David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Sep 12 11:14
I don't know how to fix the structure of democracy. I have some degree of hope and enthusiasm for efforts to connect citizens to citizens, and to connect those in charge to those citizens. There have been lots of different attempts, some more successful than others. But all of them aim at affecting the processes that lead to decisions, rather than at how decisions are themselves made. I talk in 2b2k ("Too Big to Know," in case that's not clear) about the effect of the networking of knowledge on business decision-making. It was a particularly difficult chapter to write, and probably one of the least convincing ones. It makes a couple of points that I think are right, but I didn't (and don't) know how to make them go far enough that I could claim (as I and my publisher would have wanted to) that the networking of knowledge transforms decision-making within the business world. Instead, I try to get close by refocusing "decisions" away from that moment that the boss goes thumbs up or down. Instead, we can see the effect of knowledge networks if we think about decisions within the context that led up to them and the processes by which those decisions are appropriated by the business. I also suggest that businesses have a lot to learn from the large collaborative Web projects that have created and maintained products of a sort that formerly had been produced through hierarchical systems, e.g., Wikipedia, Linux, etc. These collaborative enterprises tend to keep decision-making as local as possible, because that's where the best knowledge is. The alternative is that you move info up the pyramid, reducing it at each step, so your Jack Welch boss-man can make a decision. But, I acknowledge in the book that there are legal as well as cultural reasons why most businesses won't soon move to non-hierarchical, collaborative decision-making. And it'll take governments even longer since they tend to have those pesky constitutions.
Craig Maudlin (clm) Sun 16 Sep 12 11:47
> These collaborative enterprises tend to > keep decision-making as local as possible, because that's where the > best knowledge is. We even might say that the most effective knowledge is that which is situated within the problem domain itself.
Craig Maudlin (clm) Sun 16 Sep 12 12:06
> The alternative is that you move info up the > pyramid, reducing it at each step, A possible varient of this (which the Net makes increasingly practical), is to *expand* the information (dare we say 'knowledge?') available at each step. In the past, reduction was necessary to accomodate the bandwidth limitations of each higher level. But the Net (and it's implicit computational abilities) can drasticlly transform these limits.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Sep 12 12:39
Craig, we might indeed say that (i.i. knowledge situated within the problem domain). As for expanding the knowledge at each step: On the one hand, I agree. 2b2k is about how the Net is enabling us to move from a reductive knowledge strategy to an inclusive one. But, even if you change the pyramid to something more like a rectangle, so that we don't have the implication that each step in value is a reduction in size, I'm not happy with an architectural diagram that suggests that wisdom is built on knowledge that is built on info that is based on data. I think the relationships among those four terms are far far more complex than that, and don't lend themselves into a stack order.
Craig Maudlin (clm) Sun 16 Sep 12 13:18
I completely agree. It makes some sense to me that DIKW arose when it did -- as a conceptual advance that addressed some real problems of the time. But today, it's a legacy notion. It also seems to me that DIKW came about when the efforts of professional philosophers was not yielding practical concepts of knowledge that could be applied (and worked) 'in the field.' This leads me to ask: do you think there is any branch of philosophy today that might ultimately become the source of a more workable and precise theory of knowledge? Or has it become an engineering exercise? I would imagine that the myriad ways in which are seeing knowledge behave in various networks (ie. 'in the wild') would become the source of the field observations used to perfect a new theory of knowledge.
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 17 Sep 12 03:27
Reading the comments about decision-making -- whether in business or in a democracy -- in the context of Michael Lewis's profile of Barack Obama makes me skeptical. As Lewis points out, Obama faces immediate opposition to most decisions that he makes, whether it's from the Republicans (who oppose him and his party) or Russia (whose leaders oppose the US). The same dynamic happens in a business context. Bosses, from boards to CEOs to lower managers, make decisions based on personal or political motivations all the time, regardless of the information available. Which is to say that all of the information is NOT available, because you can never achieve complete transparency of all the factors informing a particular issue. It can be as simple as, "I can't publicly agree with Bob's premise, because that will give Bob leverage against Charles, who is my ally. So I must, regardless of the merit of his information, oppose him." So, in the case of arguing the merits of the Affordable Care Act, no matter how detailed the conversation gets, the availability of the information in any quality or quantity may never overwhelm the emotional opposition to the source of the information. False information gets created to sway decisions based on emotions rather than "truth." (I suppose this may not even be a conscious process.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Sep 12 05:46
I've had the opportunity to operate in supposedly more democratic business contexts, and saw that the flatter hierarchy could work well or could create toxic environments. Culture and individual mindset are key: if you have a culture of cooperation with strong buy-in among members of the organization or team, a democratic approach can work well. If you have members who prioritize their personal desires and ambitions and try to build a power base and game the system to their own ends, the environment can grow toxic - more so if you have multiple members like that. Our recent guest Bruce Schneier wrote in his book _Liars and Outliers_ about how trust and cooperation hold a society together, and how we overcome self-interest by realizing that our individual needs are better served by cooperation. The difficulty of getting everybody on the same page about this is why we have security systems, and also why we have vertical hierarchies of authority, police, courts, prisons etc. - because there are inherently and persistently "defectors." This may seem irrelevant to a discussion of knowledge, but I think it's relevant to the discussion of authority, which is an important aspect of knowledge. (By what authority do we decide that a fact is "true," or a collection of facts and assumptions can be committed to a shared body of knowledge?) I think "belief" is in the mix, as well, and we haven't talked about that yet - does knowledge require "faith"?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:19
Scott, I agree with your description of many or even most environments in which business decisions are made. But I'm not sure what exactly you're skeptical about in your first sentence. (BTW, I posted briefly about the Lewis article yesterday: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2012/09/16/2b2k-decisions-and-character/)
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:39
Jon, you write: "(By what authority do we decide that a fact is "true," or a collection of facts and assumptions can be committed to a shared body of knowledge?)" Nice committing the hub of two generations of thought to a mere parenthesis, muh friend. Fortunately, I have an equally pithy answer: "What you mean _we_, white man?" [Note: This is a Mad Magazine reference, not a random racist remark.] We used to think that we decided which facts were true, but then it became obvious that those decisions were generally being made by the privileged class that owned the printing presses and broadcast towers. We're now in a mixed up stage, which may turn out to be the permanent normality, of recognizing, resisting, and forgetting about the social nature of knowledge authority, pretty much simultaneously. This is, after all, at the heart of the echo chamber problem looked at epistemologically: when you're in an echo chamber, you forget that the views expressed have authority only within it. (The echo chamber problem has a different heart if you look at it sociologically or psycho-neurologically.) Likewise, even the revered Wikipedia is only possible because of some commitments to what sort of discourse lets a contributor become part of the "we," and as many have pointed out (h/t to Joseph Reagle, among others), the old gender biases reappear there. (Wikipedians are well aware of this and struggle with the problem.) This leaves us with a muddle. On the one hand, we want to take seriously the social nature of truth, with both its good and bad effects. On the other, I by no means want to say that all truths from all the world's we's are equal. I just don't know how to distinguish one from another except from within my own group, which is exactly the problem. So, we muddle through, in contention.
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:39
I'm skeptical of the thoughts I perhaps misinterpeted in #25 and #26: that our emergent "tools for conversation" will somehow transform the process of making decisions, in a business or in a democracy, because (I believe) the "facts" will never be completely objectively stated or absorbed. Flat and egalitarian a system may be, but I'm not sure that the increased exposure to information or a greater number of voices will actually change the emotional context in which people converse. I'm not at all arguing that these new tools are not beneficial, just that I'm skeptical anyone has become a more rational actor because of them. I'd like to believe that, but I don't.
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:40
Slip, somewhat underscoring my thoughts.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Sep 12 09:00
Thanks for the clarification, Scott. I certainly agree that relying on objectively stated facts to be agreed upon and absorbed is not going to get us further than we currently are when it comes to making decisions. I like facts (as do you), but decisions inevitably are not and cannot be purely fact-based. (I have a chapter in 2b2k about the history of facts and of this particular hope.) But I do think that in some environments, network-based decisions can help. That's not because they have a better fact-base, but because they can leave many decisions in the hands of local subnets that know more and understand better what the local situation calls for. (Note that this understanding is not purely factual.) When decisions need to be scaled up -- not just handled at the local level -- networks also provide some benefits. In particular, they include more people arguing, rather than reducing the amount of info as it goes up the pyramid.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Sep 12 11:27
Aside from these issues of authority and knowledge, in thinking about democracy we also have the problem of scale, which is also relevant to network knowledge. How do you scale a conversation? This conversation, with the two of us and some few others who, like <esau>, join and contribute, is quite manageable. However if we carried this conversation to a high-traffic public context, and tens or hundreds of contributors chimed in, we couldn't keep track. If you had a hundred questions popping up every day, how would you answer? Some items on Reddit, for instance, have hundreds of responses and dozens of threads. It could take all day to thoroughly read just one or two items. Another example: I once joined a popular Twitter chat for bloggers and set the Twitter stream for the conversation to update more or less realtime. The flow of responses reminded me of a slot machine. I couldn't even read them, let alone respond? This seems like a wicked problem.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Sep 12 15:52
Yeah, during the Democratic National Convention, I watched the stream of tweets with the #dnc2012 hashtag, and you could practically hear the whoosh as they went by. How do you scale conversation? All the ways that we've invented, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Reddit scales conversations in one way, Facebook in another, The Well in yet another. And I'm sure we'll come up with many, many more. If the question is how to scale conversation so as to increase knowledge, and to make knowledge networks smarter, I'm unfortunately going to have the same type of answer. I'd still point to The Well and to Reddit, but FB would not have sprung quite so quickly to mind. But there are lots of other good answers to this question.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Sep 12 17:44
Do you think the quality of conversation is lower on Facebook? I tend to call Facebook and Twitter sources of "drive-by" conversations, short bursts that are relatively shallow. However I've seen conversations with more depth on Facebook from time to time. However Reddit seems to be the best place for deeper conversations today, and I assume there are others. The Consumerist is also a good example - a small staff of bloggers post stories of consumer interest, and a robust community of readers respond with great, often snarky discussions. Where do you, personally, look for conversation online?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Tue 18 Sep 12 06:19
I like Reddit very much, although probably about 95% of the topics on the front page I have no interest in, I don't understand, or are worth only a quick check. Still, that means that I find one or two topics worth at least browsing every time I check. I like the depth of expertise, the pleasure they take in altruism, the nerd-geek conversational aesthetic, and the mixing of the insightful with the silly. I also am fascinated by IAMA's as a new journalistic form, and by the highly developed collaborative humor shown in many of the threads. But that's me. As is true of all of us, some forms of conversation suit me better than others. I am not very good in public threads; I find them intimidating. I'm more relaxed in mailing lists where I've been a member for a while. I like tweeting, but I have trouble using it for conversation because of the asymmetry: the people reading my response are not necessarily the people who read the tweet I'm responding to. But I would not say that I am a particularly good example of someone who converses well online.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 08:59
For those who don't know Reddit, "IAMA" is a subreddit, which is kind of like the conferences here on the WELL - a broad subject area that includes a lot of conversations. In that particular subreddit, famous people or people who have interesting backgrounds or jobs join an "AMA" ("ask me anything") conversation. The most visible of these recently was Barack Obama's: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/z1c9z/i_am_barack_obama_president_of_the _united_states/sort=new Your mention of threads reminded me of the threadsml project you were involved with some years ago - as I recall, it was an attempt to come up with a standard for threaded conversations so that they could be shared across platforms. Whatever happened with that project?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 19 Sep 12 12:31
David, I'm wondering what your response is to this article by Sandy Pentland on the Edge?: http://www.edge.org/conversation/reinventing-society-in-the-wake-of-big-data How much do the algorithms predetermine data capture and possibly affect these societal changes?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 19 Sep 12 12:38
One thing I know is that it is my responsibility to protect both my identity and my data from here on in. I suppose that's part of the process of any emerging technological revolution. Having been on the Net for 20 years I'm finding it more difficult than ever. How do see personal data protection evolving in the future? I would hope the "room" would be a bit more friendly than it is now.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 19 Sep 12 14:36
(Sorry. I was on trains almost all day yesterday, with poor wifi.) Jon, good memory! Threadsml was just as you describe. Except that we didn't get anywhere with it. I still think it'd be great to have a good way to get comment boards to interoperate.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 19 Sep 12 14:42
Ted, thanks for the pointer to the Sandy Pentland article. Interesting. I think it'd push back on his denigration of experimental work in the face of Big Data. BD is hugely exciting, but there's lots of room for experimental science, as I think Pentland would agree. The comments most relevant to our discussion at the moment, though, have to do with his understanding of understandings. Here's a paragraph: "The other problem with Big Data is human understanding. When you find a connection that works, you'd like to be able to use it to build new systems, and that requires having human understanding of the connection. The managers and the owners have to understand what this new connection means. There needs to be a dialogue between our human intuition and the Big Data statistics, and that's not something that's built into most of our management systems today. Our managers have little concept of how to use big data analytics, what they mean, and what to believe." With complex systems, we well may not be able to understand what's happening or why it's happening. And our intuitions are likely to be wrong. I do of course like his proselytizing for organizations with more data sharing and transparency.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 19 Sep 12 14:45
Ted, about privacy: Something is off with my cognitive privacy assessment subsystem. I am personally toward the edge of the privacy scale for much about my life, but much less so on the Net. Worse, I have no enthusiasm about privacy laws and policies. I seem just not to care much, probably because no one has hacked my phone and posted all those salacious photos I keep there, and no one has targeted any of my children for online abuse. I know I'm supposed to care about privacy, and I'm glad other people do care, but I just sort of don't.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 19 Sep 12 16:18
I've come to the point where I don't care that much about my 'identity'. I'll control and shape that in my own way and hope for the best. I am concerned about my data tho, who owns it, who uses it, etc. That's a much bigger issue for me as a 'data point(s)' and I'm not happy with all these silos and walled gardens. The quote cited from Sandy's piece ... is that a good touch stone for what's developing in the sense of new data and knowledge networks as you talk about them in your book?
Craig Maudlin (clm) Wed 19 Sep 12 16:50
Btw, this observation: > With complex systems, we well may not be able to understand what's > happening or why it's happening. And our intuitions are likely to be > wrong. is an argument for data-privacy, isn't it?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 20 Sep 12 08:34
Ted, as you know, the problem is that if you want to break down the walled gardens (and don't we all!), then you also make it far easier for your personal info to be spread and abused. I don't know what to do about that tension. The passage I cite from the Pentland article points to one of the characteristics of networked knowledge, but I'm not fully in agreement with what he makes of it. So, we agree that Big Data and Big Knowledge lead us into a world that surpasseth human understanding. Sandy recommends using our intuition. But human intuition scares the bejeebus out of me. I think we're just stuck with knowledge without understanding, especially as knowledge becomes networked. I'm not being very clear (how ironic!) so let me unpack it a bit. We've always had knowledge without understanding. That happens at the beginning of the process when we notice a correlation but don't understand why it occurs. But more importantly, it also occurs at the other end, when the knowledge becomes commoditized. We all know all sorts of things we don't understand, and I'd venture to say that there is nothing any of us knows that we fully understand. E.g., I know about gravity, but do I understand it? Nah, not if I think about it for more than 2 seconds. We don't have enough brain capacity to know only that which we fully understand. This has been a prime element in our traditional strategy of knowing the world by reducing it. We've been able to reduce knowledge because we have media that preserve it and make it accessible beyond the individual. Traditionally, that's been paper, books, and libraries. But those media are very limited. Now we have a medium with indefinite capacity. We don't have to throw out a Web page to make room for a new one, as libraries eventually have to do. (Offsite book repositories are one response to this.) Plus, of course, our new medium is linked with linky links out its linky-linked wazoo. So we still have lots we know that we don't understand, but now there's much more of it. Knowledge networks give us knowledge that is understood only at the level of the network, by a community that is linked and shifting. Big Data gives us knowledge mediated by computers that contain and process more than our brains can manage. Too Big to Know maintains that this change is not just a change in the quantity of non-understood knowledge but is also a change in knowledge's nature. But it's important to recognize the continuity as well as the disjunction. Nothing is ever truly new, as we have known forever.
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