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[cyberinf] Cyber-enabled knowledge

Peter Freeman of the Washington Advisory Group introduces the first panel, on “Cyber-Enabled Knowledge”, by asking how the infrastructure can support the university’s essence as the creator, transmitter and preserver of knowledge. [As always, I’m paraphrasing, typing quickly, and undoubtedly getting things wrong.]

Guru Parulkar of Stanford says that we must build the cyberinf on the right foundation. That’s one that enables many layers. It requires supporting the end-to-end principle because that facilitates innovation. We should make the infrastructure programmable so that providers can give users empowering services. [Seems non end-to-end to me. But I think he’s talking about university infrastructure providers enabling experimental services, not having, say, Comcast build services.] It’s not enough to deploy vendors’ infrastructure on campuses. The CIO and researchers ought to get together on this.

Simon Porter, eScholarship Research Center, U of Melbourne, wonders what the world looks like when we can find about all the research going on in our university. We could manage portfolios of research under an overall university agenda. [Hmm. Possibly scary.] They could develop a data research plan. The university could plan its storage needs. The way the research is represented to the public will change: it won’t be left to the researchers to be the lead communicator about the project. There will be a single portal — like Amazon or eBay, perhaps — where you can find out about research. We will be able to evaluate research by the effect it has on other projects. Researchers will be able to cooperate more, especially if there are standards. Crystallographers have software that lets people annotate online models; this is promising.

Q: Simon and Guru both pointed to gaps between network engineering folks and the CIO. What’s blocking progress here?
Simon: It’s not a natural progression. You have to take a leap.
Guru: The infrastructure is so complex, there’s a reluctance to “muck it up.” But at Stanford there’s a lot of openness.
Peter: Market forces will bring about the healing of the gap.

Q: The infrastructure didn’t arrive on a gold cloud all at once. It’s built on standards. In a recent survey, only 30 universities (G7) had courses on standards. Standards aren’t taught or shared at universities.
Guru: I disagree with you completely. Universities should be doing research much before people think about standards.
A [we’ve been asked not to identify speakers without asking permission :( ]: The U’s are incredibly creative now. I believe the next thing will come primarily out of U’s. Things bubble up, and the standards follow after that.
Simon: Standards are fundamentally important for development of cyberinf.

Q: How do we change the research processes to take advantage of the new cyberinfrastructure. This is not a decision for the CIOs but for the college presidents, etc.
Peter: By acclamation, we agree.


Q: [me] Knowledge currently reflects the old infrastructure: You get published or not. Knowledge is binary, fenced in and managed. How will the new infrastructure change the nature of knowledge itself?
Simon: Especially with shared standards, research can be more open.
Peter: Simon has proposed a specific way to make available info about current reseach projects. That’s key to enabling cooperation and the development of standards.
Guru: The cyberinfs we deploy on our campuses should allow experimentation in networking, cooperation, etc. That type of infrastructure doesn’t exist because we haven’t been asking for that leel of programmability and flexibility.

Q (John Wilbanks): When we try to move from network standards to knowledge standards, we get into semantics. It’s hard to have enduring semantics because they change as research happens. We could have project-based standards and allow people to share what they mean about something, not just sharing the content. So we have to change the idea of standards. [Go John!

Q: Is it the U’s role to fund research into infrastructure? You can’t make a case to the provost unless you show some dollars coming from somewhere.
Guru: Yes, someone has to pay for it. Maybe vendor partnerships will help.
Simon: If it’s strategically important to the U, the U ought to do it.

A: I’m in bioinformatics. BTW, my U doesn’t teach any of the standards. Anyway, industry folks tell us we’re training students to be like you, not to be what we in industry need. E.g., not team players. How can we make more industry-academic partnerships?

A: There is something big going on that we don’t understand. We’re good at big networks, etc., but we don’t understand how to solve problems for small groups of collaborating domain scientists. Universities don’t just store, transfer and develop knowledge…

I direct one of the portals where project-based info can be shared. People keep asking what the incentive is for professors. Right now the reward structures are not geared towards publishing on the Internet. What can be done to fix the incentive system?
Simon: Making info available is always going to be a chore to researchers. But Facebook makes it possible for marketers to find info based on participation by users. We need something equivalent for researchers, surfacing info about projects without requiring additional work by the researchers.
Guru: If it’s a problem of aggregation? People are very eager to make their work public. Where is the disconnection?
Peter: It largely depends on the field.

A: I develop provenance metadata in my field. There are problems. Ontologies don’t exist yet. They require expertise in RDF as well as domain expertise, and that’s hard to find in the same person. The ontologies have to be developed internationally.

A: Maybe there are some Web 1.0 opportunities that haven’t been take advantage of yet. E.g., we could make available to any NSF researcher a Web page at the NSF site. That would also provide some authentication.
Simon: It’s not a web page. Every researcher needs a persistent identifier. [researcher or proejct??

A: Standards that have followed research experimentation and productization have been the most successful. E.g., Internet, LANs, the Web. The most spectacular standards failure was the OSI in the 1980s because they did it before they had the sw and the experiments.

A: At my [hardware infrastructure] company, we do a lot of rolling out of products internally that are not quite ready. We are probably more willing to risk failure than universities are. And we are seeing more demand for programmable infrastructure hardware.

I urge us to adopt a more expansive, active and empirically-grounded notion of infrastructure. We shouldn’t think of infrastructure as being primarily hardware. 1. The layer model encourages thinking of the hardware as the “real” stuff. 2. We need to be teaching our students the practices by which interoperability is made possible. The standards in ten years will be different, but the tensions and dynamics will stay roughly the same. 3. We should learn from previous attempts to build infrastructure.

A: Infrastructure is extremely important but that occurs in a multicultural environment that we should bear in mind. Second, it all comes down to open access. [Tags: ]

2 Responses to “[cyberinf] Cyber-enabled knowledge”

  1. I’m reminded of the discussion in Hitchhiker’s Guide, where the key issues concerning the introduction of the wheel to the denizens of prehistoric Earth are held up by arguments as to what colour it should be.

    How difficult can dissemination of knowledge be?

    On one side we have universities as producers of knowledge wondering how best to disseminate it to the rest of mankind, and bang smack in front of them on the other side they have the interplanetary instantaneous diffusion device known as the Internet, and they’re hesitating…

    Only just now I search for a particular paper, find it as a PDF on ACM and I have to pay to become a member in order to read it. Now I wonder if the authors of all ACM papers don’t want their work read by cheapskates such as myself who refuse to pay on principle? How could they suffer if I did, I wonder?

  2. […] Cyber-Enabled Knowledge The Empowered University in the Global Economy Designing for Integration and Collaboration On the […]


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