Gurteen Knowledge Café: Imagining the future of knowledge technologies

If the idea of predicting the future currently seems rather foolish to me, it may be because I’m reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Fooled by Radomness”. I signed up for Tuesday night’s Gurteen Knowledge Café at the British Computer Society more in anticipation of good conversation than any hope of forecasting anything significant.

Conrad Taylor opened the event, framing technological change as “the co-evolution of tools, artefacts and environment” and suggested “science fiction, the future of personal computer and magic versions of current processes” as predictive approaches. After a video message from BCS President Alan Pollard, Chris Yapp spoke about the need for technology to augment and add to individual capabilities, “a neuro-physiological effect which increases attention-capacity” and the need for better algorithms. He made the surprising point that the technical capability outlined by Doug Englebart in his famous demonstration “A Research Centre for Augmenting Human Intellect” still does not exist.

Dominated by knowledge management professionals, the first group I sat with were uncomfortable purely discussing technology and the conversation quickly turned to shifts in society. Fears over security, data retention, defensiveness about intellectual property rights and reputation management appear to prevent progress.

One person commented that individual identity might be lost or changed due to mass participation and more sharing, but that younger people seemed to fear this less than older people. Since our opinions and the meanings we ascribe to things are founded on our life experience, what we learn will always reflect our previous experience and the sense we make of it.

Similar themes emerged after I moved tables. We talked about what Intellectual Property means now and considered how organisations will generate value in the future. We felt the cultural shift in ownership needed to be understood and “something like” the GPL or Creative Commons embraced more widely. The model which has served the music business for the past 100 years is no longer viable and there is a lot to be learnt from the open-source-software-and-consultancy model.

I sadly didn’t share a table with Ray Shaw where the most off-the-wall conversation was always likely (and so it proved). The conversation continued over excellent food and drink which had me questioning the fact that it’s around twenty years since I was a member of the British Computer Society. Perhaps it’s time I renewed.