OAR conference notes – John Wilbanks

John Wilbanks (of Science Commons) – The Future of Knowledge

Knowledge is a set of building blocks – value is not that much until you start to put it together with other ideas and knowledge

Ideas and knowledge want to be connected

2 futures – we get to choose which we build – (1) only the people who have money have access to the knowledge (2) one in which there is an open network

(1) Knowledge brings revolutions

The past of knowledge = “Human-scale knowledge” – the scholarly canon (journals) – knowledge was human-organised and human-structures
How did this knowledge bring a revolution?

Moving to a world where knowledge acquisition is faster, smaller, cheaper and more robotic. Moving from a world where humans generate the scale of knowledge to a world where machines generate the scale

We have an implicit network that is already there for knowledge, but because we are generating it so quickly and on such a large scales, we are coming up against barriers – legal (copyright, DRM), technical (still use paper based formats online that cannot be searched by machines – i.e. PDF), business (publishers make money from closed access and we don’t yet know how they can make money or build business models around open access), social (scientists still get rewarded for being closed) – that we never encountered before

Over-atomised knowledge – smaller and smaller questions – primary output is a paper – John argues that these are not the primary vehicles for knowledge in a digital world

Incremental advances via technology – no big risks to achieve great advances anymore because you don’t get rewarded for making these risks, in fact you come up against huge legal barriers that prevent you using other research to take these risks

(2) We need to make systemic changes that connect knowledge

e.g. “the commons” – a number of different meanings: (1) land we hold in common e.g. public footpath; right to do research – rights of way across private property; (2) no copyright – things we all own

we are coming from a world where it was hard to be a creator and disseminate your work. We are not in that world anymore. There is now a disconnect between the copyright laws that Disney wants and the copyright laws that we as individual creators want. This is where the commons can make a systemic change.

Systemic change about the way we think about how we share knowledge – not just paper-based formats in a digital form – forces us to use technologies that are immediately outdated – what kinds of technology can we used instead? – a network of devices (layers: physical; code; content – there has been many developments of openness in these layers, but we have also seen an imposition of control in these layers (copyright)) – do we need new layers? Knowledge layers; graph layers etc. Info atomization kind of forces our hand to do this. Knowledge accessed needs to support the questions being answered (eg – when you type a query into Google – it tells you to read thousands of papers – this is not the ideal answer)

Copyright is incompatible with ideas connecting to each other.

(3) The disruptive force of connected knowledge

“guild” culture (as in historical sense of guilds, where the crown put limits on people not in the guild from weaving etc)

the way we do science actively discriminates against crowds and the wisdom of crowds

knowledge can be democratized: programming; creativity; buying and selling
it is easy, cheap and free

there are no office superstores for science; there are no internet marketplaces for science…but they are coming

destroying a guild culture of knowledge…what will come after it?

Creating a network culture for knowledge

• are we going to “watch” the knowledge like tv, or do something with it? – in the future of knowledge, we should do stuff with our knowledge rather than just consume it

Commentators: Dr Terry Cutler and Prof Mary O’Kane

Dr Cutler –

proud of the focus in Innovation Review on open access; however, first an apology and explanation – there is a difference between web version and print version – both supposed to be released under CC but were not (copyright assertion for Dr Cutler instead) – now attempting to have this rectified for the web version.

Key assertions from the report = about investment in people; global integration; flows of information and the freedoms to innovate

2% challenge of Australia – at best, we have a 2% share of global knowledge generation, and we don’t pay enough attention to the other 98% and how we access this – as a country we will always have an interest in an open network because we derive the most benefit from it

flows of information = communications. Communications theory and legal principles around communications were always based on connectivity. Open access is really just an extension of these principles.

Challenge – who really “owns” this problem of driving solutions (particularly at a government level)? – we need the government to address accessibility issues and articulate a national innovation policy – someone needs to take responsibility for this at the centre of government

Too much emphasis on “protectable” knowledge and not enough on informal networks and social networks that underpins the generation of an innovative community – need to open up access to that tacit knowledge and put social networks back into science and technology

Professor Mary O’Kane –

(1) is the future that John is talking about possible? How do we get to participatory science?

Can Australia lead this move into a participatory culture? We need to change the incentives for scientists. We need to change the social culture and drivers generally. So what are the drivers? Usually the intrinsic values are strongest (i.e. solving problems) not money. So how can we celebrate these intrinsic values? Across the university sector we need to reward people for open publishing.

(2) Issues that arise if you start to get the participatory culture going?

Problems that arise when you use the networks that have been built automatically, is that it is very hard to “probe the node” and know what is in the network. But does the human need to know or can we leave this to the machine? Do we need to know the knowledge? And at what level?


[John: we need to lower the cost of failure to increase the rate of innovation (i.e. in the context of start-ups)]

(1) Richard Jefferson: the power of the guild is building value, trust and quality control and we shouldn’t erode that

John (response): we don’t need to get rid of guild completely, but we need to build another layer where we can build on the knowledge of everyone – but we can still have trademarks etc to control quality

Mary (response): I’ve always wondered why we don’t use the internet more for structured, controlled discussion about things – there is no reason why we couldn’t and that would also help control quality – by generating discussion

(2) Roger Clarke – referring to the “tacit knowledge problem” seems to assume that the way the human mind works can be reduced to a computer-based system and the problem is that the mind does have a generic model that we can all grasp but we just haven’t transferred it over to the computer yet. But everyone thinks differently.

John (response): I don’t think we can actually encode how the mind works, but we need to make information available. That is the importance of openness – you need to be able to read, criticize and comment on what I put up, and that is how we see the reflection of the many different minds at work. Getting it into the computer means we can start accessing that information and competing on it using our brains rather than competing on our access to computers.