Designing for the Futureby David Rinck

Returning to the Blogosphere

December 25, 2023

Using a computer to replace humans is touted as humanity’s next great achievement, but using a computer as a medium to better understand the world is still an afterthought. Why is this the case, and is it within my power to influence this narrative? I don’t know, but I do feel well qualified to talk about the subject. I have used computers to better understand the world since I was 11. My journey with computers, starting from a young age, has shaped my understanding of their potential not just as replacements for human tasks, but as instruments for greater insight into our world.

The influence of online platforms and advanced language models on both large and small communities is profound and multifaceted, yet we are still in the process of fully understanding their impact. While some of these impacts have been positive, the ‘Visionaries’ of Silicon Valley seem to accrue most of the rewards. This never seems to bring true technological progress, especially if we define progress as an improvement in the human condition.

I find it encouraging to see works like ‘Open Knowledge Institutions’, where the authors propose a transformation of universities into ‘open knowledge institutions.’ In this vision, universities evolve into hubs where communities collaboratively create and share knowledge resources for the greater good. The authors repeatedly emphasize the necessity of evolving communication methods as being key to moving from closed methods for verifying expert knowledge towards ‘careful, mediated approaches to sharing it with wider publics’.

Software is an evolving communication method. It can do more than show you a timeline feed of ‘liked’ entities and ‘friends’. By developing applications that integrate expert knowledge systems in a user-friendly manner, software can empower the general public to make more informed and effective decisions.

I realize you might be saying, ‘Universities, eh?’ That’s a fair question. Right now many universities look like Hogwarts during the final battle scene, and it is possible to imagine them fading away in the future. That said, there isn’t a better place in many cities to find experts of all types, fabrication equipment, and the knowledge of how to build and create. Can those resources be properly valued in a way that strengthens the local community? I hope so.