Imagine intelligence agents running around the World Wide Web.
They’re performing deep research based on our fields of interest. They’re helping us make intuitive leaps toward new ways of understanding the world.
This, in fact, already is happening.
And it quickly will increase as we become more familiar with a new level of technology that enhances collaboration between human and computer intelligence.
Welcome to The Semantic Web.
The focus is on making the Web more understandable to machines, but the effect will be an exponential leap in our ability to make more precise and more creative connections among the billions of bits of information in cyberspace.
As valuable as search engines are, the algorithms running them are limited to reading data. They don’t seek useful connections among the results.
When we type a request into a search engine, we get back dozens, often hundreds, of documents that relate in some way to the search. But the order of the results is based on qualities such as “page rank,” which reflects not that a document is most relevant, but most easily identified. So, we then must sift through most of the documents to find those most meaningful for our purpose.
Not for long.
One of the leading minds developing The Semantic Web is Tim Berners-Lee, the person who invented the World Wide Web in 1989. He’s founding director of the World Wide Web Foundation, which was launched in 2009 to coordinate efforts to further the potential of the web to benefit humanity.
Berners-Lee advocates this premise: Teaching computers how to better attach meaning to raw data enables people to collaborate with computer intelligence at a much deeper level.
James Hendler, director of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, writes, “The key problem is one of semantics – that is, the meaning of the words and symbols that people use in their day-to-day lives… When told to ‘put the fish in the tank,’ a person would generally look for a container of water and not an Army tank or any of the many other things in the world for which the term ‘tank’ might be used. Human language is inherently ambiguous, with most words having multiple meanings, and the context in which a word is used makes a huge difference.”
We take for granted the inherent ambiguity that gives our language depth and meaning. (We still remember an episode of “Get Smart,” the popular 1960s sitcom: Hiding from antagonists, secret agent Maxwell Smart says to his dimwitted partner Hymie, “Kill the light.” So the guy shoots the lamp with three bullets.)
One way of tracking the progress of The Semantic Web is to look at the contributions of Watson, the IBM supercomputer that famously beat the best human contestants on the quiz show “Jeopardy” in 2011.
Just three years later, Jessica Leber wrote in article for Fast Company: “Watson’s aim is to speed up discoveries by teams of researchers by, for example, scanning and interpreting millions of scientific books, articles, and data points – far more than any person’s brain could analyze – and generating new hypothesis or leads that might be fruitful to investigate. Or, as IBM Vice President (John) Gordon put it, ‘Watson gives researchers ‘smarter hunches.'”
We find this last quote particularly inspiring. It points to how enhanced computer intelligence will lead not only to more effective “empirical” results, but will help us sharpen our human intuitive instincts to discover new insights and creative possibilities.
AN EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE
This next level of the World Wide Web is poised to revolutionize the way we educate children and adults.
In the article “Semantic Web Technology and the Future of Learning,” Justin Marquis wrote, “Conducting a search will return not a random list of web pages, but rather some sort of organized report based on all of the information available. This report could include relevant video, opposing positions on related issues, analyzed data and information about other sources of knowledge in your immediate geographical area.”
This will lead to personal learning networks that will totally shake up high school and college institutions as we know them. Using a web agent based on semantic web technology, a student could access educational content from anywhere in the world. He or she could set up a custom-designed browser to not only access relevant data, but organize it in meaningful ways according to one’s own unique interests and goals.
As a result, schools and universities will have to adapt to the new environment where students accessing The Semantic Web have the collaborative ability to cross-pollinate ideas and insights from literally billions of bits of information that previously would be too complex to consider. TJ