Brenda Laurel, Ph.D. is Principal at Neogaian Interactive. She is an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in video games, a “pioneer in developing virtual reality”, a public speaker and an academic. She is also a board member of several companies and organizations. She was founder and chair of the Graduate Design Program at California College of the Arts (2006 – 2012) and of the Media Design graduate program at Art Center College of Design (2000-2006). She has worked for Atari, co-founded the game development firm Purple Moon, and served as an interaction design consultant for multiple companies including Sony Pictures, Apple, and Citibank. She has written the books The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, Utopian Entrepreneur, Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, and Computers as Theatre.
IA Summit 2015 Keynote
Topic(s): content modeling, design, and information architecture
Brenda Laurel goes deep on emergence as a force in information architecture from serious to playful designs. As information becomes more free-flowing and intertwingled with the made as well as the natural world, we need to cut meaningful and engaging swaths through it all. Brenda’s work in research, design, nature, and advocacy make her the very model of an information architect. She gives the Closing Plenary at IA Summit 2015.
Brenda Laurel: Thank you so much. That was wonderful. It’s lovely to be at this conference again, and see so many wonderful friends, old faces and young faces. I got worried at first. I thought, “Oh no, it’s all us old people. Nobody will be surprised by anything.” Here we go.
We’re all star stuff. After hydrogen, helium, and lithium showed up during the origin of the universe, every other element was baked in the belly of a star, and eventually became us. It’s star stuff all the way down.
Even some molecules, like water and the precursors to amino acids, were formed in gigantic gas clouds in interstellar space before the birth of planets.
We know that molecules are assemblages of elements, and they’re formed by electronic forces among atoms. In the history of Earth, at some point, with causative factors still largely unknown, groups of molecules arranged themselves so as to form single-celled organisms, where molecules functioned as systems with behaviors such as tropisms.
Some single-celled organisms became symbiotic, helping each other out, filling some of each other’s needs, and some single-celled organisms somehow merged, each one dropping the genes it didn’t need, because the other was providing it.
The late geoscientist Lynn Margulis, shook up the world of evolutionary biology when she asserted that this emergent behavior of organisms, to hook up and become single organisms, symbiogenesis, is most likely the primary means of speciation and evolution on Earth. That was a direct challenge to Darwin, and the descent-with-modification idea.
Some of the most awesome examples are chloroplasts and mitochondria that, through symbiogenesis, are now part of the collective progenitors of all eukaryotic cells on this planet. Margulis’s theories have increasingly gained acceptance, as genetic evidence has been produced.
In fact, Julia Schwartz and her colleagues have discovered a living example of symbiogenesis in progress, in a sea slug that, through ingesting algae forever, has managed to incorporate and successfully maintain chloroplasts in its own body.
More amazing is that it’s moved some of the algal DNA into its own genome, DNA that contains representations for proteins that can build chloroplasts. This creature, with its solar sails, can live for a year without eating, and it’s not done yet. It still needs to eat some of the algae to get chloroplasts, until they’re incorporated into its DNA sufficient to produce them on its own. That blew my mind.
Let’s take a moment to look at another kind of evolution highly colored by emergence, and that’s the evolution of technology. Ever since human began using things as tools, the story of human evolution has been progressively influenced by human thought and invention.
Margulis points out that the line between biological and intellectual invention is tenuous at best, given the inventions of the microscopic forms of life. These are inventions in the transferral of genetic materials, inventions in new forms of being.
While consciousness gives humans a unique experience of themselves, it’s not clear that something produced by consciousness is essentially different from something produced by nature. Let that sink in.
I view humanity’s technological inventions to be just as natural as the adaptive abilities, biochemical, organic, or whatever, and extrusions, like nests, of other living creatures. Teleology is precisely the difference. Humans can conceive of needed inventions, and create them through the use of multiple abstract models. In this sense, technological tools are natural extrusions of human nature. They are not the other. They are us.
Douglas Engelbart described the overarching power of computer technology as “to augment human intellect.” Tool use has been held as the great shining artifact of intelligence that proved that humans were distinct from, and superior to, all other beings on the planet.
However, tools are evidently also natural extrusions of the nature of crows and otters and capuchin monkeys, and many other species, but human production and innovation leaves other species behind, and at least insofar as we understand them, they do the same sort of thing we do.
The Caledonian crow invents tools to get inside of tight spaces, and eat food. I’m going to show you a picture of something else Caledonian crows do.
They see opportunities for improvisational play, and this, of course, is one of the best strategies for invention. I think he’s got a mayonnaise jar lid or something. This was shot in the Soviet Union. He’s going to experiment. You can see where the snow is melted off the slate there. One might predict that it might not work, and then there’s a stick oh, damn. Well, all right. Let’s go back over where it worked, and do it again. Come on, let’s do it again. Do it again. Yeah, crow! All right!
Brenda: These guys invent in some of the same ways that we do, by improvisational play with stuff that they find, which turns into all kinds of things later on.
Humans extrude tools through processes of improvisation, invention, design, and tools are never far from human wishes and needs, the need to punch somebody out, whack, the need to build a building, and the need to satisfy curiosity. One could argue that many of our most significant tools are extensions of our own capabilities to see and know.
We grew the telescope first to see ships at sea in battle, but ultimately, with Galileo’s improvements, to learn about the nature of the universe. Now we have the Hubble, and its progenitor’s coming along. What word do I want? Descendants. That’s right.
We extruded microscopes, Mr. Van Leeuwenhoek, to look at the tiniest microorganisms. He was looking at different things than this. This is a single-celled marine creature.
Now, with electron microscopes, we can look at atoms in motion. This is a sheet of carbon atoms formed into a sheet of graphene that has been poked with a laser, and they’re moving around trying to repair the edge. This is just due to natural forces. Carbon atoms aren’t alive. This work was done at Livermore Labs, I believe.
We define an entity as a thing that has a perception-representation-action loop. I think it’s a really important concept, that it can perceive its environment in some way, that it has a representation inside itself that can map perceptions to actions, through mechanisms as simple as chemical changes. It takes some sort of action on the basis of whatever representation it’s made.
Single-celled organisms with tropisms meet this definition of an entity, but more recent work shows that their very DNA contains entities. There are entities inside of DNA. The ability to make an adaptive representation comes much later in evolution.
With the nervous system, organisms can do increasingly improbable things, like hunting across landscapes. For example, a wolf, with an adaptive representation of her environment, learns that, in certain seasons, she can trot along, turn this way past a rock, cross the creek, and intercept migrating caribou. If she’s a lone wolf, that knowledge dies with her, and if she’s a member of a pack, others may learn by imitation.
Humans, by contrast, can do much better at passing increasingly complex information along to future generations, with their ability to exteriorize knowledge as story.
I think of story as a tool. This is the Lebombo bone. It’s a 44,000-year-old lunar calendar. It’s the oldest calendar we know of. We have conversations with entities through language, science, and empathy. It was entities, humanoid entities, who made this.
In the Messe Saint Paul of France, the artists who painted inside of the Chauvet Cave, were having conversations with horses, and owls, bears, and rhinoceri. Now, we may have time-displaced conversations with the painters as well as with what they painted. We may also infer from the representations of rhinoceri, that the paintings were made before the Mediterranean Sea separated France from the African continent.
The Chauvet paintings were descriptive conversations, but I have to think, in terms of their location in the cave, that they were very likely shamanic in nature. Why leave signs like that in places where people wouldn’t normally go, that are pitch black? I have to think those horses by torchlight, must’ve looked like animation.
This painting and this image may even have been made by Neanderthals, it’s 44,000 years old. Homo sapiens were just entering Europe from the south. It’s very likely that Neanderthals made those paintings. If you haven’t studied them, they’re amazing. It’s really worth having a look. This looks like good art today.
Petroglyphs, too, were often hidden, installed far away from places where people lived. The one exception tends to be that kids would dip their hands in clay, ochre, and make little hand prints around their house, but you would not see petroglyphs like this. This portion of a petroglyph panel in Zion National Park, is thought to be only a thousand to 2,000 years old. The images on the Zion panels are not where people go, and they’re far away from where people lived, as far as we can tell.
They were probably done by the ancient Pueblo, used to call them Anasazi, but that’s now politically incorrect. There were three tribes in the area at that time that may have made these. Various theories have been advanced to explain the images, but none have been conclusive. The central figure here, the tall one, has been described as representing the process of birth. It’s also been described as representing life and death.
Squiggly lines are thought to be upcoming terrain for the traveler, that they might be maps of terrain, and in some cases, people who’ve studied those have found it to be more or less true. Then there are sand worms and Kokopelli like figures, and rams with big horns, and images of the rain man. It’s quite wonderful.
Finally, I guess the public gets to see it. You used to have to find out from a hiker where it was, because they were trying so hard to protect the art. People will go into these petroglyphs and just lop off a chunk, sell it to an art dealer, so it’s important to protect them.
Now for something completely different. We all know that relics of entities can give us information about how they worked, and the conditions under which they lived. Since moving to Northern California, I’ve become interested in abalone. My husband and I, hunt them twice a year. They’re delicious. They’re beautiful. They’re protected. We never exceed our limit, we never make our limit, and the line always moves a little farther north, because of ocean temperature changes.
An abalone is a kind of giant snail that lives in saltwater. They live up against rocks. They attach themselves to rocks. You can’t take one unless it’s seven inches across at its smallest place.
The way you get them, in case you’re interested, is that you swim along, and you have your pry bar, in this hand that I really hope heals soon, [laughs] and you got to stick the pry bar in and pry the sucker off the rock in one move. If he knows you’re there, it’s over. They can stick to the rock so hard, you couldn’t get them out of there with TNT.
A red abalone is what we’re seeing here. Its color is probably a combination of its species and its diet. Those respiratory holes along the outer line of the shell’s angular, spiral shape are for breathing and also where sperm and eggs come out. That’s having a deep conversation.
The shell’s color and its iridescence derive from a coating called nacre, a form of calcium carbonate that creates interference effects with different wavelengths of light, as well as diffraction caused by a crystalline nacreous layer below the surface of the shell. Nacre is also an extremely sturdy substance. You cannot hammer these guys. The edges will break, but they won’t break. I once had a dive master tell me, “Just hit it with a board until it passes out.”
Anyway. This stuff is so strong, although it’s not completely understood yet as a substance, that it’s been considered for use as body armor. I’m imagining these gleaming soldiers. How could you fight if you looked like that?
Brenda: The oxygen isotope ratio in calcium carbonate indicates the temperature of the water in which an entity lived, like seashells and fossils. Long-lived entities can reflect changes that happened in ocean temperature during their lifetimes, but we can also look at really old ones, and figure out what the ocean temperature was 40,000, a hundred thousand years ago. This is where we get a lot of that information.
This creature, that’s his home there. The shell is a rich information system, and to model it, we need data from several different disciplines, biology, material science, mathematics, physics.
Another way to have conversations with entities, is to use computer technology to make them self-disclose in real time. One example that I’ve developed is the notion of a STEAM park, that’s STEM with an A for the arts. It’s a movable park that uses sensor arrays. It has authoring tools and representations delivered to mobile devices that give visitors an annotation of a place that they find, using the location sensors.
The idea is relatively simple, and it’s been used by many artists and scientists in the past. What’s novel about it is that it may be delivered as a kit, and deployed in the environment of one’s choosing. With the authoring tools, a teacher or a scientist can plant the sensors near things of interest, create content that can show up when a person gets close.
The examples I first developed have a bit of a pedantic air, I’m told. A child enters the park and begins to search using their mobile device, like a tricorder, I know, I know, I know, for places and things that have information to reveal. If you get near to a sensor, you get a soft sound. You’re looking around, looking around for that sound to get louder, and then you spy something that matches the image on your screen.
When the images line up with the destination object, an annotation appears. This example shows how a plant will look when it’s blooming. I don’t think that’s pedantic. I just think it’s overly cute.
Here’s another one. You might wonder about a snail’s spirals. Actually, that’s what it looks like, and then this shows up on your screen when you get to it. You get some information, and you’re also given links to go find out what these different spirals actually mean, mathematically. This is for eighth graders.
Here’s another one. Some annotations may include interactive elements. These are simple sorts of conversations, but ones we could not have made 10 or even 5 years ago, I don’t think, at least not as well as we can now.
The next step in creating these kinds of conversations is to demonstrate relations among entities, and between entities, and their environments, the ecosystems that they themselves have had something to do with forming, and with which they have relationships.
Ours is a world constructed not merely of things or individuals. At the most elementary level, our planet has nonentities in its makeup, nickel core, magma, rocks, and the universal physical forces at play. Microbial entities live deep inside the crust of the planet, deep, hot biospheres, and they’re probably responsible even for the movement of tectonic plates, those critters down there in the hot.
Without life on Earth, scientists have concluded that the continents would be much smaller, because of the lack of biological processes. The world where we live consists of nested entities in loose or tight relationships that may be symbiotic or competitive, and there are even entities, such as transposons, inside of DNA.
This is a leukocyte. I just think it’s an awesome picture. One cell, this is one of your immune-system cells, hollow, though I don’t think they’re lavender, but they could be. That’s the point of it.
An ecosystem is also a kind of entity composed of many different entities living at different scales, that have varying relations to their neighbors. You all know this. For example, what is called chaparral, remember that TV show, “High Chaparral”? I always thought chaparral was some kind of bush. It’s not. It’s an ecosystem of various entities, depending on place and climate and other factors.
Here’s some chaparral near my home, includes a wide variety of plants, sage, manzanita, birds, including quail and hummingbirds, insects, like spiders, stinkbugs and tarantulas, and various lizards and snakes, including two species of rattlesnakes. Some of its animal denizens are bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, and various sorts of mice.
These entities, whether in symbiotic or competitive relations with each other, maintain a dynamic equilibrium that enables the persistence of this community that we call chaparral. In fact, chaparral can be seen as a dynamic information network that, like nested dolls, includes entities within entities, within the larger entity of its ecosystem.
There are ecosystems inside of entities. The recent discoveries and analyses of the human microbiome reveal that it’s an ecosystem, and makeup which is essential to our health. Human microbiomes are ecosystems that live in our gut, and other parts of our bodies. In fact, dudes, 90 percent of us consist of our microbiome, according to the Human Microbiome Project. I want the part that’s me, but I don’t think I could make it.
When we take antibiotics, many of the critters in the microbiome will be killed. That leaves ecological niches for folks that we don’t like to multiply, and which can cause illness ladies, yeast infections. Let’s get on with this. Excuse me for a sec. You see those Indians there?
These folks are a tribe from the Amazon that first had contact with Westerners in 2009. Scientists went in and measured the content of their microbiomes. They measured and classified what was in the gut of these folks. What they learned is that they have twice the diversity of the microbiome of an American. They even have natural antibiotics in their microbiome.
The conclusion is that, these folks may represent what our microbiome was like before we became Westernized, and started taking antibiotics and eating fast food. This got a lot of attention in the popular press. Yes, feed your microbiome, and nature.
Taking care of your own microbiome through diet and practice is something we can actually do, we’re told. We can also find some things out about it by swallowing sensors with our vitamins. I wouldn’t do that. That’s like eating a safety pin or something, but I suppose there are people who would.
In the earliest days of ecological studies, and still today in many instances, our conversations with ecosystems are observational and descriptive. With further study into the dynamic relations between elements of ecosystems, the biological trace of the entities within as well as the forces at play, such as water and weather, we can begin to see the relationships that hold an ecosystem together as an entity.
I’m looking at the Everglades here. This image illustrates the usual characteristics of an Everglades ecosystem, but does not indicate any causal relationships. In fact, we know more about that than this picture does. We know about the way the ecosystems in the Everglades handle water, how they cleanse water, how they promote the growth of certain trees, etc.
Now, sensors like wildlife cameras and tagging can provide a sample function of life in an ecosystem, and one can extrapolate from a small sample the likely population of animals. This American alligator is checking out the camera, but again, dynamic relationships are typically not part of what a webcam network can deliver.
Here comes an interesting answer. An approach that shows great promise has been developed by the National Ecological Observatory Network, NEON. What a great acronym. I’m just saying. It creates and provides a diverse suite of free, open data that support the study of complex ecological processes, at large space and time scales.
NEON uses standardized and integrated collection methods across field sites to provide data on ecological change, according to some key scientific themes that they’ve identified. The important observation here is that NEON has developed domain-specific data protocols. There is no universal protocol as yet, but NEON demonstrates good use of data to describe large systems, and these data may be used to infer dynamic relationships.
In the 20th century, it became possible to make Turing-complete representations on computers. In other words, those stories that we’ve been talking about could be turned into actions with computers, the beginning of our capability to construct models of phenomena and entities that are more than descriptive. This is a huge leap in human evolution. Huge, in my view.
In 2012, a team at Stanford, led by Markus Covert, created what is said to be the first complete computational model of a living thing. Taking findings from hundreds of scientific papers, and transforming them into more than 1,900 experimentally determined parameters, the team created a model of every molecular interaction that takes places inside the world’s smallest free-living bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium, which unfortunately causes sexually transmitted diseases, but we’re not going to go there.
It makes us wonder, how did they do this? This was excellent work. They took findings from papers, they turned them into parameters, and although there are a bunch of parameters, we start to see that there’s a shape required for the data in order to make this complete model.
The team showed a bunch of cool stuff from having done this. An entire organism can be modeled by its molecular components. Unobserved cellular behaviors are predicted by the model. New biological processes and parameters are predicted by the model. There’s discovery in the process of modeling. We’re finding out new things, literally, by modeling, in this case.
Many other kinds and scales of models have been created with the help of computers, from weather models to climate models to flocking behavior to, yes, wind moving through tall grass. The Stanford model of a living organism is remarkable for its completeness and robustness, and it’s also interesting that it uses 26 sub-models in its construction, so there’s some entities going on in the model. The work it took to create was amazing.
How might we connect such a tiny, brilliant piece of computer modeling as the Stanford model to the rest of the world? Sounds like an impossible task, yet we know that things precede both inductively and deductively, and that science is always climbing up and down ladders of scale and complexity and data and inference.
Quite a different process of modeling has had its roots in Google Earth. Google Earth itself has some thanks to give to this wonderful picture most of us remember, taken by Apollo 8 in 1968. It changed the world. It moved Alan Watts to say that with humans, the Earth grew eyes to see itself with, which I love, and it caused the Grateful Dead to sing, “We are the eyes of the world.” Yes, I have tickets.
Brenda: That was a miracle. Now a new, young company called Skybox Imaging, recently acquired by Google, is deploying a network of Low Earth orbit satellites that can give us a view of our Earth 24/7. The resolution is good enough to identify the crowns of separate trees in the Amazon. What if such an image could be overlaid with a different model that could predict carbon uptake over time? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
Got some more stuff in the Amazon. Moving up to see all of Brazil’s Amazonian rain forests, we can view existing development in this picture. What would happen if we could overlay it with fire hazards? Guys, there’s a correspondence, and a petty visual one.
What would happen if we could create a dynamic predictive model upon which we could overlay each of these data sources and more? What interactions and relationships might we discover in the making?
This is why I think the next best step for us, is to strive for pluggable models with data protocols, model protocols, and protocols for the interstitial tissue that connect them. What do we need to do in order to do that job? Well, I think, first, we need a small set of data protocols for modeling natural phenomena entities and ecosystems.
Second, we need a corresponding set of model protocols that will accept new data as input. The model over here, giving output, it should be able to be input to a model over here. That’s how we plug the things together.
Third, we’d need protocols for authoring the interstitial layers that act as connective tissue between one model and the other, and allow us to represent things like causality and relationship. In other words, where do you put that data that you just brought in from this other model? What is it signifying? That’s the hard one.
The fourth, and most important, we would need to be committed to creating a Gaian model of Earth, and that’s what I’m talking about. The work of Lynn Margulis deeply supported that of James Lovelock, who gave us the theory of Gaia in his 1979 book Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth.
Lovelock expanded the view that all of the nested entities and ecosystems in Earth’s biome, as well as its elemental makeup, work together to create a dynamic whole entity with a characteristic he calls homeostasis. This characteristic keeps our planet, its atmosphere, and all of us in a state where life can survive the dips, swings, and changes that the Earth goes through.
He stresses the importance of biodiversity and atmospheric resilience in maintaining this homeostasis, this dynamic equilibrium that is the environment for us. His theory was the first considered to be metaphorical, extreme, hippy nonsense, but, as science has pursued it as serious, come to have a large degree of acceptance among scientists.
The initial criticism was that the notion seemed teleological, there was some kind of intent of Earth to make this environmental balance happen. I want to say, by the way, talking about Lovelock and making models of Gaia, that Earth cannot, nor should it, be restored. That’s neither possible nor desirable, even in small measures.
What humans can do is think about and discover ways to preserve Gaia’s dynamic equilibrium. The quality that prevents runaway greenhouse effect and retains our slender atmosphere, the measures that we know of involving lowering greenhouse gas emissions, developing alternative energy sources, stopping the decline of biodiversity is not enough. To become Gaian gardeners, we need to know a lot more than that, and developing models is, in my view, the best way to learn it.
We talked about establishing data and model protocols, as well as the need for interstitial layers between models. That’s all well and good, but we also need to take some steps that are more in the social domain, to do this job of creating interconnectable models.
If this goal of modeling Gaia is going to be met, first and foremost, we must expose our code and adapt protocols that make code useful beyond the current project in any lab, and this is a hard one. We all know how hard this is, but it needs to happen.
We need to release the data. I would love to see a day when it was not respectable to publish a scientific paper without publishing your code and your data. The wonders of Internet 2.0 were built on open source, increasing both the velocity and the utility of change. A proprietary system like Xanadu would probably not have done that for humanity.
I’d love to see a world without computers, to one where computer science degrees are awarded for game design. Isn’t it about time that we viewed creating data model protocols for modeling the Earth and the forces that make life possible, as being as relevant a use of computers as designing games?
Right now it’s more respectable to create a world than to understand our own, in a way that will ultimately give us the kind of deep understanding we need to survive. As far as we know, we’re one of millions and millions of galaxies, and we’re the only one that has intelligent life on it.
If we were defy the Fermi Paradox, let’s do that and spread ourselves into space. We need to understand the characteristics and dynamics of a world that would support life such as ours. If we choose to stay home and keep evolving here as well, we also need a deep understanding of the Gaian system, to save the environment that makes our lives possible. Yes, we can use our understanding to make some awesome gain.
Brenda: Felt like I needed to. What is the good here? The epicurean philosophers said that a philosopher may marry. The stoic philosophers said that, a philosopher must marry to be in the world and of the world. I invite you information philosophers to embrace the idea of Gaia, the enormous, multifaceted whole of which we are part, and to think about what it means to represent it.
Who knew, when folks started cultivating rice 8,000 years ago, that they would be taking the first step in human-caused climate change? Who knew at the beginning of the industrial age how slender and fragile was the sheath of our atmosphere?
Our goal must be not to disparage, deny the threats under which we live, but to boldly go forward toward a new practice, and understanding that may save us from what many past and present follies are now dumping in our laps.
For a long time I’ve been thinking about how to approach the problem and identify it at my top Gaianaic XD in Austin in 2011. Who will serve Gaia as makers of the kind of understanding we need? That’s [laughs] when I got your invitation, and I thought, “Information architects can do this.”
Brenda: Whatever the grand strategic goal of the job you do is, remember that one strategy can serve two different grand strategies. Can you find a way to squeak in working on these protocols, working on this vision in the course of your everyday work?
The president will never call on us to do this, especially the next one. Yet it must be done, if we are to save our species and its home. If we take it up as a goal, it will spread like fire to other minds and other fields. Climate change is a global problem, and we need a global view to solve it.
A network of models that reflects the nested entities and interlocking relations that represent Gaia to us, at levels where we can best see, discover, and understand it. As we go about this, discovery will happen. It always does. This is a disciplined approach to making the most necessary discoveries in our lives. It isn’t harder than going to the moon, and it’s a whole lot more important.
Information architects should adopt this as a goal. We are uniquely qualified to get it done, so let’s do it. Thank you.
Female Host: [laughs] We have time for a couple questions I think. You want a couple questions?
Female Host: All right. Does anyone have some questions, or are you just ready to go?
Brenda: You’re just ready to go. Do it, do we? Yes, sir.
Audience Member: First, I’m a Brenda Lauren fan for decades, and thank you for coming to this.
Brenda: [laughs] Thank you.
Audience Member: I guess what you’re saying is, is it that we should move from user-centered design or human-centered navigational links, menus, texts, and I’m using semantics, to Gaia-centered?
Audience Member: I have one more.
Brenda: This is how you’ll learn stuff about user-centered design by taking on a task like this where, at the end of the day, your UI is paying attention. That’s going to be a big one for us, and the UI community.
Just like the moon project, there are all kinds of bi-products from a journey like this, and user experience design, information architecture design, etc. I see no downside to just say, “What? We are going down here, people. This is important. Let’s go do this.” There’s no time left. That’s what I think.
Male Host: Anyone else? Yeah.
Audience Member: What are some areas that you think are very important, but still highly neglected for some of this work?
Brenda: Highly neglected?
Audience Member: Yeah.
Brenda: In terms of understanding? It’s not so much about domain knowledge. I think, of course, we need more information about our oceans, for sure than we have. To me, it’s about learning more about modeling, and how to make models so that they can talk to each other in a variety of different ways.
I’m looking at my model of the Amazon, and I overlaid a model of a flight of birds. Then I want to go look at those birds, more specifically. I should be able to do that in a seamless way, and I’m going to learn a lot by doing it. It’s about the domain knowledge, and about how to model.
What I’m really asking for is to think about the protocols. This will, in fact, help us augment domain knowledge. It’s a new methodology for getting domain knowledge, if that makes sense.
Like the guys who modeled the organism at Stanford. They learned a lot about a lot of different things, domain knowledge, procedural knowledge, etc. There’s this great opportunity for an efflorescence of knowledge in a lot of different places if we consider modeling at the frontier.
Andrew: Hi, Brenda. I’m Andrew.
Brenda: Hi, Andrew.
Andrew: Hey, Brenda.
Brenda: You made eye contact with me.
Andrew: I did.
Brenda: That’s so cool.
Andrew: Yeah, and I’m actually not very good at that, so this is your lucky day.
Andrew: Modeling the world is mapping the world. It’s creating environment through which to understand environment. When you do that, it reflects the interests. Maps are never neutral. What do you think about that? I’m with you. I’m rolling down this. I’m on the mayonnaise caps, sliding down the roof with you right now, OK? I’m good on this, but then I’m thinking, “Well, wait a minute. Who’s structuring the roof?”
Brenda: Yeah, point of view.
Andrew: I’m just curious what your thoughts are in terms of dealing with, wrestling with the interests that are always pressing on the way any model is made. Most of the science done now is being paid for by some pharma company, or you know what I mean. So whatever you think about that?
Brenda: A bunch of stuff comes up. For one thing, we have this new journal, PLOS ONE, which is so terrific.
Brenda: Yet, insanely different from the journal situation that we’ve had. We have a way of publishing information much better than we had before, so that’s a state change in terms of intellectual exchange. What I’m asking for is for more companies and individuals, release the hound, release the data, etc.
That’s a social change. That is the point of view that I have. I think that needs to go away. That by itself would be a good out cut. In terms of point of view, my daughter came at me with this point. She said, “Well, if you have this great model, people could find more Amazonian tribes and ruin their lives, take advantage of them, exploit them, sell them Coca-Cola, and maybe even fight with them.” My husband’s response was, “Well, then, we better ban steel, because somebody might do something bad with it.”
Of course, there is, in my mind, a bias towards staying away from things that invite military use, but I don’t think you can prevent that. I think that, if we work hard enough and fast enough, we may get a consciousness change that makes it irrelevant.
Yeah, the hippy. I think these things. In point of view, I guess this whole enterprise is based on the point of view that the environment of this planet is the thing we’re concerned with. The reason why we’re looking at all the little pieces, and how they fit together, is to learn how to keep this kind of environment or make another one.
If we can stick to that point of view, [laughs] maybe we’re good. I don’t know. It’s a mission, dude. You have to think of it as a mission. Nobody joined the Apollo team and said, “I don’t really like this idea of going into space.”
Brenda: They wouldn’t take them. [laughs]
Male Host: Please give it up once again for the amazing Brenda Laurel.