Tuesday, 20. December 2005

the heart of gnowsis

so, after three years of doing a semantic desktop and facing our move towards the gnowsis beta 0.9 - what is the heart of gnowsis? Whats this all about?

In natural science - like physics or mathematics - people try to understand what nature is like. They can experiment how matter behaves and how the earth universe and everything works. Gods natural laws, they can find them out. In information science and informatics, we are creating means to express information and means to handle information. Information is human created - language is human created. It isn't a natural law. So our work is more about psychology, philosophy and information science as such, and not about bits and bytes.

In the semantic desktop and our gnowsis implementation, I try to do what natural science tries for natural laws - I try to find a way to handle information that comes close the the "truth". How do people remember information? How do we think? How do we represent concepts in our mind? Do we abstract from impressions and does our brain conceptualize, generalize? So how would we store information in a computer?

I try to hit this truth using cross-discipline thinking. Linguistics tells me that people conceptualize and that we have mental representations for sensory input. Philosophy tells me that each human being has a different view on the world (at least constructivistic view). Basically, each of us has his or her own weltbild. Our view of the world, our understanding what is truth and what is important, what happens right now, etc. But our sensory input is mostly the web at the moment - web tv, web music, web news, web-sites of your enemies (p.c. = competitors) and friends. And our output is not only spoken word but - hey - blogs, text, appointments, offers, contracts, etc. And the laptop on my lap is the way I interact.

So my laptop has to allow me storing my information the best way, a way that is near to the truth what information is like. Information is individually percepted, it is always understood differently, it means to me X when it means to you Y. The semantic desktop learns your Xs and Ys and tries to stick all the information you have as sensory input to these Xs and Ys. You can also enter your own concepts, subjects, topics, ideas, web-sites, whatever you encounter. The semantic desktop learns what you associate with your Xs and Ys. It suggests to you where to look for, it suggests to you where to put this document now, where it fits. It allows multiple places to put it. And "it" is your e-mails, your files, your web-sites, your photos, your instant messages. whatever is important for you.

Coming back to the heart - all these information bits are like sensory input - what we call data - and have to be cleaned a little to get to the level of information. Thats what we call at DFKI "leveraging". Getting things together that mean the same for you. A person is a person, if it is on a photo, in an email or in an address-book, its always the same person. Gnowsis will go into this direction of connecting data bits from here and there to an information space for yourself. We published some papers about these ideas of ontologies and personal ontologies, where you express your mental model and link it to data.

I think that our approach is superior to others, because it tries to hit the truth behind personal information management. It ain't just data, its data with meaning to people. I don't know how long it will take to have a real semantic desktop and when we will be able to express our ideas on it, but I am sure that it will make life much easier when we can express and communicate ideas with it. I also expect that people's use of computers will change when they can express their personal mental models better. Image school children of the future, that are taught by their teachers how to organize their thoughts. Teacher: "Today kids, we will learn the aspect of places. What is a place? Can you give me an example? Ah: School. Ah: the park around the corner where I can play basketball. Ok kids, go to your 'places' tab in the semantic desktop and add theses places there. Now each of you has two or three important places entered. Watch as the semantic desktop searches for public identifiers. See that tab showing with information about 'Saint Franklins Elementary School'? Thats from wikipedia. So kids, now you will connect photos with these places. Have you got your phone-cams ready? ... Ok, lesson ends. On my peer-to-peer net I see that some of you have annotated our school building very nice, and especially those web-graffity look wonderful. See you tomorrow."

We should teach kids how to surf the web and how to remember stuff using computers. Isn't that an important side-effect of writing something down: remembering it? We should teach how to build good folder structures and how to name files or how to publish something on the web so that it will be found when needed (perhaps years later).

Ok, that was carried away a little - the heart of gnowsis is not school. But I hope you got the picture - I am not content when I have all my Addressbook as RDF. I am happy when I have this, but not content. I am happy and content when the information lives in both worlds - data in my Address book and flickr account and information in my personal ontology that integrates it. Thats basically where we are aiming at and walking towards. A "memory extender", not a bigger hard drive.

And by the way: we shouldn't replace teachers, robots suck.
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