Relaunching the World, the Wild, the Web

Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and so far the only astronomical object known to accommodate organic life forms. While people call it ‘our world’, the planet itself is naturally irreverent to human beings in general, and its concepts of ownership in particular. According to anthropological research, modern humans emerged some 300,000 years ago. To put this in perspective, if the world was one day old, homo sapiens spent less than one second on its surface. In this rather short time-frame, mankind made its mark on the planet mostly by eradicating a large percentage of its wildlife and creating more environmental destruction than all other species combined over billions of years before.

Together with nonanthropogenic causes, human behavior is increasing the likelihood of its own extinction at an ever-increasing rate. Researchers across all fields of scientific research have been in agreement for decades that the largest threats to the human species – including climate change – are man-made. However, the public’s perception remains warped by a large body of non-scientific material flooding the media. This problem is exacerbated by groups and individuals publishing information motivated by commercial interest and beliefs, unfiltered by critical thinking and often willfully ignorant of the apparent externalities of commercial activity. These are consequently filtered and amplified by algorithms optimized to generate corporate profits of a different kind – ostensibly through “advertising”.

The forgotten objective of the World Wide Web

The internet carries an extensive range of informational resources and services, most visibly the inter-linked hypertext documents and applications that make up the World Wide Web, the infrastructure to support electronic communication such as email, and peer-to-peer networks for file sharing, phone services and – as of the 2009  – value exchange, albeit still mostly limited to digitally-native bearer instruments – i.e. bitcoin (more here).

The web has been widely utilized by persons in academia since the 1980s and was initially a promising concept for the exchange and expansion of knowledge. The popularization of what was by the 1990’s an international network resulted in its commercialization and incorporation into virtually every aspect of modern human life. As a result, as early as 2000 scientists voiced concerns that the internet had become the weakest at doing that for which it was indeed originally designed: exchanging knowledge between researchers.

Organizing the world’s knowledge

Today, tragically Google is the centralized window to the World Wide Web for citizens of all countries with the exception of China. Consistently used for more than 92% of global internet searches, the service purports to be a ‘search engine’. However, the term disguises the true nature of Googles business which became a subsidiary of the public holding company Alphabet Inc. (hidden away under the domain in 2015, and has thus far mostly been the only profitable unit of the collection.

As with all for-profit companies, Alphabet’s primary objective is to increase shareholder value. And, the company has done so exceedingly well, with a current market valuation of more than $1.4 trillion (as of February 2021). Alphabet has achieved this astonishing valuation almost entirely by selling the influence Google’s services have over its products – quite literally: to the highest bidder. If you are reading this, you are likely one of the company’s products in general (this site stopped selling users to Google in 2008). Google’s services distribute information onto personas profiled for the effectiveness of commercial outcomes (i.e. advertising for purchase decisions), opinion forming (i.e. political campaigns), or any other objective a paying customer might have. 

More than a decade has gone by without serious attempts to challenge the market dominance of the company that claims to be on a mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. As outlined before it is highly unlikely that Google – or any for-profit entity – will succeed in actually doing so.

Google’s product: Social-Engineering-as-a-Service.

Influence technologies masked as search engines – and here specifically Google – are also largely responsible for the majority of ad-copy disguised as information flooding the World Wide Web today. The advertising company’s pay-per-click incentive model has inadvertently created an entirely new industry that produces nothing of value: search engine optimization. Millions of people – often in low wage countries – spend their days creating low-quality content, hyperlinks to landing pages and comment spam in otherwise useful online magazines and forums. As of late, these ‘experts’ are being entirely replaced by content-creation technologies churning out ever greater obscurities which feed even the longest tail of searches.

The fact that the entrance to the internet is influenced in this way by a for-profit entity should worry every critically thinking person, and has certainly attracted the attention of European watch-dogs.

Google is currently the second largest company in the US in terms of revenue and more than 90% of the company’s revenue is being paid by advertisers to the tune of more than $15.4 Million per hour.

Of course, Google is not the only responsible party, and I chose it simply as the most recognizable example. Platforms such as Facebook, and other ‘social media’ contributed to the devolution of a once promising human collaboration system.

Collaboration and Tools

The success of the human species thus far can largely be contributed to its capacity of tool making, and collaboration. The combination of these traits enables modern life, as each individual by himself may spend a lifetime in pursuit of a seemingly benign technology – i.e. a pencil (see the essay I Pencil), without ever succeeding, let alone complex technologies such as modern cars, phones, and advanced healthcare.

Collaboration is a combined human effort towards a common goal driven by intrinsic motives. Defined as such, a useful distinction can drawn from extrinsically incentivized coordinated activity – a process of cooperation. While these processes share the primary technology of language, required to coordinate towards specific outcomes, cooperation frequently requires an additional agreement over the incentive method. While often conflated, the former should be referred to as ‘money’ (a legal concept), while the latter can be understood as a currency (a technology). As with the centralization of general network technologies, currencies thus far have been siloed, and consequently manipulated to serve special interest, rather than fulfilling a greater good of human incentive alignment.

A renaissance of decentralized software solutions, starting with the introduction of Bitcoin, has shown that human collaboration, including incentive alignment is not only possible, but a necessary transition from economic systems with an overgrow of parasitic elements. 

Premises for a sustainable, decentralized World Wide Web

The following outlines premises required for a sustainable information management strategy in service of returning the  World Wide Web from the tragedy of the commons.

Premise One: The internet and World Wide Web are intellectual commons – shared resources in which all stakeholder have equal interests and should therefore receive equal control. Humans are at a cutting edge of technological progress and wealth creation. With the initial implementation of the unfiltered World Wide Web, people have started to constitute intellectual commons free to access by all, by devising collaborative peer-to-peer modes of production and management of intellectual resources (see The Ontology of the Intellectual Commons). No single person, entity, group or culture can claim exclusive rights to information. Just as physical access to water needs to be available to any human being, the information on how to get to this resource is inseparably attached to it. The opposite of collective rights is not private rights purchased from the collective, but common rights that precede the collective.

Premise Two: Access to unfiltered information must be considered a human right. To protect and promote essential human interests, especially the unique human capacity for freedom (see the work of Andrew Fagan) access to information has to be free. Censorship, as well as monopolized information organization – as de-facto, practiced by Alphabet’s Google – is hence a human rights violation. ‘Right’ being synonymous of ‘legal’ and antonyms of both ‘wrong’ and ‘illegal’, every ‘right’ of any human person is ipso facto a ‘legal right’ which deserves protection of law and legal remedy irrespective of having been written into the law, constitution or otherwise in any country (also referred to as “Ipso Facto Legal Rights Theory”).

Premise Three: As Plato explains in Theaetetus, Knowledge and access to information are the natural enemies of belief. Beliefs are the enemy of progress; or in my own words: belief is simply the absence of knowledge (more here). An effective information management system will be able to   identify and discard information that violate basic principles of objectifiable reality or otherwise claim non-verifiable/falsifiable arguments and thus unscientific theory is not intrinsically false or inappropriate, however, as metaphysical theories might be true or contain truth, and are required to help inform science or structure scientific theories. Simply, to be scientific, a theory must predict at least some observation potentially refutable by observation.

Premise Four: Evolutionary organization of information cannot be democratic and must follow logic and peer review not popularism. As Isaac Newton expressed: “We are all standing on the shoulders of giants”. No progress can be made without reading and understanding the research and works created by notable thinkers of the past. – Social proof is anything but. Google’s philosophy that assumes that democracy on the web works is demonstrably false (read more here).  A functional information management system will employ the Hebbian theory.  Just as biological neuroscience explains the adaptation of neurons in the brain during the learning process the same model can be utilized to describe a basic mechanism for “synaptic” plasticity in connected systems wherein an increase in synaptic efficacy arises from the presynaptic cell’s/nodes (connected ‘brains’) repeated and persistent stimulation of the postsynaptic unit.

Premise Five: Centralized commercial interests corrupt and sway development. Consequently, the potential of connected systems and connected knowledge has been underutilized and de facto halted (altruistic) progress as the majority of Internet users have accepted a marketing driven presentation layer – essentially commercial censorship – as ‘status quo’ (Google is not a search engine – it is a filter). Misalignment of interests (shareholder, operator user) – a legacy of the industrial revolution (codified in for-profit corporations) – have created an environment of broken promises which must be fixed by smart contracts that realign platform users, reduce friction and make middlemen and consultants (lawyers, accountants) obsolete. To re-align platform (earth) participants (humans) we must create decentralized and autonomous organizations (DAO) which eliminate psychopathic structures such as current corporations where externalities outweigh the creation of value (not: profit).

Premise Six: DNA before intent and projection. What is needed is an objectified classification of the human element (which I label as “DNA”) within the network. Intent (i.e. Google (“search”)) and projection (i.e. Facebook) are non-directional approaches. A directional approach requires to locate the user on more than just the location level but also include the level of education and knowledge etc.

better search engine than google

Premise Seven: Capturing the cognitive surplus. Cognitive surplus as used here extends over the element of crowd-sourcing by utilizing any type of engagement with any type of medium that can be contextually measured hence assigning a qualitative element. What is needed is the utilization of the latent potential inherent in the utilization of information itself. Exemplary: access of specific information from a specific individual contains a qualitative measure more relevant than any Hyperlink; i.e. a research scientist spending time on a website containing information relevant to his field of expertise as well as his/her engagement with other (digital) information related contextually as well as chronologically.

Premise Eight: Discarded information carries value. There is a strong tendency of researchers, editors, and pharmaceutical companies to report and publish experimental results that are positive (i.e. showing a significant finding) but very few results that are negative (i.e. supporting the null hypothesis) or inconclusive (Publication Bias). Effective information management will include negative results.

Premise Nine: Promote the viral distribution of successful concepts while building ‘herd immunity’ against the adaption of destructive or dysfunctional paradigms. Herd immunity describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Herd immunity theory proposes that, in contagious diseases that are transmitted from individual to individual, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune or less susceptible to the disease. The greater the proportion of individuals who are resistant, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will come into contact with an infectious individual. The concept transcends to information and its consumption by individuals.

Premise Ten: Subjugate linguistic barriers. Humans are regarded as the primates for their social qualities. But beyond any other creature, humans are adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization, and as such have created complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society but at the same time, the diversity leads to misunderstanding and fear (of the unknown). An effective information management system will have to first overcome linguistic barriers before transcending into the transfer of knowledge. Hence any approach starting at the semantic level will come short of this goal.

Premise Eleven: Create an effective marketplace for information exchange. Information is the ultimate ‘derivative’ of an asset. However, only a small fraction of information is available through organized marketplaces, most of which shift the compensation to aggregation and distribution of the asset. An effective marketplace for information exchange will focus on the compensation of information creation and curation of information, hence putting the focus on the quality of information rather than its use for a derivative purpose (i.e. advertising).

Premise Twelve: Create an energy-optimized information system that does not require new infrastructure investments. Each connected system must not only capture and disseminate its own data but also serve as a relay for other systems (or: nodes), that is, it must collaborate to propagate the data in the network (definition of a mesh network). Current ‘search engines’ are highly inefficient and add to the pollution of our environment. Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research. Though Google says it is at the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other. And it may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart.

Premise Thirteen: Create an open source money system (currency) independent from nation-state governments. While Bitcoin created a breakthrough example, further steps towards true ‘money-over IP’ are required (read more here).

Premise Fourteen: Establish persistent online entities (separate from Self Sovereign Identity) which support the public commons and the values of civil society. In 1962,  Douglas Engelbart first proposed the idea of a networked personal computer, a machine that would, as he described it, “augment human intellect.” He understood that digital technology could enhance the ability of the mind to shape and develop concepts, as well as invite new forms of collaboration. The device that he and his colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute designed, dubbed the oNLine System (NLS), deliberately expanded on the innate human tendency toward creativity, and aimed to support creativity with the appropriate set of digital tools. The computers we all use today are the fruits of their effort. We must go back to these roots (more here).

Premise Fifteen: Replace for-profit corporations as much as possible with for-purpose organizations in form of decentralized autonomous organizations that align the interests of all network participants.

Premise Sixteen: Create a qualified Smart Mob collaboration tool (within the peer-to-peer layer) for an impromptu response to a crisis situation and to actively drive topic progress. A smart mob is a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination (The concept was introduced by Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution).

Conclusion. What is needed is a network (topology considerations on GitHub) and an (actual) search engine in form of an open source, independentdecentralized, search network and storage system (“a blockchain Wiki”) designed to utilize resources of all machines and all humans, including their relationship to the document (owner, user, contributor etc.) as well as their knowledge-graphs and expertise, fostering logic-driven, evolution like progress through seamless compensation of contribution, while overcoming artificial barriers such as culture and language in a blockchain-secured, mesh networked structure with graph-based end-points for entities (i.e. “Self Sovereign Identity”).

Thoughts on how a prototype might look like can be found here.