Preface to the Constitution of the EcoPort Foundation
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Constitutions are usually designed to be enduring documents, their validity and intentions often spanning many generations. They significantly focus on general ideals, values and principles intended to guide particular decisions and actions that may present challenges not foreseen by the original authors. Specific events therefore often challenge assumptions and interpretations of constitutions in contexts and circumstances that may not have been anticipated at the time of the constitution’s original promulgation. It is at such times that analysts seek information about the original authors’ intentions and the philosophical framework within which the constitution was conceived.
Inspired by the model and success of Rotary International, which was founded to promote a specific, ethical pattern of behaviour, EcoPort is inspired by an environmental ethic captured in a Consilience Alliance Pledge, which Members are encouraged to make, and by an intention that the EcoPort Foundation will function in perpetuity. With this in mind, the following principles and values are documented to inform and guide public inquiry now and in the future.
Managing Knowledge as Global Public Good
Consistent with the Open Source Definition, the Founders of EcoPort are critically committed to creating and supporting an open-source system within a GNU and Copyleft framework of intellectual property rights management, thereby to offer a free public service that manages Knowledge as a Global Public Good, as this idealism is, inter alia captured by an idea stated by Thomas Jefferson:
This idealism is captured in the Mission Statement of the EcoPort Foundation and by the spirit and values of our Patrons Nelson Mandela and Edward O. Wilson.
Nelson Mandela’s unshakeable belief in reconciliation and the African concept of ubuntu has meaning and implications that reverberate through all of the values that inspired the invention, creation ad establishment of the EcoPort service. As a social process it focuses on reconciliation among people; their ideas, beliefs and talents. Reconciliation is also inherent in the Foundation’s imperative commitment to holism and the general requirement in the practice of ecology to strive for synthesis through inter-disciplinary integration of theories and knowledge. Madiba’s perspicacious elimination of rivalry, his inclusive ideals and politics and his commitment to transparency are values and principles directly concordant with the fundamental attributes of global public goods as a ‘third estate’ between private goods and the profit motive on the one hand, and public service through the role of government in serving the needs of the State on the other.
Edward O. Wilson’s comprehensive insight to rally human society to focus on consilience as a unifying strategy to create and interpret the knowledge humanity requires to ensure Our Common Future. Ed Wilson's thinking describes and calls for a state of human knowledge and wisdom that begs the question about a mechanism; and engine that would serve the process of conciliation in its imperative holism. Given ecology’s axiom that ‘everything is connected to everything else’, we clearly need a toolbox (in the sense of Wittgenstein), that is imperatively committed to integration, synthesis and coherent amalgamation of information and knowledge. This requires a framing ontology that can cope with the essential complexity of even the simplest challenge that humanity faces as we conduct the custodial enterprise of managing our planet. It is as difficult to imagine a problem that can be solved using information from a single discipline only, as it is disconcerting to acknowledge the implications of Diderot’s assertion that 'there is no information outside interactions'. Consilience compels EcoPort to comprehensive coherence that mitigates against splitting complex domains of information into sub-systems that are then stored in separate databases.
The implementation of the abstract ideals and inspirations described above benefit from the frame-shifting opportunities created by the fungible nature of digital information. Like the candlelight in Thomas Jefferson’s idea about wealth creation, EcoPort adopts an open-source, copyleft approach to information management to make sure that the benefits of fungibility and the power of the Internet to distribute digital information can benefit end-users in a manner that reduces the cost of information distribution by many orders of magnitude. Thus, EcoPort views information as the currency of the knowledge economy and therefore the basic aim of the EcoPort service is to set information free of the restrictions of copyright and the pitfalls of the public domain, thereby to boost the knowledge economy in the manner that a free source of oil or natural gas would drive the industrial economy. The non-fungible nature of material goods compared to the fungibility of information, and the categorically different opportunity that this difference presents for the creation of wealth, was foreseen by Garret Hardin when he exempted the exchange of information from the perils posed by the Tragedy of the Commons.
Learning and the Nature of Knowledge
Knowledge, is the product of information and experience. Therefore, the process of ‘adding experience’, requires those who are creating the knowledge to have control over the process of assembling units of information into knowledge. In recognition of the need to move the nexus of control away from central webmasters to end-users, EcoPort has invented a set of procedures and an associated hypertext language that enables Internet clients to weave data and information into knowledge. They can do this dynamically in real time, and the data and memes that they are enabled to manipulate in this way are drawn from the pool of copyleft information items that other contributors share in the communal EcoPort database.
What Nelson Mandela and Edward O. Wilson are to the inspiring values of EcoPort, the work of Jurgen Habermass, Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, as proponents of a particular philosophy of education, are to the cognitive paradigms that inspire EcoPort’s education philosophy and approach. Especially the ‘action-research-learning’ of Habermass’ Critical Theory of Communicative Action and all of his insights about epistemology must be regarded as core driving concepts that shape EcoPort.
Database Structural Design and Ontology
At the time of EcoPort’s invention and the adoption of this Constitution of the EcoPort Foundation Inc., the majority of the ‘knowledge management’ systems being established on the Internet/www, proceed from the premise that subject-specific databases should best be constructed as discrete nodes in what is hoped, later, to become a distributed network wherein the separate databases are inter-connected to become, what proponents hopefully describe as a ‘distributed brain’.
Using a variety of communication and mark-up protocols, these distributed networks aim to do what EcoPort does as a single, contiguous digital information space. Whereas EcoPort concentrates knowledge in emulation of true neural networks, the distributed node strategy aims to build ‘knowledge chains’ consisting of chains of information items that are each, and separately, stored in different database nodes in a dispersed network. In this distributed model, units of information ('memes'), can only exist in meaningful assemblages or knowledge chains, when the nodes are all connected. In this approach, the consequence of a node going down — as in the ubiquitous WWW disease: 'URL not found' — is that the knowledge chain is broken thereby rendering it meaningless.
Because the EcoPort database is ‘centralised’ as opposed to distributed, it can be delivered on CD-ROM’s and installed on a local computer and/or a Local Area Network in locations where Internet/www access is unavailable, frustratingly slow and expensive.
The point here is not to be polemical about these two strategies. Instead, the aim is to describe the contrast so that there can be no uncertainty or temptation to divert EcoPort to also becoming a distributed network of nodes.
EcoPort allows any other system and service to link TO the EcoPort database and to use its copyleft contents freely. However, EcoPort does not rely on OUTWARD links or information stored in other nodes on the Internet because this would not enable EcoPort to deliver ‘unbroken’ knowledge chains to its clients who do not have Internet access.
However, even if Internet access and use becomes universal, and more importantly affordable, EcoPort's emulation of true neural networks holds many other cognitive advantages that address the social bottleneck of inter-URL computing.
Distributed knowledge management critically requires global consensus on a meta-language and adoption of a universally understood, accepted and implemented ontology of knowledge. This 'Holy Grail' has eluded humanity — especially librarians — for centuries and a single, universal Thesaurus on any subject is as idealistic and impractical as was the ideal for Esperanto to become the universal, spoken language among humans. Thus, the design of EcoPort; its central ontology, is fundamentally sceptical about the notion among computer technologists, that it would be possible in the foreseeable future to create '...a computer program; a software algorithm, that would be able to extract meaning from (distributed) information...'
Those who believe that the 'network is the computer' need to check their premises against the real attributes of true neural networks, as those who believe in the feasibility of 'ubiquitous computing' need to be held accountable for suggesting feasible plans for connecting humanity at large and not just a small group of technologically privileged 'insiders'.
Inherent in any turn of the century vision of a 'global brain' must surely be the acknowledgement that for generations such a brain will 'connect' only a fraction of humanity, thereby creating a new form of meta digital imperialism that will exclude most people who live on this planet in 2003.
EcoPort is not headed in that direction. We will not 'bet' on saturated, high-speed, reciprocal connectionism to enable every mud hut in Africa to become a living node in a global brain. Instead, EcoPort bets on coherent, contiguous amalgamation of information and on holistic consilience to create a communal database enabled by a process that allows people to assemble information items into knowledge chains stored in a single, global, knowledge commons. Such a global warehouse of human knowledge allows people to 'scoop' out discrete, thematic sub-universes of knowledge for local use in a manner that does not critically rely on saturated connectionism.
In the words of our patron E.O. Wilson (2003), EcoPort aspires, through harnessing global cooperation in the manner used in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, to become: 'A new electronic Alexandria library of single access, centralized (copyleft) information, promising ultimate benefits that are, in my opinion, beyond calculation'.