A couple of weeks ago I was reading an interesting article on how museums label their historical pieces, with text captions (Castro, 2017). One of the ideas that captured my attention was how these added bits of information can eventually become part of the artwork itself, and be essential to understand the initial content.
The article gave a great example mentioning the archeological findings in UR, Mesopotamia, where a large collection of bizarre art pieces had been found near the ziggurat, in what seems to be the art collection of the princess Ennigaldi, daughter of the King Nabonidus, who governed the city between the years 556 and 530 B.C., when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. The original pieces are now presented in a European museum, together with the cylinder that Ennigaldi used to label each one, that had now become an integral part of the original content, and is essential to understanding its meaning. If there is an historical error in any of them, is the modern museum responsible, or is it the initial collector, the Mesopotamian curator, or the princess Ennigaldi to be blamed? Is it still relevant? Why do we care, or even mention it?
Content in Content
Information 4.0 is a complex territory, where automatization of decision making is going to be guided by artificial intelligence agents, with the help of both corporate objectives and big data analytics. It requires not only specific technical content, ready for personalized user interaction, but specific cognitive and ethical approaches to help both users and producers participate in meaningful experiences of searching, selecting, exchanging, using and creating, useful results (Gallon et al, 2017).
Some people understand content, in Information 4.0, as a compound made up of objective bits of data and metadata produced in the hyperconnected environments of IoT, IIoT or IoE. This molecular information – objective and accurate (hopefully), but volatile – is useful only in specific targeted contexts. One could imagine that this conceptual vision of content refers to minimal bits of dynamic information, embedded in a hypertext document, but originated outside it. As such, it could readily be inserted in texts for an app, an alert message for security devices, a tutorial, or a SAS subscription.
But information today is more than that; at a more abstract level, it is communicative evidence of the mutual engagement and trust between information producer and receiver. Content, then, can be understood as a continuous flow of specific communicative iterations, a dynamic transaction of interests and intentions, necessary to maintain connections with users, communities and societies. This information exchange reflects the ethical responsibility that participants offer and expect, and is essential to provide products, services and relationships that are economically and ecologically sustainable.
As an example, if a company delivers daily weather information to a particular community of sports enthusiasts (let’s say skiers or ski trainers), the given data becomes part of the provider’s commitment towards users and consumers. Information on temperature and snow conditions, or risk of ice avalanches, for instance, can be critical in a training session, and life-threatening in a rescue situation. When and how can this information flow be understood as a contractual responsibility? What are the ethical implications of delivery error, distorted messages, or poor understanding, during the communication process?
We can say that the information we deliver is never just raw data, and that any conditions or considerations essential to decision-making must be added to the original message. This initial content is then enhanced with new metadata that becomes integrated into the new text, generating a new content-message object that could – again – be explained with further information. If it needs to be reused or resent to different audiences in different situations, this new content meta-object turns out to be much more than a document and demonstrates the level of accuracy and information rigour required inside a connected group of correspondents. To continue with our previous example, a professional skiing instructor might ask for certified weather information, with accurate predictions guaranteed by an international insurance company, with statistical margin of error at any given moment. The initial engagement and mutual confidence among participant agents is not just tacit here, but explicit, and embedded in the content itself. Who is responsible for an unexpected avalanche, or if a weather-related accident happens during a class session? Is it the initial data provider, the insurance company or the teacher who decided to go out and give his class on the snow? Should this be contractual information, written in the message itself, as part of the content and available on demand?
Certification, electronic signatures, labels, etc., added to the initial message, represent a kind of self-referential content, which can develop fractally (with continuous self-similar encapsulations). It could also be further repurposed, for example for training, or in a request for feedback. In fact, Information 4.0 is essentially self-recursive if we consider how it records and tracks its own creation and delivery processes (Josefowicz et al, 2017). Many ethical and legal issues emerge from this. Should a continuous chain of content-in-content-in-content maintain the original contractual commitment when sent to multiple users through different channels? Is this an ethical question, or a legal requirement for the initial producer? Blockchain technology may be able to help us solve at least some of these issues.
Just as in the case of the Mesopotamian princess Ennigaldi’s collection, our skiing weather messages might be collected by researchers in a far future, and labelled with new captions and explanations. This could be useful to trace weather or climate change and become part of a new context. Would errors be meaningful? Who would be responsible for them?
The liability aspects of technical transformation in Industry 4.0 are already the subject of legal debate and normative study (European Parliament, 2017), and University research is starting to consider theoretical implications, but we are far from having answers to the questions raised here.
The work of the Information 4.0 Consortium is to explore conceptual and practical problems such as these, to promote humanist communication in the digital world.
European Parliament (2017). Civil Law Rules on Robotics – European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics (2015/2103(INL)). Retrieved 27/02/2017 from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2f%2fEP%2f%2fNONSGML%2bTA%2bP8-TA-2017-0051%2b0%2bDOC%2bPDF%2bV0%2f%2fEN.
Gallon, R., Lorenzo, N. & Josefowicz, M. (2017), Hybrid Communication for Industry 4.0: Nemetic Models, research paper from The Transformation Society. Retrieved 13/01/2018 from:
Josefowicz, M., Lorenzo, N., & Gallon, R. (2017). “Transmedia and Transliteracy in Nemetical Analysis” in Khosrow-Pour, M. (editor), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition, Chapter 563 (pp 6488-6497). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.
Castro, E. (2017), Vuestras Carteleras me hacen sentir estúpido, Retrieved 13/01/2018 from: http://www.periferias.org/vuestras-cartelas-me-hacen-sentir-estupido/