to do what; (c) commitment, political will and willingness of scholars to undertake a great task; and (d) the management, coordination and integration to do it right.
At a World-Brain/World-Mind Workshop--that brought scholars from three continents to the University of Calgary in June 1997--there was disagreement over whether the `Brain' should evolve naturally without an agency to organize it. H. J. A Goodman proposed an system in which the chore work of organizing all knowledge should be done by retiring senior scholars. Others have suggested that continual updating be undertaken by Ph.D. students. In fact, will not nearly every university scholar have a hand in it? As of 1998--and probably for the foreseeable future--all kinds of people involve themselves in the preliminary phases of the creation of the World Brain often without realizing it. They include students, business firms like those that produce specialized databases, those who create Internet `search engines,' professional, scientific and disciplinary associations, librarians and publishers, and nearly everyone else who places a `home page' on the Web. Perhaps professional and scientific associations in each discipline and profession will assume responsibility for major sections and universities themselves may need to agree on how to divide responsibilities.
Dean Glynn Harmon of the University of Texas once reported, ironically, that a NASA employee felt that the term `World Brain' was too limited and narrow. Why not `Interstellar brain?' NASA is already planning satellites that will make possible an inter-planetary communications system. Satellites are already gathering space weather data to provide advance warning of serious effects on our planet's electrical systems. Perhaps a holistic digital global weather map, based on satellite sensing, be expanded into a map of the universe? So is getting all human knowledge online, coordinating, organizing, and synthesizing it, too large a task to ever be accomplished? Automated archives were available in physics since 1991 and towards the end of the 20th century had served over 25,000 users in over seventy countries. These provided quick access to the latest data at the moment it is needed. It has been estimated that such available data bases will soon have over a billion searchable documents. Each year's new research now becomes an overburdening percentage of the whole, especially if many interdisciplinary areas continue to be developed. The cosmopedia, Levy says, organizes all knowledge around the cosmos. Its borders are in motion. Its maps are continually updated, knowledge is a continuum. In a sense Levy's Cosmopedia is another term for the Global Brain as it comes to include all human minds and what they know and discover through research, and as cyberspace becomes the place where a new architecture of thought and knowledge is created. Data can be powerfully visualized, for example the emerging capacity of GIS to integrate billions of bytes of information. It can then be customized to individual interests. showed in various formats, designed to help clarify data and to examine information from different perspectives, taking account of values and policy issues.
Goodman (1997) proposed an architecture for the World Brain as consisting--as far as he could see then--of (a) world hypermedia encyclopedia systems, including for example the Current Clinical Trials Medical System and a world `research in process' system; (b) a world interactive neural information, knowledge and wisdom distribution and communication system/network; (c) world intellectual heritage repository systems, including museums, libraries, archives and professional information systems; (d) global educational and research systems; (e) world copyright, trademark and privacy protection systems. And (f) who knows what the next century is going to bring. (Also see 1.2.6)
In the next chapter we look at some of the technologies that are converging to enable much larger-scale research, and at the same time we ask if there is a technology glut and a technology management problem.
The Future of Higher (Lifelong) Education: For All Worldwide: A Holistic View