Blog 4.0

Debrief of Information Energy 2017

by Ray Gallon on 19 June 2017 No comments

Information 4.0 was at the centre of the Information Energy conference in many ways, whether the presenters were part of the dedicated track or not. Keynote presentations by Jeanine Peek and Rosário Durão emphasized the importance of the current digital transformation, and the role of humans in maintaining it, keeping it ethical, secure, and responsible. Steffen Fredericksen’s presentation about chatbots emphasized the need for the right kind of content to make chatbots work – in the absence of real artificial intelligence, human-authored content is still critical to providing a good customer experience using chatbots.

Going further down the chatbot road, Arthur Boivin did much to clear away fantasies and misconceptions about AI and chatbots. He noted that people like using chatbots, and reinforced the emphasis on intelligently prepared content as key to success. Arthur differentiated between natural language processing and real “artificial intelligence,” which we do not yet have. Furthermore, in many cases, there is not even a need for natural language processing.

The information 4.0 consortium was first announced during Andy McDonald’s short keynote presentation on the state of the art of Information 4.0. Andy emphasized what we know about the Industry 4.0 context, where we think information needs to go to support it, and the large number of unknowns and unanswered questions we need to work on. Other presentations during the first morning all touched on elements that integrate into Information 4.0, whether it was structured content, taxonomies, or innovative ways of presenting user guidance.

In the afternoon, we presented a series of interactive workshops under the umbrella heading, “Information 4.0 workshop: from the stratosphere to something tangible.” These were well attended, and participants engaged seriously with the workshop presenters and materials:

  • Marie Girard led the group through the elaboration of a customer journey map as a guide for preparing a content strategy that would be ready for Information 4.0.
  • Andy McDonald demonstrated how a text the size of a DITA topic can be further broken down into reusable content “molecules” that are self-sufficient and independent, and how they can be combined and recombined in a variety of situations, not only for traditional reuse inside technical communication, but also for marketing, and chatbots.
  • Ray Gallon went on to challenge participants to put themselves in the position of content users in a volatile context, and to determine what kinds of information molecules they need to have in order to perform responsibilities under heavy pressure.

The workshop session wound up with a general discussion about how to develop Information 4.0 and the need for a consortium to do that.

Andrea Ames’ closing keynote emphasized the need for information specialists of all types to be proactive and seize the opportunity open to us as machine learning and the Internet of Things create major changes in the way information is, or needs to be integrated into the next generation of technology that includes Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. As she put it, either we drive the bus, or we get hit by it.

Day 2 of Information Energy was devoted to organization and key concepts of Information 4.0. A series of presentations from Ray Gallon, Andy McDonald, Arthur Boivin, and Marie Girard presented some of its essential characteristics:

  • Contextualized
  • Mind mapped and molecular
  • Conversational
  • Integrated into strategies

A panel of philosopher-communicators explored responsibility, governance, and ethics in the Information 4.0 context – it was too short, and needs to be repeated one day soon!

Our track ended with a lively debate about what the next steps should be to implement Information 4.0. The role of the new consortium was widely discussed, and it was generally agreed that it should focus on recommendations, facilitating projects, and disseminating ideas. If a need developed for standards, the consortium would facilitate doing that through existing bodies such as OASIS.

The conference ended with a debate on “Using content automation to improve cognitive computing and AI” – which underlined the idea threading through the entire conference that Artificial Intelligence was more a dream than a reality, despite major advances in machine learning, deep learning algorithms, etc.

This was followed by an exercise animated by Rosário Durão and Ray Gallon, which sought to elicit from participants what they had learned over the two days. Seven different areas were identified, in which it was observed that “people,” the most important, was left for last. Ray made the observation that if you tried to find a single term that would include all the seven areas, it would probably be – you guessed it – Information 4.0!


One of the founders of this little consortium, a humanist nerd by self-appointment, professional stratosphere walker and curmudgeon all in one.

Ray GallonDebrief of Information Energy 2017

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