Organizing – Constructing a World Encyclopaedia

from “Constructing the World Mind”

A common, systematic global organization of the world’s knowledge is conceived by H. G. Wells as the only way for humanity to achieve a “common conception of a common purpose.” What he called the World Encyclopedia would, he said, act as a “clearing house of misunderstandings” without being subject to “narrowing dogmas,” while remaining open to “corrective criticism.” According to Wells, this new organ would clearly distinguish “bed rock fact” from visions, projects and theories, but would have an inevitable “bias” towards “organization, comparison, construction and creation”. In 1972 Manfred Kochen envisaged many such “organs” would emerge with the aim of creating a global community brain which he named WISDOM (Worldwide Intelligence Service for the Development of Omniscience in Mankind).

Technical means found, intellectual means lost?

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

The 1990s versions of the World Brain concept — being less practical perhaps — put their faith in evolution as the principle means by which the world brain phenomenon will come to pass. H. G. Wells put his faith in promoting ways of enhancing human learning as the best means of “socially constructing” the global mind. For both H. G. Wells and James Lovelock, the World Brain is a project needing human attention, major policy decisions and some form of money to realise.
The irony is that now that the technological means to create a world knowledge resource are here in the form of worldwide computer networking and multimedia databases, the intellectual means pointed to by H. G. Wells in the 1930s seem to have been forgotten.


Information objects traded on a knowledge market

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

The components of what H. G. Wells advocated provide a picture of an omnipresent organ, consisting of an ever growing knowledge base fed by a global community of scholars and information professionals. Although H. G. Wells expected the operation of the World Brain to be funded publicly, he was worried about the dangers of a kind of intellectual monopoly. A component unforeseen by H. G. Wells, which may well take care of his doubts, is the emergence of a free market for knowledge. A huge number of “knowledge objects” already exist — as H. G. Wells well knew. The element most needed now is organizing and compiling them into an intuitively understandable framework that enables common access.

There is a controversial strain of thought among the Artificial Intelligence community which advocates the use of computer systems to carry out this knowledge processing. Even they admit, though, that the project will take many years before it becomes a practical proposition, assuming a true understanding of people’s intelligence and knowledge processes is reached. In the words of Tony Kent, software pioneer, “finding useful information is an intelligent process requiring intelligent people because at the end of the day only the intelligent can recognize what is useful.” Meanwhile, there is a huge abundance of human intelligence all over the world, most of it wasted, because of lack of knowledge. What are we waiting for?

James Lovelock hints at some important components of the intelligence process which must be present if any kind of human learning organization is to work. It must be fun and it must be rewarding. Although, as Lovelock says, durable hard copy versions of the World Encyclopedia must be widely available for use in case of emergency. In the meantime deploying multimedia computer networks in the service of a global learning enterprise must be desirable … and more fun and much cheaper than long-lasting print alone. d much cheaper than long-lasting print alone.

Still DIY research initiatives.

H. G. Wells reports having spent “a few score thousand hours” writing his own prototype version of a World Encyclopedia. Despite admitting to “profound and conspicuous faults and weaknesses,” Wells insists that “somebody had to try out such summaries on the general mind” and challenges his critics, “Damn you, do it better.” (Wells’ italics). He also bows to the “very considerable amount of such harvesting and storage” already accomplished by librarians and scientists. In his Critical Introduction, Alan Mayne cites three current examples of World Brain type projects: 1) The Intelligent World Encyclopedia Project (CYC) using expert systems which aims “to link its knowledge base into an evolving global model of the real world”  2) the Senior Scholars State-of-the-Art Statement System described as “a method of scholarly collaboration to integrate all knowledge and place it online”; and 3) Professor Abe Goodman “computerized self-instructional mediagraphic system” using “hypermedia and hypertext features”. Projects cited, based around existing