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Open Information Management: Applications of Interconnectivity and Collaboration

Open Information Management: Applications of Interconnectivity and Collaboration
Author(s)/Editor(s): Samuli Niiranen (Tampere University of Technology, Finland), Jari Yli-Hietanen (Tampere University of Technology, Finland) and Artur Lugmayr (Tampere University of Technology, Finland)
Copyright: ©2009
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-246-6
ISBN13: 9781605662466
ISBN10: 1605662461
EISBN13: 9781605662473

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Description

Contemporary digital tools have revolutionized the storing, transfer, and processing of information management.

Open Information Management: Applications of Interconnectivity and Collaboration provides a practical-level reference discussing the impact of emerging trends in information technology towards solutions capable of managing information within open, principally unbounded, operational environments. This book can be utilized in advanced courses in knowledge management, information technology, and business education, and also serve as an excellent addition to library reference sections and research collections.



Preface

BACKGROUND

    The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?
    (David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s)

This apocryphal quote from the early days of broadcasting is a favorite in the marketing slide shows of technology company executives as they attempt to persuade suspicious audiences about the potential of their innovation.

Ironically, the skepticism of the ubiquitous associates is actually more relevant than ever today with the advent of personalized advertising pioneered by the search engine Google. As search-based marketing eats to the revenues of mass media advertising, who indeed will anymore pay for messages sent to nobody in particular? Private broadcasting relies almost exclusively on advertising as a business model. Without advertising, there will be no consumer mass media as we currently know it. This reorganization in advertising is directly coupled to the ongoing collapse of the commonly shared media experience seen famously in the trend towards the consumption of Internet-provided content. The future of media content will be shaped by the individual.

The trend towards the segment size of one is not isolated to consumer media. Economically feasible mass-customization of goods has been the golden calf of the manufacturing industry for quite some time. Personalized health care is a hot topic in the medical community. More and more people are coming to the realization that actual learning is a deeply personal process which formal education can only support.

The key tenet is personalization. The reader may notice a dichotomy between personalized experiences and products and the means currently deployed for producing them. Mass-customization equals complexity equals hierarchy. Diversity in outcome requires hierarchy in organization. Although we seek individual experiences as consumers, as units of work hours we experience anything but the promotion of such values.

The underlying complexity of modern society is something we cannot escape from. Reality seems ambiguous, yet man has the ability to function as an independent, decision making agent within it and be in complex interaction with the environment. Automation in both physical production and information management has made work less repetitive and more productive, yet the large hierarchies and centralization persist in complex human activities.

Can the link between complexity and centralization be broken with the help of suitable information management tools? We will look into this question by first presenting a brief overview on the history of information management.

TRIBES, COLLABORATION AND SPOKEN LANGUAGE

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins famously with an artist’s fictive look at how our ancestors first stumbled upon technology in the form of a weapon of war giving one tribe a physical advantage over others. Considering technology, The Greek word technologia has the ancient meaning of being the ‘systematic treatment of an art’. The primitive apes of Kubrick’s fiction demonstrated technological ability as they and their descendants eventually developed the means to analyze an art or a skill at an abstract level and to transform this analysis into knowledge efficiently shared with others and maintained over generations. Systematic treatment is analysis, abstraction and persistence.

How did the technological man come about? Proponents of evolutionary psychology, Steven Pinker being perhaps the most famous example, argue that the mental evolution of primates towards the sentient, technological man was pushed forward by the environments faced by early hunter-gatherers. The result, Homo Sapiens, is the ultimate hunter-gatherer, a social animal who’s mental and physical skills are tuned at co-operation and collaboration at the small scale of hunting parties.

A key physical ability which separates the technological man from other species is the ability to use language for abstract analysis of the environment and rich communication of knowledge. Language is a necessary precursor of technology, the systematic treatment of an art of skill. For the hunter-gatherer spoken natural language enabled efficient co-operation at the scale of small hunting parties and a tribal social organization. This evolutionary adaptation is still with us. It is evident in the native proficiency man exhibits in processing and storing information in matters and situations analogous in scale to the life style of our pre-historic ancestors.

How is this proficiency evident in everyday life? To illustrate this we consider two medical professionals who share a common intellectual background and have shared experiences in work settings. The following is an example of a succinct communication between two physicians in patient handoff situation:

“50ish yo M with COPD – stable”

Despite the small amount of space this fragment takes, it conveys a multitude of information on the condition of the patient.

Considering the efficiency of human-to-human communication via natural language, a direct, iterative conversation between two or more similarly grounded participants is the apex of natural knowledge exchange. For example, in a teaching hospital patient encounter a medical student and an attending physician are involved in a complex knowledge exchange situation. Inquisitive conversations between the student, the physician, and the patient, direct visual and other observations made of the patient, comments by a nurse and a plethora of quiet signals coupled together represent a rich collection of knowledge, which the student efficiently is able to assimilate to enhance his medical skills.

Linguists have long recognized the power of natural conversations and small-scale collaboration as a knowledge exchange medium. The concept of a common ground has been introduced by the community to denote the shared educational, professional and cultural background critical for fluent collaboration between human actors. A common ground increases communication efficiency (“fewer words needed to convey and idea”) and supports innovation (“faster common filtering of unworkable ideas”) in a collaboration context.

Construction and architecture are professional occupations where the power of common ground can be nicely illustrated. Mark, a contractor, wants George, an architect specialized in New England Colonial architecture, to come up with a design for a housing unit with well-known general specifications.

“George? It’s Mark from Rockport, how ya doing?”

“Hi Mark, What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking at building a 3 bedroom Salt Box house in … Could you come up with preliminary plans for the unit?”

“Sure Mark. I think I know what you are looking for. I’ll get back to you shortly…”

Using the simple term “Salt Box” Mark can efficiently convey a complex meaning to George as both understand at a deep level the concept in the context of designing and constructing a new housing unit. Building on this, iterative conversations can be seen as massively connected knowledge accumulation and sharing processes in the sense that they draw information and inferences from all the previous experiences of the involved persons.

Of course, underlying this deep understanding is the information processing and management capability of the human mind not yet understood by modern science. Steven Pinker argues, in layman’s terms, for a computational theory of mind in his book How the Mind Works (Pinker, 1999). His main thesis is that the mind can be understood as a computational unit with a modular structure having sub-units specialized for different cognitive tasks.

In summa, humans are equipped with a native set of information management tools enabling efficient collaboration at the small-scale level. The tribal form of organization is adaptive, decentralized and self-organizing to a large extent. Most importantly, our ability to share knowledge through the use of language, a reflection of our cognitive capability, enables us to develop technology further increasing the efficiency of our endeavors.

HIERARCHIES, AGRICULTURE AND WRITTEN LANGUAGE

The Fertile Crescent of the Middle East - a term first coined by the American archeologist James Henry Breasted and encompassing principally parts of modern Egypt, Israel and Iraq - has the earliest Neolithic farming communities known to archeology. There are many theories as to what pushed the hunter-gatherer communities of the Middle East towards the adoption of agriculture. The common explanations include climate changes making the hunter-gatherer lifestyle untenable and difficulties in maintaining subsistence under an increasing population growth rate.

Whatever the underlying causes, it is commonly accepted that the introduction of agriculture brought a radical change to the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer. The decentralized organizational structure of smallish tribes and hunting-parties gave away to forms predating the modern state. The populations became less mobile through the establishment of permanent settlements around arable land, a more complex and hierarchical social organization began to develop while the development of technology accelerated. The emergence of complexity in human societies, as we currently understand the term, coincided with an increasing population density and the beginning of urban settlement patterns. This was facilitated by the surplus of food created by advancing agriculture.

The societal transformation set in motion by agriculture gradually but consistently created a need to move forward in information management. This was due to the increasing amounts of diverse information created related to the management of large, complex communities. The universal answer to this historical case of information overflow was the emergence of information management technology; written language and documentation in the abstract sense of the word.

The history of written language begins in the Fertile Crescent, specifically in the Southern Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer. Samples of the Sumerian cuneiform script, some dating back to the 4th millennium BCE, survive to this day as clay tablets. Incidentally, almost all of the surviving early tablets contain texts related to general administration, accounting, and trade. The native human capacity for information management was not enough to enumerate and process all the transactions related to a sedentary society. As organizations grew bigger in size, face-to-face communication and co-operation was no longer possible and written documentation was needed to convey messages, and thus facilitate a bi-directional flow of information, between different levels of a hierarchical organization.

Systems of writing are logographic, syllabic or alphabetic in nature with the first written languages being logographic. In alphabetic systems letters are combined to words to represent a principally unbounded number of concepts. Natural written language is highly context-dependent where the specific meaning of words or their aggregates depends on the context they appear in. The example below illustrated the context-dependency of natural language as interpreted by humans. Whasnigotn DC is the cpaatil ctiy of the USA.

Despite the fact that most of the words in the sentence are scrambled, except for the first and last letters of each word, from the standard form, the interpretation of the sentence is still easy for a human reader thanks to the associative powers of our cognitive system.

Going back to organizational forms, ad-hoc organizations emerge naturally among small groups sharing a motivation to strive towards a shared goal such as basic survival in a hunter-gatherer society. The organization is self-regulatory with dynamically changing roles and responsibilities. Spoken language and face-to-face conversations are the primary knowledge sharing mechanism. The actors of this dynamic network of collaboration share a deep understanding of the intricate meanings of the pieces of information related to goal at hand with the help of their cognitive abilities. Human actors have the ability to process information in a complexly connected and principally unbounded, open case space.

However, as noted earlier, the evolving use of written language provided a mechanism to enable division of labor in large organizations. In a hierarchical organization the basic paradigm is that few top-level decision makers feed executive directives through a layered network of people as these directives a broken down into smaller and smaller directives. Simultaneously, a reporting mechanism pushes information from the lower organization levels up to the key decision makers. Written language is the primary technology to convey directives and reporting within such an organization.

The use of written language and documentation to convey and store the large mass of information created by advancing agricultural, and later on industrial, societies represented a fundamental break from innate information management. Although documents are written in natural language with in principle unbounded expressivity, they fail to fully reflect the context as directly experienced by a human actor. When we document something, we almost always lose a part of the original information. Documentation is a lossy process. Perhaps the loss is a part of its context of which we are not even conscious at the time of the documentation. With documentation, the worst case is that relevant information is lost into a sea of unrelated data without meaning and context. A shared common ground between content compilers and consumers is paramount for a successful communication.

With this in mind, it can be argued that while written language and documentation was a necessary tool in the management of complexity its limitations manifest in the need to have hierarchically complex organizations to manage large-scale and complex activities. The development of society caught up with our evolution very early on.

MODERNITY, AUTOMATION AND NETWORKS

The Sumerian cuneiform script was but the beginning of a long journey in the development of information management technology. Diverse forms of written language emerged around the world with characteristics of the spoken languages they originally developed to represent. Many distinct forms of written language have since disappeared from common use while some partially survive as artifacts in other languages.

Beginning in the Mediterranean more than 3000 years ago, a series of historical developments led to the almost universal adoption enjoyed today by the Latin script of the Romans. The Roman Empire carried the Latin language and its script to all reaches of the region becoming the lingua franca of the day. Later on, Latin was the common language in education and religion throughout the Middle Ages in Western Europe.

Western Europe also witnessed the initial adoption of the printing press in the mass production of written texts, a revolutionary invention which, beginning from the 15th century, made knowledge an accessible commodity within its cultural sphere. The printing press automated the replication of written text and provided significant benefits in terms of speed, accuracy and cost when compared to manual transcribing. The underlying development of materials technology, specifically in paper production and metallurgy, continuously increased the efficiency of printing technology.

The science, religion and philosophy of the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment spread with the help of this automated information replication technology. At the same time, the Latin script was carried around the globe with the Age of Exploration establishing its primacy continuing to this day. The development of technology saw an unprecedented acceleration partly thanks to efficient means available for information dissemination provided by the printing press.

The confluence of these and other related developments was a driving force behind the development of technology leading into the emergence of modern industry beginning in the 17th century. Apart from being the birth place of the steam machine, a key innovation in the development of modern industry, Britain was the forerunner of industrialization. Iron and textile works, industrial scale shipbuilding and basic chemical industry began to appear first in Britain and later on in continental Europe, Northern America and Japan beginning in the 18th and continuing into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Looking at the developments in information technology coinciding with and contributing to the industrial revolution and later stages of modernity, one can notice three coinciding trends: the emergence of formalization, automation and complexity.

The use of exact, formal instructions to support automation goes back to 18th century France and the textile industry of the era: operating instructions, stored on punch cards, for reproducing a pattern on cloth were first introduced with the development of semi-automated looms. Unlike humans manually operating looms, the semi-automated loom relies on exact, formal operating instructions for operation. The introduction of a single fault in the set of instructions is likely to render the entire system nonfunctional. Similarly, the introduction of a change in the pattern to be reproduced requires overall recoding of the processing instructions. This is in contrast to a human operator who has the capability to adapt to operate under a principally unbounded set of fault conditions and can immediately start reproducing another pattern on the cloth if previously known to him or her. Despite these limitations, industrial automation technology has provided a basis for the enormous increase in productivity experienced after the onset of the industrial revolution. The control of a typical industrial process, say a process for synthesizing ammonia in chemical industry, is a bounded and static automation problem which can relatively easily be formalized into a set of exact instructions for controlling the process.

Expanding from industrial automation, the potential of computationally universal computers, first successfully implemented in the mid 20th century, in information management automation and developments such as the introduction of character encoding for representing the Latin script in these computers prompted the emergence of the electronic document. To provide for automation in the management of textual information made widespread by the printing press, use of elaborate structure began to emerge. Free-text, natural language documentation is not conducive to automation as the currently available computational tools do not provide for the context awareness and associative capabilities required for interpreting a natural language composition reliably. Natural language understanding remains a fundamentally unsolved problem in computational linguistics and artificial intelligence. Giving formal structure to information helps to make it computable. An example on the use of a formal structure is a move from the use of hand-written, free-text order slips to an automated system wherein predicted content of the slip is formulated as labeled fields with atomic content. The result is a move from free-text compositions towards multiple-choice questions.

However, unlike the bounded industrial automation process, information management in the sphere of complex human collaboration has a principally unbounded, constantly evolving and open case space as reflected by the expressive power of natural language. It became evident early on in the history of knowledge and software engineering that the use of formal structure in the context of these complex domains and continuous automation represents a significant challenge. Many domains of information management are so complex, medicine and health care being a well-known example, that elaborate formalization of all the information related to field is in itself a monumental task. This problem is further aggravated by the fact that domain knowledge is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. This results in an elaborate maintenance process with ever-growing complexity. Also, almost every information management system in use today which handles tasks related to human collaboration contains the possibility to augment structural information with free text, i.e. the ubiquitous comment field. This relaxation reduces computability but is usually necessary for gathering all the relevant information. There is clear trade-off between conventional use of structure, automation and completeness.

When these challenges in knowledge engineering, e.g. in the formation of domain ontologies, are considered together with the fact that information management systems are conventionally tightly and complexly coupled to the use of a specific structure for representing information to be processed the maintenance problem grows even more complex. For example, augmenting a complex structure with an extra field representing a container for a new piece of related information can result in a surprisingly complex re-engineering process. Information management systems typically combine structured information in complex ways to provide for automated processing, e.g. in the form of aggregation and reporting.

Much effort has been put into speeding up the knowledge and systems engineering processes in information management automation. Much of the software engineering research of the last 50 years has concentrated on finding ways to more efficiently transform continuously evolving user needs into usable and updateable systems (e.g., via the use of a formal modeling such as the Unified Modeling Language or UML). A recent craze in knowledge engineering is research into the development and use of hierarchical domain ontologies for content annotation under the umbrella of Semantic Web. Despite these efforts an argument can be made that information management systems in many domains have yet to fulfill many of the early promises.

OPEN INFORMATION MANAGEMENT

Is there any direction where we could look for guidance? The World Wide Web is an excellent demonstrator on the power of conceptually simple but massive linkage created and maintained in a decentralized and open fashion. Linkage is to documents what roads are to cities. The associative power of even a simple linkage can be seen the way it supports the search and sorting of documents. For example, the PageRank algorithm of the Google search engine sorts Web documents according to the number of incoming links. The argument is that a higher number of incoming links from other web sites is associated with the relevance of the match to the initiator of the search. The unprecedented success of the search engine speaks for the power of this approach although the underlying technology has progressed far beyond the original algorithm. It is now commonly agreed that the most efficient current way to organize and make available information in the complex and diverse environment of the Web is the semi-automated process employed by the search engines. A key component in the utility of search engines is ability of users to initiate search actions using natural language fragments (i.e., search terms) which is the common language of the users and the Web documents they search for.

The goal of this book is to give a practical-level reference on an emerging trend in information technology towards solutions capable of managing information within open, principally unbounded, operational environments. These developments – evident in many contemporary areas of research including artificial intelligence, network science, natural language processing, and ubiquitous media – are projected to bring about a new breed of tools for the management of information going beyond the conventional paradigms. The emergence of search-driven information management, as discussed above, is one initial illustration of this trend. Open information management will potentially provide ways to automate and decentralize tasks in the sphere of complex human collaboration which has a constantly evolving and principally open case space. On a more general level, this technology will provide consumers access to experiences and products with unprecedented levels of personalization. The explored aspects include:

  • Mechanisms for flexible information representation and exchange including the use of open formats and standards in information technology
  • Organizational forms and related information technologies including tools for decentralized and distributed collaboration contexts
  • Modern theory and tools of natural language processing and computational linguistics including those inspired by Noam Chomsky’s Minimalist Program
  • Networks and linkages in biological systems and human communities as an inspiration for evolving artificial information management systems
  • Natural human-computer interaction including developments in multimedia, automated audio technology and ubiquitous computation
  • Personalization and context-sensitivity including related knowledge management tools and physical architectures
  • User-driven, decentralized content creation including cultural and trust issues
  • Viewpoints from ICT infrastructure development including networking solutions for distributed computation and decentralized collaboration and content creation
  • Connections to different concrete human activities including medicine and law
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    Author's/Editor's Biography

    Samuli Niiranen (Ed.)
    Samuli Niiranen received his MSc (Tech.) and DSc (Tech.) degrees in biomedical engineering and signal processing from the Tampere University of Technology (Tampere, Finland) in 2001 and 2005, respectively. He is currently with the Department of Signal Processing of the Tampere University of Technology where his research focus is on open information management with an emphasis on health care applications. His previous research areas include use of information technology in chronic disease management as well as broadcasting multimedia. Apart from his work in academia, Dr. Niiranen has participated in a number of commercial ventures in the field of chronic disease information management and hospital information systems. He is the author or co-author of more than 30 scientific publications in health informatics and multimedia and is the co-author of a textbook on broadcasting multimedia. He was a visiting faculty member at the Decision Systems Group, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) from 2006 to 2007. Dr. Niiranen has received, among others, the Nokia Corporation Educational Award. He was a member of a consortium selected as a finalist for the eEurope Awards for eHealth 2003 organized by the European Commission.

    Jari Yli-Hietanen (Ed.)
    Jari Yli-Hietanen received an MSc (Tech.) degree in signal processing from the Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland, in 1995. He is currently with the Department of Signal Processing at the Tampere University of Technology. His current research focus is on open information management with an emphasis on natural language methods.

    Artur Lugmayr (Ed.)
    Artur Lugmayr describes himself as a creative thinker and his scientific work is situated between art and science. His vision can be expressed as to create media experiences on future emerging media technology platforms. He is the head and founder of the New AMbient MUltimedia (NAMU) research group at the Tampere University of Technology (Finland) which is part of the Finnish Academy Centre of Excellence of Signal Processing from 2006 to 2011 (http://namu.cs.tut.fi). He is holding a Dr.-Techn. degree from the Tampere University of Technology (TUT, Finland), and is currently engaged in Dr.-Arts studies at the School of Motion Pictures, TV and Production Design (UIAH, Helsinki). He chaired the ISO/IEC ad-hoc group "MPEG-21 in broadcasting"; won the NOKIA Award of 2003 with the text book "Digital interactive TV and Metadata" published by Springer-Verlag in 2004; representative of the Swan Lake Moving Image & Music Award board member of MindTrek, EU project proposal reviewer; invited key-note speaker for conferences; organizer and reviewer of several conferences; and has contributed one book chapter and written over 25 scientific publications. His passion in private life is to be a notorious digital film-maker. He is founder of the production company LugYmedia Inc.

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