By Eric Hunting:
“What is the future of social interaction and organization on the Internet? What comes after Facebook and Twitter? One possibility is the Social-Semantic Network as explored in projects like Netention. A Social-Semantic Network is the application of Semantic Web technology to the coordination of human connections, exchanges, and communication through the automated association of personal information. It could become the ‘killer app’ that justifies the creation of the Semantic Web.
The Semantic Web is the anticipated future basis of information storage on the Internet. It functions by creating ‘metadata’ to accompany information as it is entered into the on-line environment so that this information can be automatically associated with related information by passive distributed intelligence. It’s as though everything you write or store on-line automatically synthesizes links to everything else that logically relates to it. So, in the future, instead of finding things on-line using a search engine like Google and having to sift through long lists to figure out what’s really relevant, those things find you by virtue of the automatic associations the Semantic Web is forever cultivating like a collective, active, memory.
The user interface to this environment is called a Semantic Desktop hosting various applications to work with the Semantic Web in specific ways, much like an operating system but one designed with the Internet and the future web as its primary environment. One might characterize it as like a very personal Google integrated into your personal computing environment. Curiously, the Internet is fast becoming the primary environment in which we do just about everything with computers, our data storage increasingly cloud-based and applications increasingly net-dependent if not web-based. Eventually, it might even become Blockchain-based. A unified encrypted global cloud. Yet for some reason our old-fashioned computers still use the Internet through an application–a web browser–rather than fully integrating the data environment of the Internet into theirs. This is likely to change and the Semantic Desktop may be one form this takes. Netention is an exploration of a possible Semantic Desktop platform.
A Social-Semantic Network is intended to create a semantic web across a community of people by first creating private semantic webs of individual personal information. It builds this in a variety of ways; through interaction in the network or with its various services, through communication between users privately or publicly, through various kinds of public or private personal records (like school records and digital shopping receipts), through personal diaries, through the information collected by Smart Devices in the habitat, and through procedurally-generated questionnaires. Perhaps one day even through casual conversation with voice controlled digital assistants and personal digital companion characters. Because much of this information is sensitive it will be kept private and likely encrypted, but the metadata automatically generated with it will be open across the Semantic Web. Using this, the Social-Semantic Network can seek associations between personal information webs and connections and convergences between people and other on-line resources, businesses, and services. Having found these connections, it can facilitate, and in some cases automate, communication and exchange between them. On a simple level this can take the form of a smart newspaper that can push articles of interest to your desktop. It might help you find a restaurant or doctor. Or it might do things like auto-manage your grocery shopping list and link to on-line shopping. It might help manage your health and use of prescription medicine. Or it might link your ever-changing personal work and travel schedule to your self-driving automobile, or the ticket sales of railways and airlines, or the registration for hotels or future ‘ albergo diffuso’. It might take the form of a conventional social media platform like Facebook but one where the choice of front-page posts are automatically managed by mutual associations–common interests. It might take the form of group project or activity management systems to coordinate group activity/activism across the globe. It might form the basis of an Open Value Network. It might automate the dynamic linking of networked production chains and smart contracts to suit on-demand production of products. The potential uses are endless.
But on a deeper level the Social-Semantic Network can come to understand a person’s emotional state, quality of life, personal needs, life goals, personal development, and intentions. (hence the name Netention) It’s like an Internet that knows you as a person. It can likewise develop a model of the state of society, their collective opinions, interests, and intentions. Like a system of direct democracy that’s silently polling everyone about everything. It can know the mind of the public like no politician ever has. And so, functioning like the ideally wise butler (the ultimate Jeeves), it can seek out information and associations across that larger social information web–across the world–that are beneficial or, ideally, mutually beneficial and subtly push information to the user that helps them make those usually random social connections to meet their needs, goals, and intentions. Cybernetic Pronoia–a secret digital conspiracy that’s out to help you and everyone else. The power of the Semantic Web is that it doesn’t just collect and store information. Through auto-association, it builds knowledge. It doesn’t just ‘parse’ data. It ‘reads’ information and can apply it. And it doesn’t need some active artificial intelligence to do that because its relying on a distributed intelligence built on simple rules and the weighted associations across information. When you create your personal semantic web you’re creating something rather like a natural language rule table that describes who you are and defines how you relate to the rest of the social network and the larger Semantic Web. A digital identity within a digital community facilitating your activity within a Smart Habitat. The potential impacts of this on civilization itself could be profound. A Social-Semantic Network could evolve to play Buckminster Fuller’s World Game from the global level right down to the personal level. A Digital Tao.”