- From Bit streams to Life Streams ( Emerging paradigms in Web based computing


Ajai Narendran Faculty, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology Bangalore
( This presentation is prepared for the Space The final Frontier workshop. Any one is free to use/ reuse the content mentioning the citied source )

Many of new media's important ideas and influences first appeared in unexpected contexts. Artists and writers have often presaged developments in new media that were invisible to the most esteemed technologists !
( Source: The New Media Reader )


My arguement here would be the view that the next generation social computing / internet architecture will come from artists/ social scientists and media practitioners than just mathematicians/ scientists or technologists. But this is something that will require an entirely different, if not radically different, way of looking at things and doing things...the science of computing would reach out better as it practices the art of computing as well.

‡ In this discussion we will breeze through some

historical background of computing....where we stand now ....and focus primarily on some of the interesting views of someone called David Gelernter... whom i think is the right person to be discussed in depth here because he is a practicing artist, writer and ace computer scientist in the area of distributed computing .


... In short this will be a kind of idea mashup session , there many not be much of any concrete take home "knowledge packages" by the end of the session. But, sure enough there will be lot of triggering pulses and pointers that could possibly lead to developing some of the ideas presented here that could feed well into the making of next generation social computing.


‡ Claude Shannon father of information theory, he was an artist as well - a master juggler-artist as well ! How a single solitary mathematician's playing around with things so abstract brought about a total revolution and impact on almost all facets of life . ‡ .... Now it is time for things to happen the other way round ...how social scientists, artists and media practitioners can develop the framework of next internet/ database/ information dissemination/ retrieval architecture...
< Claude Shannon video : 30 mnts >

... the technology that created a breakthrough does not quite seem to reduce the complexity in weaving together and mining out relevant information, instead it is increasingly becoming all the more complex - and all the more dubious too as corporations like "google " have monopolised or have the key to disseminate information the way they like based on what they get to gain ( we will come to that later ).


‡ While all the technological advancements that followed Shannon focused primarily on the engine that drives the system than the system as a whole - without significant importance given to the form . Why form here ? In the realm of computation, form is analogous to the interface or the external structure of the information content .Extend it further, it becomes individuals ; add individuals together, they become groups/ communities...and they together form a place/ city/ town/ village ... now the challenge is how to reflect this form in the digital domain or give this form - a digital identity or personification . There is a popular saying in Knowledge Management "Content is the king "..i would just add that then form is "the empire!"

We are now entering in to the core domain of content and form...but before that it is good to look how massive archives were built and maintained long long ago...it is worth looking at a video clip from Carl Sagan's Cosmos - this clip on the library of Alexandria has some key ideas that one could apply in the digital domain as well... the processes and practices may differ, but the sprit and attitude is quite commendable. i have a request here....as you watch the video if possible please note down in a piece of paper the key words that capture your imagination - words from the narration in the video clip.
< Alexandria library video clip : 11 mnts>

‡ physical remains
< digital imprints > < digital counterparts> < digital chronicles> < digital archives ! >


‡ immense library < comprehensive archive>


‡ intellectual adventure
< A real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but of seeing through new eyes - Marcel Proust >


‡ citadel of human consciousness
< citadel = fortress, stronghold, bastion, castle, refuge, sanctuary, refuge >


‡ studied everything under cosmos cosmos = order of the universe ( opposite of chaos )


‡ deep interconnectedness of all things
<semantic web,web 3.0, intelligent search algorithms, interactive, inclusive >


‡ intricate and subtle way the universe is put together.
< the sum is more than the parts put together , systems world view data organization >


‡ systematized geometry < re ordering the organized >



did for language what euclid did for geometry.
<cross disciplinary interactions, inter disciplinary approaches>


‡ intellectual brilliance is no guarantee for being dead wrong.


‡ scrolls were borrowed, copied and returned to the owners
< copyright, copyleft, intellectual property rights, open learning initiatives, free knowledge >


‡ Rediscovered
< newer perspectives, interpretations, meanings, revivifications >


‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡

gaps in historical knowledge seriously and systematically compiled mapped the constellations within the marble walls


‡ What distinguishes digital databases from their analog predecessors is their inherent possibility for the retrieval and filtering of data in multiple ways. Databases can be distinguished according to different data models that is, data containers and the ways in which data are stored in and retrieved from them.
( Source: Chriatiane Paul ,Database as System and Cultural Form, Database Architecture)



Hierarchical Databases, which arrange the data in hierarchies similar to a tree structure with parent/child relationships. Network Databases, which are still close to the hierarchical model but use sets to establish a hierarchy that allows children to have more than one parent and thus establishes many-to-many relationships. Relational Databases, the most common form, are based on the research of Dr. E. F. Codd at IBM in the late 1960s and rely on the concept of tables (socalled relations) that store all data. Contrary to hierarchical or network databases, relational ones do not require a close understanding of how exactly information within the database is structured since each table can be identified by a unique name that can be called and found by the database. Client/Server Databases, which come in various forms and allow multiple clients to remotely and simultaneously access and retrieve information from a database server around the clock. bject-Oriented Databases, which are designed to work well with objectoriented programming languages (such Java and C++) and make entries (objects) in the database appear as programming language objects in one or more languages. 24





‡ Web 1.0 That Geocities & Hotmail era was all about readonly content and static HTML websites. People preferred navigating the web through link directories of Yahoo! and dmoz. ‡ Web 2.0 This is about user-generated content and the read-write web. People are consuming as well as contributing information through blogs or sites like Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. The line dividing a consumer and content publisher is increasingly getting blurred in the Web 2.0 era. ‡ Web 3.0 This will be about semantic web (or the meaning of data), personalization (e.g. iGoogle), intelligent search and behavioral advertising among other things.
< Introduction to the Semantic web video clip : 6 mnts >

‡ Semantic web came as a concept ...new programming methodologies evolved ...XML, RDF, RSS feeds...metatags, key words ,annotation and the likes took over . ‡ ...but did it yield accurate results ? ‡ Search engine optimisation was another buzz term that went around ... does any level of search engine optimisation yield accurate relevant results ? ... the search results you get are not free...some one had paid for it to reach you the way "they want and you too pay the price of being misled unawares :-)


How does Google search algorithm work :


This is in a nutshell how google started off...business models evolved ... Ad sense came in...key words began to get auctioned ... search results began to drift more towards the results they want to show you than results based on the content merit of the pages ... to such an extent that no outsider really knows what algorithm powers google engine . Now lets look into how search results could be manipulated no matter how you optimise your web content, and how search engines could categorise search results in a better way.
< ibm omnifind demo > < clusty.com >


Here is an example of how search results could be redirected: Platform : IBM Yahoo Omnifind Enterprise Search Developed by IBM and Yahoo to compete with the expensive Google Intranet search appliance. Built around Lucene search algorithm and this software is available free. In the above picture I just pointed, from my central control panel, the letters asdf to the search results on the word play .


This time I pointed the word test to a desired URL as the featured search result. No matter how meritorious / rich the content of a website is, the final search result could be manipulated by the ones who run the search engine. So it is clear the whole idea of the most popular search items need not be the most meritorious ones. The less popular ones as judged by the prevalent search engines could as well be the relevant locations the search ought to have pointed to .

It has come to this : Internet search means Google ! But are we assured of well organised search results ? A simple Google search yields a long list of search results, context-categories-subcategories all mixed up. This is meant to be so because this is the maze that feeds the business model. Some years back there was a search engine called Vivisimo now it is manifest as Clusty/ Yippy search engine Let us look into what this search engine does.


A simple search on Computers yields the search with a Category listing on the left most of these categories are expandable. This first level filtering really aids context-relevant extraction of information. The categories listed on the left are not general ones, it is generated based on the search word. Please have a look at the next image.



Clusty too must be having its own agendas but sure, it points to possibilities that could be explored in Shadow Search project. Clusters of search engine interfacing-interacting could deliver better results than just one search engine based on a fixed algorithm. Such clusters could possibly deploy Genetic algorithms .


‡ Now it is clear, one just cannot rely on this commercial search engines for a truthful search results ... for projects like "Shadow Search" the ideal solution is to build brand new search engines . But before that one has to build a well defined conceptual framework ... the frameworks of the past had more of mathematical insights than insights into the human mind...so it is time that the new conceptual frame work is developed with people in mind . ‡ Some interesting propositions have been put forward by David Gerenter

David Gelernter ‡ "...prophesied the rise of the World Wide Web. He understood the idea half a decade before it happened." (John Markoff) ‡ "...is a treasure in the world of computer science...the most articulate and thoughtful of the great living practitioners" (Jaron Lanier) ‡ "...is one of the pioneers in getting many computers to work together and cooperate on solving a single problem, which is the future of computing." (Danny Hillis) ‡ "...is one of the most brilliant and visionary computer scientists of our time." (Bill Joy)

THE SECOND COMING By David Gelernter
( Source : http://edge.org )


Note : i have just selected a few of the 52 points Gelenter listed out in his essay The Second Coming A Manifesto . Please go through the suggested reading material to explore these ideas deeper )


‡ A dekstop computer is a scooped-out hole in the beach where information from the Cybersphere wells up like seawater. ‡ The network is the computer" yes; but we're less interested in computers all the time. The real topic in astronomy is the cosmos, not telescopes. The real topic in computing is the Cybersphere and the cyberstructures in it, not the computers we use as telescopes and tuners. ‡ The computing future is based on "cyberbodies" selfcontained, neatly-ordered, beautifully-laid-out collections of information, like immaculate giant gardens.


A MANIFESTO By David Gelernter

‡ You will walk up to any "tuner" (a computer at home, work or the supermarket, or a TV, a telephone, any kind of electronic device) and slip in a "calling card," which identifes a cyberbody. The tuner tunes it in. The cyberbody arrives and settles in like a bluebird perching on a branch. ‡ The individuals in the swarm lose their identities. The computers that make up this global swarm will blend together into the seamless substance of the Cybersphere. Within the swarm, individual computers will be as anonymous as molecules of air.

‡ Metaphors have a profound effect on computing: the filecabinet metaphor traps us in a "passive" instead of "active" view of information management that is fundamentally wrong for computers. ‡ You shouldn't have to put files in directories. The directories should reach out and take them. If a file belongs in six directories, all six should reach out and grab it automatically, simultaneously.


A MANIFESTO By David Gelernter

‡ A file should be allowed to have no name, one name or many names. Many files should be allowed to share one name. A file should be allowed to be in no directory, one directory, or many directories. Many files should be allowed to share one directory. Of these eight possibilities, only three are legal and the other five are banned for no good reason. ‡ File cabinets and human minds are information-storage systems. We could model computerized informationstorage on the mind instead of the file cabinet if we wanted to.

Lifestreams : Elements stored in a mind do not have names and are not organized into folders; are retrieved not by name or folder but by contents. (Hear a voice, think of a face: you've retrieved a memory that contains the voice as one component.) You can see everything in your memory from the standpoint of past, present and future. Using a file cabinet, you classify information when you put it in; minds classify information when it is taken out.
‡ A "lifestream" organizes information not as a file cabinet does but roughly as a mind does.

‡ A lifestream is a sequence of all kinds of documents all the electronic documents, digital photos, applications, Web bookmarks, email messages and every other digital information chunk in your life arranged from oldest to youngest, constantly growing as new documents arrive, easy to browse and search, with a past, present and future, appearing on your screen as a receding parade of index cards. Documents have no names and there are no directories; you retrieve elements by content: "Fifth Avenue" yields a sub-stream of every document that mentions Fifth Avenue.


A MANIFESTO By David Gelernter

‡ You manage a lifestream using two basic controls, put and focus, which correspond roughly to acquiring a new memory and remembering an old one. ‡ The lifestream (or some other system with the same properties) will become the most important informationorganizing structure in computing because even a rough imitation of the human mind is vastly more powerful than the most sophisticated file cabinet ever conceived.


A MANIFESTO By David Gelernter

‡ Today's typical web site is a failure because it is opaque. You ought to be able to see immediately (not deduce or calculate) how the site is arranged, how big it is, how deep and how broad. It ought to be transparent.

‡ In other words: each cultural product will be delivered to you in the form of an artifical mind. You will deal with it not as you deal with an object but roughly as you do with a person.


A MANIFESTO By David Gelernter

‡ Your car, your school, your company and yourself are all one-track vehicles moving forward through time, and they will each leave a stream-shaped cyberbody (like an aircraft's contrail) behind them as they go. These vaportrails of crystallized experience will represent our first concrete answer to a hard question: what is a company, a university, any sort of ongoing organization or institution, if its staff and customers and owners can all change, its buildings be bulldozed, its site relocated what's left? What is it? The answer: a lifestream in cyberspace. ‡ The company's lifestream is an electronic approximation of the company's memories, its communal mind.

John Brockman - Artist/ curator and the founder of Edge foundation : He touches on the realm of what one could roughly call as "distributed mind " / collective conscious The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has characterized the post-Newtonian worldview as one of pattern, of order, of resonances in which the individual mind is a subsystem of a larger order. Mind is intrinsic to the messages carried by the pathways within the larger system and intrinsic also in the pathways themselves.

‡ A new invention has emerged, a code for the collective conscious, which requires a new way of thinking. The collective externalized mind is the mind we all share. The Internet is the infinite oscillation of our collective conscious interacting with itself. It's not about computers. It's not about what it means to be human in fact it challenges, renders trite, our cherished assumptions on that score.
( Source : The Collective Conscious, John Brockman / http://www.edge.org/q2010/q10_1.html )


and here comes the mathematician Shannon again : "The word communication will be used here in a very broad sense to include all of the procedures by which one mind may affect another. This, of course, involves not only written and oral speech, but also music, the pictorial arts, the theater, the ballet, and in fact all human behavior.
( Source: Communication for social change anthology: historical and contemporary readings By Alfonso Gumucio Dagron, Thomas Tufte )


Perhaps that would trigger of a new era in computing The Anthropic Computing. ‡ Coming to a specific space - be it a city, town or a village - if the content it generates the Data base" ... the container is the Data space" >> something that has to be reflected in its digital manifestation. ‡ May be we are on the threshold of discovering a new pattern that connects ...and it is just befitting to conclude with this beautiful presentation on Gregory Bateson.
< Gregory Bateson and the Pattern that connects Video: 19 mnts >

Thank You !
- ajai narendran pilgrimhawk@gmail.com


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