Tue, Sep 06, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Scientists pursue system to explain facts that slip through the cracks

By H.T. Goranson

The group of interdisciplinary scientists that met in Paris is loosely affiliated under the banner "Foundations of Information Science [FIS]." They have been working in a distributed collaboration for eight years and come from a range of countries and specialties. As well as scientists from the relevant disciplines, art theorists, psychiatrists, language experts and philosophers are beginning to participate in the discussion.

Most of the group is banking on the "transplant" strategy, in which the basic science of one layer is placed in another, tweaked and supplemented in order to be functional. Others think that a whole new approach is required. They assume that many scientific conventions are accidents of history and new abstractions can be devised. If the FIS group is lucky, there will also be some radical input from thinkers that do not presently have access to first-world infrastructure.

Independent thinking is an underestimated factor. Nearly all the activities collected under the banner of "science" have developed institutional tendencies that are similar to their economic counterparts. It is usually assumed that developing economies need to build resources that emulate those in the developed world, but this could actually stifle the most creative thinking. Many scientific disciples are going through a revolution, and a lot of those ideas -- sometimes revolutionary ideas -- are bubbling up from labs and research centers that are unaffiliated with large institutions.

Twenty years of the most advanced thinking for mathematical algorithms came from a Soviet empire starved of computing power. The cleverest, most literally earth-shattering notions of physics for two generations came not from the expected powerhouses of the day, but from Budapest. Iran has a tradition of architectural design that has revealed key insights to cognitive scientists. Today, some of the most radical new ideas in second-generation artificial intelligence (so-called "autonomous agents") are incubating in Prague.

The most creative breakthroughs became famous events. When Einstein added new abstractions to the language of physics, the identity of space and time changed. The FIS meeting in July was the unheralded beginning of an attempt to remodel the universe in such a way. The group identified the gaps that need explanation. They will expand their pool of thinkers to include scientists from necessarily innovative regions. Following this, they will identify which problems might be solved if this new science is developed. Or if you wish, discovered.

H.T. Goranson is the lead scientist of Sirius-Beta Corp and was a senior scientist with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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