Mapping the Political Contours of Cyberspace

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace”, for his 1982 short story Burning Chrome to create a “a narrative engine, and a territory in which the narrative could take place”. Twenty years on, cyberspace is the world’s narrative engine: and an uncharted territory to which the world is still coming to terms.

Political, industrial, and civic leaders are gathering at the Foreign Office’s London Conference on Cyberspace next week to think through the implications, opportunities and contradictions of this emerging world.

The conference will explore key themes – prosperity; social good; freedom of access and expression; cyber crime and international security – with the aim of deepening mutual understanding and beginning to outline a political, social and economic strategy to secure the benefits of cyberspace while addressing the concomitant threats to personal and national security.

The Foreign Office would like the dialogue at the event and online to be as broad as possible – and, in support of this process, Debategraph will be mapping and curating the dialogue as it unfolds live and online.

To start exploring the map – which we have seeded with the initial framework of the conference – click on the small bubbles to move deeper into the debate and on the larger bubbles to move back up.

You can gain an insight into the range and scope of the debate by watching the map evolve here, but you are welcome to add your voice to the debate online by adding new ideas and comments to the map and by rating the ideas, or by suggesting new ideas and questions via Twitter using the #LondonCyber hashtag and/or the Foreign Secretary’s Facebook channel (both of which we will be monitoring as well).

As discussed before, the whole structure of the map is like a wiki – every aspect is provisional, and open to further refinement – and everyone can add new issues, positions, arguments and evidence to the map.

The aim is to weave together all of the arguments into a rich, transparent, non-linear structure that anyone can explore and understand quickly.

As with the other maps in the The Independent series you can keep up to date with developments via @TheIndyDebate on Twitter, and you are welcome to embed the map (like a YouTube video) on your own site or blog using the code shown below:

<iframe src=’http://debategraph.org/Flash/fv.aspx?r=121532&sc=smalll’ frameborder=’0′ width=’480′ height=’500′ scrolling=’no’></iframe>

*Cross-posted at: The Independent

I not robot…

Thanks to Mathew Ingram and David Weinberger, I have just marvelled at these two videos in quick succession, and found myself feeling singuarly unsettled:

Big Dog walking:

Lego robot solves Rubik’s cube:

UPDATE: One month on, and thanks to Marc Andreessen, the feeling isn’t going away:

Robot reassembles itself after being kicked apart:

Can computers think? Mapping the great debates

We stand on the shoulders of giants

“…so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”

Robert Horn is one of my giants.

Twenty years ago, Bob looked at humanity’s troubled progress through the increasingly complex maze of philosophical, scientific, technological and political debate and realised that we needed maps.

But what kind of maps? What would they look like? What form would they take?

The way to figure this out, Bob reasoned, was to experiment with an extraordinarily complex debate. And he picked a spectacular one: the debate raging across philosophy, cognitive science, mathematics, neurobiology and computer science around the deceptively simple question “can computers think?”. A debate Alan Turing catalysed with his assertion in 1950 that by 2000:

“one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

As with Orwell’s 1984, Turing’s date lies behind us now, but the issue has never been more salient for society.

Starting alone, and then with a team of researchers at Stanford, Bob devoured the relevant literature; distilling millions of words into the underlying arguments and iterating through multiple methods of presentation to develop a semantically rich and easy to navigate visual form.

The project culminated, in 1999, with the publication of seven remarkable 3’ x 4’ paper-based maps, encompassing more than 800 arguments advanced by over 300 of the finest minds of our generation, including: Alan Turing, John Searle, John Lucas, Herbert Simon, Douglas Hofstadter, Marvin Minsky, Daniel Dennett, Roger Penrose, Hilary Putnam, Stephen Kosslyn, Zenon Pylyshyn, James McClelland, Hubert Dreyfus, Ned Block, James Moor, Jack Copeland, Selmer Bringsjord, David Rumelhart, David Chalmers, and George Lakoff.

Robert Horn’s Can Computers Think? maps

Robert Horn's Can Computers Think? Maps

(copies of the maps can be ordered here)

The set of maps is a masterpiece and an extraordinary gift to humanity; allowing anyone to gain a deep understanding of the structure and content of fifty years of intricate debate after a few hours of study rather than years of research. And it exemplifies the potential for maps of this kind to open other domains of debate and knowledge to general understanding.

At the time of publication, Robert Jacobson hailed Bob as “the new Mercator, a pioneering navigator of knowledge”—and, for anyone who has spent time with the set of maps, it easy to imagine that history will view its creation as a significant turning point in the advancement of human learning.

However, for all its astonishing brilliance, the set of maps also speaks to the challenges that remain in the field:

  • The maps exist because of the Herculean endeavour of a small team of people over many years.
  • The territory, unlike the maps, continues to evolve.
  • The maps have physical boundaries, beyond which lie uncharted territory.

So what next?

What if you could lift Bob’s map off the page and recreate it online with all the arguments open to collaborative editing and evaluation by many people rather than a few; make the structure of the map fluid so that the debate can evolve as new arguments and evidence emerge; and allow related maps to interconnect so that, in principle, there is no limit to the territory that can be covered?

With Bob’s blessing, I am delighted to announce today that this is what we have done.

The top layer of the debate map is shown below: to open and explore the full map click on the View live button.

The translation will continue over the coming days, with more images and cross-relationships to add; however, the essence of the map is in place now and open to extension by anyone with an interest in the field.

If you would like to participate in this process, or the formal launch event next year, register online or contact me via the e-mail address above.

There’s more to discuss in future posts, including: the translation process, the expansion of the mapping approach to other fields, and the importance of the Can Computers Think? debate itself.

For now though, I’ll leave you with Bob’s map—and the view it affords from many tall shoulders.