Scope of this presentation
for Building the Knowledge Network
The Internet and particularly the World Wide Web largely serve as promotional
media. While much of those promotional materials are usually relevant to
a few individuals, the production of more widely useful knowledge requires
more intensive conversations and collaborations. The Net also supports such
conversations and collaborations, but in ways which lack the elegance of
the promotional face of the Web.
On the plus side, the Web's embodiment of hypertext clearly shows the way
towards a readily navigable knowledge network which will be further enhanced
by the emergence of independent accreditation services. The means of reliably
finding useful knowledge and information then become as valuable as the
actual knowledge and information. This turns the question from knowledge
in the Net to knowledge of the Net.
In our recent work for the Employment and Skills Formation Council, we developed
a concept of "information literacy" as the core competency needed
to function in a world of convergent technologies. At another level, an
increasing growth of theoretical concepts provides tools for understanding
this world of networked knowledge.
Students of the field of Science Technology and Society frequently use the
concept of "actor networks" to understand not just the roles of
the human actors in the production of knowledge, but also of the roles of
artifacts, organisations and natural phenomena. Actor networks readily identify
the interactions which produce new knowledge and new technologies. However
they are prone to anthropomorphism and to exacerbating our culturally-induced
blindness to non-verbal knowledge.
However, the most persuasive frame for this discourse has been provided
not by the academy but by a 1984 work of science fiction, William Gibson's
Neuromancer, in which the term "cyberspace" was coined. In today's
largely pre-graphical cyberspace, chunks of computer programming code and
associated data can already wander the Internet as your agent, seeking our
information of interest to you. You can converse with other Net-users by
directing your typed words to a shared chat room, and you can look forward
to the computing and communications capabilities which will enable your
avatar to interact with others in a three-dimensional virtual reality.
In cyberspace, your place in the world does not matter. Even basic e-mail
catalyses effective communication across traditional status boundaries.
On the Net you can be who you want to be without revealing your real world
status. However, most Net users make no effort to disguise their identities.
The task of the Net community is to expand the cyberspatial frontier which
we are doing today with our Web pages, our meeting places and, recently,
with three-dimensional scenes defined in Virtual Reality Modelling Language.
Beyond using information to plan and promote activities in the physical
world, more and more of the final products of our work remain entirely in
The interconnectedness and interdependence of the emerging cyberspace makes
it a natural target of study for system sciences which allow absence of
central control and impredictability of emergent behaviour. Techniques of
measurement and formalisation which have empowered the physical sciences
and material technologies give way to reliance of models developed by analogy
to the biological and the social. In Gibson's words "the street finds
its own uses" of the knowledge network that is cyberspace.