Tools for the task

As a means of facilitating interdisciplinary thinking and to help enfranchize informal learners, Burke presented a knowledge map project he's been working on called the Knowledge Web. Through this tool and others like it, Burke hopes we will foster a more relational approach to learning and learn to think more innovatively.

His KWeb knowledge map focused on a web of significant individuals in art and science history, connected by relationships including friendships, working relationships, enmity, etc. The idea is to take journeys through the network, see what interactions led to innovations and how those innovations rippled through the network of people and ideas.

To show this network of knowledge, KWeb uses a navigation metaphor of nested spheres, inner spheres representing periods farther back in time, outer spheres representing more recent events. Once you pick a node in a sphere, it shows that node's direct connections to other nodes in the web, and secondarily highlights directly connected nodes' directly connected nodes.

Burke's intent with this approach to representing knowledge is to hook people with interesting connections and get them to trace through the network with the kind of thrill people experience when reading through a mystery story. He means to take advantage of curiosity about how ideas are connected to drive users' learning activity.

Using KWeb to trace through a path, Burke illustrated the kinds of connections across discipline, business, market or culture that have led to important innovations in history.

Burke provides an example beginning with Richard Arkwright, a man who made weaving equipment. He had all the usual connections you'd expect to people in the textile industry. But look, he's talking to this guy who has nothing to do with textiles, he fixes machines for Glasgow University. "This guy" turns out to be James Watt, who as Wikipedia tells us was "a Scottish inventor and engineer whose improvements to the steam engine were fundamental to the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution."

During the demonstration Burke suggests that as we pay attention to similar information in the present, we can predict where, when, and what kind of innovations will happen. (Though the thought of tracking people's associations part has a certain invasion of privacy feel to it.)

Social ecology

Burke puts forth an idea he calls social ecology describing society applying the predictive capabilities society develops for understanding the secondary or ripple effects of a given technology in sufficient detail and far enough ahead of that technology's development to understand what we think about that technology as a society before it develops, and develop a consensus as to whether we want to encourage the development of that technology or not.

After describing this he quickly notes that he's not proposing centralized government controls upon innovations or the entirely free reign of market forces. (Citing past repressions of communism and excesses of captialism.) He hopes for a solution that will educate and enfranchize people so they are capable of contributing meaningfully to decisions about innovation. The ultimate hope he puts forth is "that in balancing entrepreneurial dynamism with the public good, we can have our cake and eat it."

In relation to Social ecology, Burke notes there will be resistance to change. As innovations continue, technologies will develop that people won't like, and in many cases, it will be the "old fogies" that don't like the changes, because they will require a change of mindset.

Mozart got kicked down the stairs. The Catholic church censured [and] burned people who said the earth wasn't the center of the universe. Some people still don't like the theory of evolution. We have a built in resistance above all to the extension of inclusion. It rocks the boat.

He finishes the presentation returning to the need to expand education to properly enfranchise people, pointing toward a future in which such enfranchised global citizens will be able to focus resources on the most helpful innovations for both commercial interest and the public good.