David Hunter Tow- Director of the Future Enterprise Research Centre contends that the dynamics and evolution of the Knowledge Universe are governed by the laws of physics just as the objects in our physical galaxy and universe.
Our Milky Way is a large barred spiral arm galaxy approximately 100,000 light years across in which we have a pantheon of amazing cosmic objects including- at least 200 billion suns and double that number of planets- some just like earth, black holes- including a massive one at its centre equal in power to 4 million suns, numerous dying or dead stars- burnt out white and brown dwarfs neutron stars and remnants of supernovas, trillions of asteroids and meteorites, and vast clouds of hydrogen gas and other molecules giving birth to new stars.
The dynamic links between these galactic entities are primarily a function of the all-pervasive force of gravity, which warps spacetime, creating black holes and initiating the birth and death of stars.
This incredible menagerie does not function as separate objects therefore, but constitutes a gigantic and complex network in a constant state of evolution, emitting radiation from the longest microwave and infrared to the shortest and most energetic x-ray and gamma wavelengths. In turn it is influenced by the other 100-200 billion galaxies that exist in our universe, which in turn may be influenced by other universes or causal patches in a multiverse.
And our small planet, harbouring perhaps the most advanced life form in the universe, is directly or indirectly influenced by all of them.
Our planet’s emerging Knowledge Universe is analogous to this gigantic network of linked galactic objects; a boundless array of information and knowledge objects connected within the networks of the Internet and Web and controlled by its own physical laws.
Information and knowledge objects evolve in a similar way to stars, planets and black holes by adapting to the laws of physics and information within their environments.
They may be loosely classified in terms of a dozen major categories including-
Knowledge Repositories- databases, data warehouses, data centres and modern-day Clouds; Knowledge Processors and Generators- including a vast array of enterprises, web and social sites, specialist software developers as well as community, social, cultural and scientific groups and institutions. These utilise a range of powerful computing devices increasingly linked to the Internet as well as human minds, interconnected via the Web in the form of a powerful computational intelligence.
In addition there exist a plethora of Knowledge Aggregators, Interpreters and Distributors- news feed publishers in both printed and electronic forms, modern day encyclopedia creators such as Wikipedia, and compilers of mathematical, biological, environmental, economic, financial and demographic statistics; utilising networks of all types- wired and wireless, channelling knowledge between and within objects across the Web.
These and many other knowledge object classes and sub-classes constitute a vast network of networks, constantly combining and morphing in unlimited combinations.
A Cloud for example not only stores information, but may process and transmit it as a service. Likewise a social or gaming network may function as a utility, applying database technology such as SQL and many other software tools; but also may manage its knowledge by storing member details and applications via an internal or external Cloud, distributing services via mobile media devices to its members, advertisers and other processing agents. In turn ubiquitous mobile devices - smart phones and tablets, increasingly perform heavy duty processing and provide significant internal storage as well as wireless transmission connected to other networks.
All these objects have a role to play in the knowledge universe menagerie. And in doing so they’re involved in an evolutionary dance of cosmic proportions. But the thing is, this dance is never going to stop and is accelerating in both volume and complexity.
It is estimated that by 2015 the amount of information will quadruple, generated by vast volumes of video transmission as well as countless new applications from the business, social and science research worlds- measured in petabytes.
Knowledge objects are also similar to and interwoven with the cosmic physical forces of the galaxy as they are born, grow, merge, morph, split, regenerate and die, based on the adaptive pressures of their environments. And more and more end up residing in the free public domain.
The evolution of each object is therefore a function of all other knowledge objects in its galaxy, following its own information laws controlled by physical principles and constraints. These include for example the Laws of thermodynamics and entropy, which define the limits of computation and the conversion of data into knowledge. And Shannon’s Laws, which set limits on information channel capacity and transmission.
The laws of physics also includes those governing information and knowledge flows such as the Action Principle – which defines the shortest and least energy intensive path between objects.
The Least Action Principle postulates that any dynamical process, whether the trajectory of a light ray or orbit of a planet, follows a path of least resistance or one which minimises the 'action' or overall energy expended.
Physicist Richard Feynman showed that quantum theory also incorporates a version of the Action Principle and underlies a vast range of processes from physics to linguistics, communication and biology. The evidence suggests a deep connection between this principle based on energy minimisation and self-organising systems including light waves, information flows and natural system topographies, such as the flow of a river.
Information and knowledge is now flowing seamlessly to every corner of the planet and its populations, mediated by the Internet and Web, reaching even the poorest communities in developing countries via cheap PCs, wireless phones and an increasing variety of other mobile devices.
Trying to block or bypass this flow is a pointless exercise and a sure way to hasten an enterprise’s demise. Essential knowledge may be temporarily blocked for example by patents, which protect IP but in 80% of cases are not applied, but used by large enterprises as a competitive blocking strategy. In the process this may deprive poorer populations of essential products such as life-saving drugs.
But regardless, eventually patents run out or are obsoleted by more advanced technologies. This is happening at an increasing rate in all fields - graphene-based electronics, superconducting materials, genetic-based therapies, green technologies, AI and quantum based computing methods.
Enterprise walled gardens therefore eventually break down or leak like a stone wall surrounding an ancient town, as the technology’s lifetime expires and new developments, opportunities and entrepreneurs emerge. Techniques and technologies across the spectrum of knowledge will continue to spread, expand and link in new ways as they always have, bypassing temporary impediments, because that is the physical reality of information and knowledge.
There are many examples of the recent spread and linking of knowledge objects in galactic orbits within the Knowledge universe including-
The Education Galaxy-
The transfer of knowledge is the basis of the education process and is now providing a global flow of free educational material and resources online, including open access courseware. Free courseware is already offered by a number of prestigious tertiary institutions including- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and Harvard, as well as free knowledge reference sites such as Wikipedia. And this will accelerate, becoming pervasive in the near future; making it much cheaper and easier for educational resources to reach previously illiterate societies and communities, instead of being monopolised by traditional institutions such as Universities, particularly as a generational shift takes place.
The Knowledge Universe driven by The Action Principle will by 2040 finally allow the developing world to achieve equal status with the developed world in terms of access to knowledge, training and the realisation of human potential.
The Social Galaxy-
It is predicted there will be thousands of social networks within the Knowledge Universe over the next twenty years apart from the scores that exist today such as Facebook, Linkedin, Google Plus, Badoo, Ning, Academia, Craigslist, Foursquare, Plaxo, Yelp, WiserEarth, Meetup, Mebo, Friendster etc, each catering to the needs of specialised groups.
In the near future these will be seamlessly connected by new applications such as Diaspora, avoiding the walled garden effect and allowing individuals to roam at will across the social universe unimpeded.
The Media Galaxy-
In the Media arena the die has been cast. The older print companies are desperately trying to reposition to face of the online revolution. But by 2015 most print media will be forced to radically adapt towards an online multimedia model. Newspapers are already in turmoil with advertising revenues collapsing as traditional classified streams dry up due to online competition.
Traditional news, both local and global, is rapidly being reduced to a stream of headlines with minimal analysis. Special editions and feature articles will continue in reduced quantity, but online short-burst information- text, video and audio streams will become increasingly popular, distributed via multimedia platforms such as the new generation smart phones, tablets and eBooks, already in common use.
By 2020- traditional free to air television channels will also have largely disappeared, along with many cable channels, with television advertising similarly caught in the headlight glare of change. The switch will be to web channels covering every topic- personalised to individual taste- viewable anywhere, anytime and watched primarily on mobile media screens. The personalised channel will be ubiquitous, with news, information, music and video filtered and customised to suit every personal taste.
All print media including magazines and books will also have followed newspapers to a multimedia model distributed over the Web for flexible viewing. The same already applies to music and video. The power of traditional publishers and creative gatekeepers is now being challenged as online stores such as Amazon, Apple and Google and many smaller companies allow any author, song writer or video producer to self-publish globally and cheaply.
The Cloud Galaxy-
The Cloud is a metaphor for shared infrastructure, software and data storage within the web.
Clouds already support a large range of knowledge environments including- social, cultural, business, energy, financial, office, retail, manufacturing, supply chain, booking, engineering, gaming, music, photo, video, media, communications and scientific applications.
Most of the major service and software providers including IBM, EDS, Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft and e-Bay still adopt a walled garden approach, providing access to proprietary databases through proprietary Web Application Programming Interfaces-APIs.
APIs, rely on different ID and access mechanisms as well as data in specific formats for example to support music, video, particle collider and human genome information. Therefore APIs have tended to slice the web into separate sources and silos, restricting its full potential.
However In the future Clouds will become more generic and open using common protocols as enterprises demand greater flexibility. But the next evolutionary phase will offer much more- in particular Data Linking. This will promote the sharing of datasets across diverse domains and between business, research and group partners, bringing the full semantic power of the Web into play and changing the face of business forever.
Tim Berniers Lee’s recent publication of Linked Data Principles for connecting structured data on the web, provides a future blueprint for connecting information from different sources into a single global data repository; accessible by generic data browsers and standard database and query languages. An increasing number of data providers have now begun to implement these Linked Data principles, leading to the creation of an open global data space containing billions of links and coordinated by the World Wide Web Consortium.
And so the trendlines are now becoming clear. The Web is advancing as a multi-dimensional medium for the discovery, generation and linking of knowledge in all its forms, leveraging semantic and artificial intelligence. Individual supplier services will obviously continue to multiply, but enterprises will increasingly demand access to open source data clouds as well as most utility services.
Cloud spaces will continue to blend and split, fragment and reform in unlimited combinations and permutations. They will share data as media organisations already do amongst themselves and with countless news aggregators. The divide lines between public and private ownership of application IP will also become fuzzy, with most applications and algorithms over time converting to generic forms- as many critical software tools such as Linux, Java and SQL.
The Global Commons and Public Domain models therefore will play an increasingly important role. They represent a free sharing knowledge marketplace accessible for the global benefit, where everyone wins as value-added services proliferate. Alternate knowledge and social hubs such as the thousands of Wikipedia lookalikes, controlled by consumer groups, will start to compete with and displace the power of the media and Uber-web enterprises such as Google, which will be forced to cede part of its global knowledge control in its own survival self-interest.
The Web will be controlled by all nations via the global commons in conjunction with a specially constituted body such as the present ICAAN, devolving away from US control.
Many companies have tried to go against the evolutionary flow in the past and paid the price – including GM and Ford which continued to produce large gas-guzzling vehicles. They survived the low carbon/electric vehicle revolution only because of taxpayer largesse.
IBM was another that attempted to force the market to accept its large mainframes- against the trend towards small desktop computers and later the internet. IBM almost died but recovered just in time by embracing software and services, and now leveraging its Smart Planet Strategy.
Microsoft has until recently continued to promote desktop computing against the trend to internet and mobile computing and has been caught flat footed. It may survive as it belatedly adapts its office software to the Internet, but not in its previous dominant position.
Nokia was king of mobile phones but failed to see the shift to smarter phones and applications. It has now been forced to merge to survive, with a low likelihood of ever returning to its glory days.
Oracle, Apple and Facebook are busy building walled gardens. Although looking dominant today their longer term survival will also be in jeopardy if they continue their retro strategy against the flow.
The latest 'Smart Planet' paradigm, in which the infrastructure and processes of the planet- whether manufacturing, supply chains, electricity grids, water pipelines or traffic flows, are being re-engineered to optimise performance and achieve greener, more sustainable outcomes, will be the major driver for the enterprise of the future.
The Smart Planet will also demand that decisions be made more rigorously, efficiently, adaptively and therefore largely autonomously, within a radically new networked architecture.
This will be a major disruptive paradigm for many traditional IT companies which will be forced to redesign their applications and services from the ground up. Those that are too slow will be overtaken by the new generation of nimble system developers, not weighed down by legacy systems. The larger software enterprises in particular will struggle to keep up with the constant flow of knowledge and innovation required to survive, after comfortably dominating their market segment for years, as the cycles of change get shorter and shorter.
The flow of information and knowledge according to physical principles will continue at an accelerating rate, but still many companies will try to continue to swim against the flow to their eventual cost.
Within two decades today’s Internet and Web itself will have split into many alternate distributed but connected network descendants, eventually criss-crossing the knowledge universe and supporting autonomously managed worlds with different processing efficiency and reliability requirements.
Software and system developers and suppliers will need to differentiate their products increasingly as focussed value-added services, targeted to specific enterprises and industries. Service applications will therefore be differentiated primarily by the level of value they contribute to the enterprise- not their generic capability.
Enterprises in turn will need to be very agile, not only because of the exponential rise in the diversity and volume of knowledge, but also its potential for interweaving and creating opportunities in countless applications. They will therefore need to keep acutely tuned to the signals from their environment to survive.
As the Knowledge Universe expands and complexifies as a network of networks, with the spread of information and knowledge according to the laws of physics, enterprises will have only one avenue of escape. That is to continually innovate to generate new knowledge in the form of new products and services before the next wave of science and technology innovation overtakes them; just as electric cars, digital photography and smart phones have already obliterated whole sectors of industry in the blink of an eye.
No enterprise can escape this remorseless race. Better to join it rather than putting up a wall which will inevitably crumble.
They will need to run very hard just to survive- just like the Red Queen.