Brewster Kahle: “Turns Out It’s Not the Technology, It’s the People” (Internet Archive at 25)
Universal Access to All Knowledge has been the dream for millennia, from the Library of Alexandria on forward. The idea is that if you’re curious enough to want to know something, that you can get access to that information. That was the promise of the printing press or Andrew Carnegie’s public libraries — fueling so much citizenship and democracy in the United States. The Internet was the opportunity to really make this dream come true.
What we have is an opportunity that happens maybe only once a millennium. The opportunity that comes only when we change how knowledge is recorded and shared. From oral to manuscript, manuscript to printing, and now from printing to digital. I was lucky enough to be there in 1980 and thought: what a fantastic opportunity to try to influence that transition.
We started by archiving the most transient of media, which was the World Wide Web’s pages. We did that for five years before we even made the Wayback Machine. The idea was to record what people were publishing and be able to go and use that in new and different ways. Could we build a library to preserve all of that material, but then add computers to the mix, so that something new and magic happens? Could we connect people, connect ideas, build on each other’s concepts with computers and these new AI things that we knew were coming. Ultimately could we make the world smarter?
Could we make people smarter by being better connected? Not just because they could read what other people were writing, but because machines would help filter information, scan vast amounts of knowledge, emphasize what is most important, provide context to the deluge.
In many ways, we have achieved this, but not completely enough: now people are writing and sharing knowledge, but it is intermingled with misinformation — purposefully false information. We still don’t have the tools to filter out the lies, and in many ways, we have business models that prosper when misinformation is widely shared. So while the dream of access may be at hand, we lack the tools and responsible organizations to help us make good use of the flood of data now at our fingertips. Given how new our digital transition is, this may not be that surprising, but it is an urgent issue that faces us. We need to fight misinformation and build data-mining tools to leverage all this knowledge to help people make better decisions — to be smarter.
This is our challenge for our next 25 years.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.