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April 12, 2002

OLWeekly Something has happened this week that I can't explain. It's like a sea change, that indistinguishable moment where the weather turns, unidentifiable but noticable, the point where all the deck hands look together at the sky and begin to work with a little more seriousness, a little more urgency. There was probably such a day some time in the late 1800s when people looked around and realized, for the first time, that they were living in an industrial society. It's like that, where we have passed from the moment that defines what was, and into the moment that defines what will be. I think it happened Wednesday.

Not a passing into the information age or the space age, not any of the labels journalists and critics have tried to attach to our new society. If I had to put a label on it, perhaps I'd call it the network age, or even the age of emergence, but that doesn't quite label it either. Anyway, names don't matter. What matters is, something changed, and I can feel the change. Try to put a finger on it. Read the articles in OLWeekly (http://www.downes.ca/news/OLWeekly) from the bottom to the top, from Monday to Friday, and see if you don't feel with me the shifting of the wind. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, April 12, 2002.[Refer]

Francisco J. Varela It was some time in 1989 or 1990, I think. I still have the notes, somewhere in my files. I walked across the campus at the University of Alberta from the Philosophy Department, where I was working on a PhD, to the Medical Sciences building to hear Francisco Varela give a talk on immunology. Valera, I had been told, approached cognitive processes as self-organizing networks, something I had been thinking as a result of my own belief that human reason is founded on similarity. Demonstrating some simple neural networks, Varela animated the process whereby patterns emerge from the activities of independent, but interconnected, agents. My understanding of the world changed on that day.

A few weeks later, sitting at the top of the hill at the Edmonton Folk Festival, alone (as you could be then), I scribbled the (long) manuscript of what would become my dissertation proposal, "The Network Phenomenon: Empiricism and the New Connectionism.." My dissertation committee declined the topic, prefering some ordinary work on mental representation and mental content. I submitted a (short) proposal, which was accepted. But my PhD studies ended on the day my proposal was rejected, and my real work as a researcher began. The letters behind the name (which I never did attain) mean nothing.

"If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things." - Francisco Varela By Anonymous.[Refer]

Brain "The brain is made up of neurons and supporting and nutritive structures, is enclosed within the skull, and is continuous with the spinal cord through the foramen magnum. The brain is where thoughts reside as chemical and electrical processes." By Anonymous, KurzweilAI.net.[Refer]

The Brain BrainEKP is a system for organizing and sharing information. BrainEKP connects your people, processes, and information in a single interface so you can see and share your thinking. By TheBrain Technologies Corp.[Refer]

The Emergent Self "I'm not really interested in the classical artificial-intelligence and information-processing metaphors of brain studies. The brain can't be understood as a computer, in any interesting sense, and I part company with the people who think that the brain does rely on symbolic representation. The same intuitions cut across other biological fields. Deconstruct the notion that the brain is processing information and making a representation of the world. Deconstruct the militaristic notion that the immune system is about defense and looking out for invaders. Deconstruct the notion that evolution is about optimizing fitness to live in the conditions present in some kind of niche." By Francisco Varela, Edge, May 6, 2001.[Refer]

Seeing Around Corners This article is about creating models of society - artificial societies - using network technologies. The technology is an outgrowth of an exercise every first year programmer goes through (or at least did in 1986, when I did it), the creation of a program called 'Life'. Forget about the themes of the article - population growth, corruption, ethnic conflict (for these just reporesent the Flavour of the Day) - and focus on the science underlying it: about the idea that there are patterns in the activities of interconnected entities (including, but not limited to, humans). By The Atlantic Online, Jonathan Rauch, April, 2002.[Refer]

New Public Network: The Next Wave in Distributed Processing? The article asks whether "web services a revolution in computing, a way for vendors to squeeze pay-per-use subscription fees out of users, or just hype." The answer, in my view, is yes, yes and yes. This reasonably clear and comprehensive look at web services (and some of the underlying technology) animates the potential inherent in the next generation interget, but is reasonably level-headed about the risks. Many links to resources and gurther reading. By Andy Dornan, Network Magazine, April 5, 2002.[Refer]

IBM, Microsoft Plot Net Takeover OK, it's not just me. This article suggests that IBM and Microsoft are planning to essentially take over the internet by ensuring that they have the right to charge royalties for widely used protocols such as SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI. It's hard to notice, but this article is serveral pages long (follow the link at the lower right hand corner). It describes the increasingly tense relationship between the two companies and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which insists that the underlying standards must be available to everyone on a royalty-free basis. By David Berlind, ZDNet Tech Update, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

Google Unveils Web Search Engine Query API The new Google service, launched Thursday (currently free in Beta mode) allows program developers to directly access Google's database from within an application. The service uses Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). By Paul Krill, InfoWorld, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

Inventing the Future Many of the themes explored in OLDaily - from grid computing to instant messaging to weblogs - are explored in this article and assembled: "All of these things come together into what I'm calling 'the emergent Internet operating system.' The facilities being pioneered by thousands of individual hackers and entrepreneurs will, without question, be integrated into a standardized platform that enables a next generation of applications. The question is, who will own that platform? By Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Network, April 9, 2002.[Refer]

Michigan Virtual University Online Course Design Standards A useful resource (the link is available from this press release or go directly to http://standards.mivu.org/) serving essentially as a checklist for online course standards. A course evaluation tool is provided (but you have to fill in a form and they make you promise not to share the download link). By Press Release, Michigan Virtual University, April 10, 2002.[Refer]


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