Our Connected Future
For years, movies have shown new and exciting ways to interact with information; from Star Trek to The Matrix, it's all about the cool interfaces. In Minority Report, Chief John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, interacted simultaneously with mental images, live video streams and records from various police systems. All of this information was called up in a connected manner, gave Anderton information as he required it and allowed him to store it together upon completion.

This may not be science fiction much longer. We are rapidly approaching a point where this connected view of the world is possible and this will change everything.

The Challenge So Far

The Internet is a connected world with sites and systems linking back and forth. It is a very powerful information system when used properly, but all of this power comes at a price. Every link has to be created by a person or with a simple machine rule.

The problem is that people are lazy. Creating links takes time and the needed diligence fails the best of us. If someone uses a web tool, the tool can be set up to automatically insert some links, but it is far from flawless.

Enter semantic technology. The “Semantic Web” promised to create linkages correctly, even accounting for the proper usage of a word. Semantic technology can analyze my writing and determine that when I use the word “Auburn,” I am referring to Auburn University, Alabama and not Auburn, New York.

Semantic technology suffers the same flaw as traditional hyperlinking: Content has to be semantically tagged. While this is feasible for closed systems in an organization like the government, the size of the problem is several scales of magnitude larger when you get to the wilds of the Internet. Even if every content creator has the tools and the desire to tag everything he or she creates, who is going to update all of the existing published information?

Computing at Scale

The evolution of the content analytics market has accelerated in recent years. While smart engines have existed for years, it would take a lot of work to train them to perform basic content classification. The hierarchical manner in which the tools work makes this difficult, meaning taxonomies have to be agreed upon and left alone.

That works until life introduces new wrinkles, making the taxonomy obsolete.

Driven partly by the e-discovery market, teaching systems to correctly classify content has been getting simpler every year. I've seen several pieces of software in the past few months that show the power of what can be done, given the necessary computing power.

Computing power is the key to open the connected world. From the process of categorizing content, it is just a short jump to using these engines to tag, categorize and link all content, new and old.

Even with the power of today’s cloud technologies, we aren’t there yet. Given the ever decreasing price of cloud resources, the continued exponential growth of the power of these resources, and the increasing volume of resources available, we are only years away from beginning to tackle the problem.

The Final Encyclopedia

Almost 50 years ago, Gordon Dickson created a universe of mankind's future through his series "The Childe Cycle." In the book "Soldier, Ask Not," Dickson described the creation of The Final Encyclopedia, a digitization of all information and how it connects together. The goal was to provide the ultimate research tool and to reveal the gaps in human knowledge by seeing where the Encyclopedia had voids.

Learning Opportunities

In the book, it took over 100 years to collect and map all the information using a very manual process. Today, that same map of human knowledge could be completed in the next decade.

Now imagine yourself using an interface console similar to the one in the Minority Report. You are interacting with everything in the public domain, your organization and your own personal resources.

Imagine receiving a proposal from a new vendor. You instantly connect the public profile of the vendor, their staff delivering the proposed work, and references from your partners and network. It ceases to be research and transforms into answers.

Imagine standing with your children when they ask why the sky is blue. You take out your device, likely worn on your arm, and ask it that question. The answer appears instantly, superimposed in the world for you and your kids in a way they can understand.

Imagine asking a question and not only getting the answer, but any detail you want on why the answer is correct.

Imagine our ability to learn anything -- limited only by our ability to ask questions.

Title image by Perig (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read about the direction Laurence thinks content management should take in Instead of Fighting Content Management, Simplify It