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Simulating a Global Brain

Using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values (Part #1)

Paper for the First Global Brain Workshop: From Intelligent Networks to the Global Brain
(3-5 July 2001, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium ) [slide presentation as PDF]

Abstract: The paper reports briefly on the ongoing process of systematic information collection and web presentation by the UIA of networks of over 30,000 international organizations, 56,000 perceived world problems, 32,000 advocated action strategies, and some 3,000 values -- resulting in a total of 800,000 hyperlinks. These different entities constitute an interesting focal sub-system of whatever is to be understood by an emerging global brain - for which the "problems" might be understood as "neuroses", if not "tumours". This is followed by a description of implemented features to improve the way in which organizations can use this facility to articulate the collaborative networks within which they collectively develop strategic responses to subsets of the network of problems (perceived in the light of networks of partially shared values). The concrete challenge is the manner in which this network of features can become self-aware via its web representation, at least to a degree that is less dysfunctional in partially coordinating world system responses. Steps taken towards facilitating cognitive coherence include dynamic self-organizing visualizations (and sound equivalents) of these network features. The approach is being designed to maximize the degree to which providers of information become users of the resulting knowledge patterns with which they can interact, notably as a means of evoking richer patterning of the complexity reflected in "synaptic" hyperlinks. The conceptual challenge of developing improved hyperlink editing tools and supportive knowledge management methods is addressed, as well as associated tools through which coalitions of users can derive more coherent patterns of meaning from what they access in the light of often significantly incompatible perspectives. The more fundamental concern of the paper is to highlight the conceptual difficulties of providing information in a form that needs to be variously ordered according to user "bias" whilst providing a non-intrusive, facilitative cognitive framework that can maintain some degree of coherence, or allow for its emergence. A particular concern is the dynamic between the necessary diversity of (often strongly held) preferences for meaningful knowledge representation and the need for (often overly simplistic) coherence within coalitions whose consensus is fundamental to any concrete global response. These challenges raise questions about integrating intelligent sub-systems into a global brain, especially if some of the networks might be understood as sub- intelligent from a global perspective. The paper also reports on steps to shift the level of analysis, and representation, from isolated entities to the multitude of feedback loops buried within such patterns of information.

Relevant interlinked knowledgebases:
Relevant papers on knowledge organization:
Project introduction page: with links to commentaries

0. Introduction
0 Current status and methodology
0 Particular features relevant to the global brain theme
0 Challenges

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0. Introduction

Historians of hypertext such as Boyd Rayward (1994) have recently identified one of the founders of the Union of International Associations (UIA), Paul Otlet (1868-1944), as being one of the key figures in envisaging what has subsequently become known as hypertext. His pre-computer efforts at the beginning of the 20th century were designed to give form to his vision of a 'collective brain' (Otlet, 1934) -- through the organization of some 15 million filecards. These efforts were partly undertaken institutionally through the UIA (founded in 1910). A separate paper (Judge and Fischer, 2001) even explores the possibility that the 'Union of International Associations' was originally, whether enigmatically or unconsciously, envisaged as a virtual organization that could be understood as a practical experiment in global brain simulation.

The focus of the UIA since the 1950s has been on profiling international nonprofit organizations in every field of human activity. Associated profiles have been maintained on their meetings, the problems of concern to them (from 1972), the strategies envisaged in response (from 1986), as well as associated concepts of human development, values, and bibliographic references. This work was computerized from the mid-1970s. A major pre-web concern was to provide links between entites in any of these databases, as well as between entities in different databases. From 1996, increasing portions of this material have been made freely available on the web ( in a manner which ensured that all links became hyperlinks. Most entities are held in such a way as to engender search queries to external web resources.

As a historical footnote in relation to the 'global brain' theme, and H G Wells' early pointers to it (1937, 1938), it is appropriate to note that Peter Hunot, the first post-World War II editor of the UIA's Yearbook of International Organizations (, was the former personal secretary of H G Wells. In the case of the UIA, Otlet's initiative (more ambitiously articulated in Monde: essaie d'universalisme in 1935) subsequently provided a framework for its Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential ( now accessible on the web.

ency.php"> now accessible on the web.

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