Emergent Decision Making in Modern Virtual Societies
Most people at Sussex (and most Universities I’d guess) have little knowledge or experience of tools like Weblogs and Wikis. Surprising, since Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems is cutting edge computer science. So, a lot of Pietro’s talk was explaining the basics of these tools, and its always an eye-opener to see how they aren’t really that simple to the uninitiated. Pietro had a little story about Wikipedia, to demonstrate the power of the tools. A few years ago, he added a short entry of Artificial Life. He returned years later to find a larger entry, rich in links, and magically all grammar mistakes eliminated.
I believe in these tools, in academics. Wikis set up for a course can become a collaborative research space, and result “at the end of term, in the best web page ever for that subject”. Would be really useful for exam review. Weblogs can facilitate communication within the community, and with the outside world. I’m using a thesis weblog to track my own progress.
Academics have clearly established webs of communication, and everyone is very busy, so there’s not a lot of time to set up these tools and learn about them. One way to spread their use is through top-down initiatives — with a university providing tools in a coordinated manner. But usually that initiative needs to be inspired by some leading work from within the university. This was true of the spread of course webpages and readings at UC Santa Cruz. EASy would be an ideal incubator at Sussex, but where to start exactly. Something I’m thinking about. Also the focus of BlogWalk2
on “The role of personal Webpublishing for self-organized and informal learning”, wish I could’ve made it.
The other part of the talk concerned the systems approach to studying the effects of these tools. The Power-Law distribution is seen in many phenomenon, including weblogs .. so it was timely that this paper on Weblogs and Authority was published. This paper of using Kohenen maps to cluster weblogs also crosses the line to EASy techniques. I thought the Memespread Project also had scientific relevance.
Emergent Democracy came up, as Pietro mentioned that an issue has come up on the meaning of Emergence itself, and Joi Ito or someone had put out a call for scientists to help. This is still a wide open question for researchers, whether emergence is a present or subjective phenomenon (meaning that emergence is a level of description, rather than observable phenomenon).
Definitely there is plenty of fruitful crosspolinations possible between the new breed of Internet tools and the new breed of scientific inquiry.