Science 4.0 is a movement resulting from the formation and use of the World Wide Web. Scientists are using the World Wide Web to collaborate and do science in new ways with significant implications. The term Science 4.0 is a special case of the World Wide Web and influenced by Web 2.0. Therefore it is helpful to understand what the Web 2.0 is in order to better understand Science 4.0. The term Web 2.0 was first used at the O’Reilly Media conference and implies a development in the use of the Web. This has been covered in an earlier article in the series (see Appendix). The Web 2.0 had several characteristics according to this definition and one of these is the harnessing of collective intelligence. This phenomenon is explained in more detail in the original article. I have added two further categories – augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence.
Hypertext links are described as a key mechanism for harnessing of collective intelligence in the original article.The use of hypertext links enables people to create links between sites – essentially an online network. To use this Blog as an example – on the right of the screen is a Blogroll which links to other Blogs of relevance. The reader who is interested in the contents of this site will likely be interested in the contents of some of the other Blogs that are linked to. The reader is guided through a ‘path’ on the Web simply by clicking from one Blog to the other. If the other Blog has a Blogroll link then the reader is likely to be guided along a a restricted path. Out of all of the billions of pages on the Web, the ‘path’ followed by clicking on the links between Blogs shuts out a lot of the Web and lets the reader focus on their area of interest. This path is created not just on this blog but through the efforts of all the bloggers represented along the readers chosen pathway. In this way the reader is able to draw on the experience of many bloggers to make sense of the vast Web space.
In some senses this is similar to the experience of undertaking a survey of the research literature. If I wanted to undertake research on a subject I would conduct a search on Medline for articles of relevance. I would be making use of the search engine to identify abstracts of papers which are indexed with tags relevant to my search. Once I have identified the papers, I would then be able to use a secondary manual method which is to search through the citations in the paper as they should be very relevant to the subject and may not have turned up in the original search. Of course, once I have located these articles I can repeat the process to find citations within those articles and so on. Thus I would again be drawing on the experiences of researchers to make sense of the vast research literature that dates back over several centuries. There is a difference with the Web though. In the Web, it is very much easier for a person to publish those links and very much easier for the reader to follow the links. There is therefore a much greater probability that the reader will see what it is that the author is wanting to share. However the author will not be constrained by the space limitations of mainstream publishing and will be able to link to more of the relevant literature if necessary. In the original article, trackbacks are mentioned also but I think they are too similar to the hypertext links to merit a separate discussion.
The topic of crowdsourcing was discussed a book by Jeff Howe (Howe, 2008) and follows the coining of the term Web 2.0. Although crowdsourcing wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the original O’Reilly article in 2005 it was certainly hinted at by reference to Wikipedia. While there may be a broader overlap between Howe’s description of crowdsourcing and O’Reilly’s description of the Web 2.0, I would argue that crowdsourcing is roughly equivalent to ‘harnessing collective intelligence’ – one of the main characteristics of O’Reilly’s Web 2.0. Arguing for this equivalence can help to better clarify the nature of Web 2.0 and distinguish it from other elements within the Web 2.0 paradigm. Although this may appear to be nothing more than semantics, there is a great potential to influence the developing Web. If theory influences practice then these definitions are not merely a passive play on words but can serve as the dynamic drivers for an evolving paradigm.
As well as people collaborating through networks there is another possibility. People can be supported by artificial intelligence to augment their decision making. There are various examples of this from trading software through to software which interprets Electrocardiograms. Rather than a collaboration of people analysing data or contributing knowledge, there is the possibility of people interacting with artificial intelligence solutions to look at complex datasets and then contribute to a collective work.
Artificial intelligence solutions including Expert Systems, Genetic Algorithms and Neural Networks approximate characteristics of human intelligence and biological systems including reasoning, adaptation and learning. The use of artificial intelligence to contribute to the solution of a group problem would add an interesting dimension to the paradigm. Using the web as platform, software can run continuously and respond to new data in real time. However the use of artificial intelligence would require a clear understanding of the goals of the collective project. SETI is an example of software that makes use of hardware to solve a common problem without the need for human intervention other than to provide the distributed processing platform needed for completion of the project.
There are many approaches to harnessing collective intelligence and many of these approaches would have been present in the original conception of the Web. Nevertheless the Web has evolved and collaboration both supported and unsupported by artificial intelligence solutions has resulted in new products and services that have transformed the way people perceive and use the Web. The infrastructure of the Web can be further refined by these approaches and it is important to recognise that the Web is continuously developing. This has implications for every area of our life but also the way in which science is conducted. The emerging Science 4.0 movement is still defining its identity but many of the approaches above have found application in fields as diverse as Astronomy and the study of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Crowdsourcing. Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. Jeff Howe. 2008. Crown Business.
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