More dramatic presentations of the socio-economic consequences of the transition to a knowledge economy have been made by Toffler in his 1980 book, The Third Wave, by Dizard in his 1982 book, The Information Age, and by many other information scientists and social commentators. Bell has given a thoughtful economic analysis of expected social change in his 1973 book, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, and Wojciechowski has analysed the increasing significance of the knowledge product to human society and emphasized the importance of understanding and managing the knowledge ecology. These global models of a changing human civilization emphasize the increasing dependence of the human race on the effective dissemination, use and extension of the store of knowledge. Our over-crowded planet with its diminishing resources can support the still-increasing human population only because we have the knowledge to make efficient use of the resources available.
Computer technology has advanced at a rate that is extremely high and has been sustained over such a period that it can best be seen as a series of revolutions rather than as technology evolution. Between 1959 and 1980 the number of active devices on a circuit chip increased from one to one million; by 1990 it will reach one thousand million. Over the same period information storage costs have declined to the level where it is now possible to store large encyclopaedias on an optical disk costing a few dollars in a drive that is coupled to a personal computer and costs a few hundred dollars. Every eight years computer technology has advanced in performance parameters by the order of one hundred times. Five such periods of advance may be distinguished historically and we are now in the sixth, termed the fifth generation. For comparison the aircraft industry has seen only one such comparable advance in its 75 year history.
The culmination of the socio-economic pressure to generate technologies adequate to support a knowledge-based civilization may be upon us now in fifth and sixth generation computing systems. The Japanese originators of the fifth-generation thrust in 1981 have emphasized that the major changes expected in this generation will be a shift from information technology to knowledge technology and a major improvement in human-computer interaction. They see the next generation of computing systems as providing knowledge bases that are readily accessed by people with no specialist computer skills and are integrated into all aspects of the operation of society.
The impact of early knowledge-based systems is already apparent in the rapid growth in the past five years of an expert systems industry concerned with encoding the high-level knowledge and decision-making skills of key professionals and making them widely available through computer systems. Initially these systems were expensive and primarily of interest to the petro-chemical, mineral exploration and pharmaceutical industries where expert knowledge in exploratory research is essential to risk-reduction in high-cost ventures. Declining computer costs have made expert systems significant for more routine knowledge and skill dissemination, for example in industries where the retirement of skilled employees is a major problem.
The power of knowledge-based information control systems is nowhere more apparent than through the diversity of activities now possible at a computer graphics terminal. When we see someone working at such a terminal, with the same computer, display and much common software, they may be designing: a computer program to calculate a payroll; an expert system for advising managers; a complex metal piece part; a microelectronic device; a chemical catalytic process; a genetic structure; and so on. What is even more remarkable is that the results of their design can in every case become implemented without further human intervention--the metal piece part may be turned and milled by numerically-controlled machine tools and placed in position by robot arms--the catalytic process may be simulated and then used with no empirical laboratory testing.
For a country like Canada, that sits between the two economic worlds of natural resource exploitation and high-technology innovation, it is particularly difficult to know how to cope with the technological and social change of the knowledge-based society. We do not have the urgent need to export high-technology products that drives Japanese economic planning. We do not have the requirement of the USA to be self-sufficient in all key technologies. Our balance of trade is favorable due to our rich natural resources. We can afford to import high-technology and make use of it to support our resource-based economy. Our need is to make use of technology to ensure more effective use of our resources and greater added value in their exploitation. We can also increase the stability of our economy by exploiting our increasing skills in the application of technology in worldwide markets.
An emphasis on Canada as an applier of technology does not de-emphasize the need for basic research and development. To develop the skills to use the new technologies we have to provide opportunities to innovate. It will not be possible to understand them fully if we do not attempt to develop them as well as use them. Research and development is much lower in cost than manufacturing and marketing. Its role in developing the knowledge and skills to apply a new technology is just as important as its role in generating products. We need to be foundational and eclectic in our research and then highly targeted in our exploitation of the resulting knowledge.
However, basic research and development alone does not automatically lead to effective use. In particular, knowledge of knowledge technology itself is an insufficient foundation from which to understand its application. The technology is as scaffolding to a building, as an electricity supply to a motor, as pigments to a painting. We have to understand is the nature of knowledge itself and its role in particular applications. Knowledge technology is quite distinct from the computing technology that supports it.
In applications we need to understand both the logic of the marketplace and that of the technology. We must analyse the needs for which society is prepared to devote resources, and the technologies which can shape the world to satisfy these needs. It is the combination of a clear perception of the needs and the effective application of the technology which will determine those organizations and nations which cope most effectively with the transition to a knowledge-based economy.
Canada has one of the most educated populations in the world. Educated people through their knowledge provide the raw material for the knowledge-based economy. We have that raw material but we have to manage it effectively in order to take advantage of our position. We have to couple the knowledge of the technology with that of the marketplace. We must also maintain awareness of the areas of expertise in which we excel and those that we must continue to develop and acquire if we are not to become a third world country technologically.
Canada has sunk resources into information technology that give it the basis for widespread understanding and application of the new knowledge-based technologies based on information control. Computer Science, Information Science and Electrical Engineering Departments have developed curricula and research that make Canada relatively rich in information technology professionals--there is a worldwide shortage and no country is well-off. Natural and Social Science Departments have encouraged the inclusion of computing applications in their own disciplines. Management Science and Industrial Engineering Departments have required computing literacy from their students and incorporated computing in their research. The raw material is there but to exploit it we must come to understand the management of information and knowledge throughout industry, commerce and government.
Computer and communications systems are only tools not ends in their own right. They are neutral to their use and do not supply a model on which to base their application. One can view computing as an advanced technology and look for an application. This is like being impressed by the availability of motor vehicles and trying to see what is the natural direction for them to drive. There is no natural direction for computers either. They will travel on any road formed by an understanding of the knowledge structures underlying the application. That is why the Japanese fifth generation program is targeted on building knowledge bases. We need to encourage students, technologists, market developers, managers and entrepreneurs to think in these terms.
Understanding the role of knowledge in an application is a topic for the scientific discipline and profession associated with that application. Every discipline and every profession will become increasingly involved with knowledge-based technology. This universality presents major problems in the socio-economic management of knowledge technology. There is no natural forum for information collection and dissemination. There is no single discipline that can serve as a focus for most, let alone all, activities.
Computer science is only now becoming well-established as a discipline and is primarily concerned with the development of the technological infrastructure, the scaffolding. Each of the professional disciplines has its own contribution to make to the encoding of the knowledge that underlies it for dissemination through computing systems. Each of the scientific disciplines has the possibility of a new impetus to its own development through the use of knowledge technology. Systems science has an important role to play in providing models for knowledge, its dynamics and impact. The social sciences and the humanities have dual roles to play in that they can make major use of knowledge technology in their own development and are also important to the understanding of its role in our society and civilization.
The figure below is a synopsis of the Japanese proposal. Whereas their fifth generation program is targeted on machine architectures using very-large-scale integrated circuits for artificial intelligence machines, the sixth generation program emphasises the knowledge that has to be programmed into these machines. They propose to put together multidisciplinary teams of computing scientists together with neurologists, psychologists, linguists and philosophers, in order to generate the technologies in the centre column for applications in expert systems, machine translation, intelligent computer-aided design & manufacturing and intelligent robotics.
This interdisciplinary program on an international scale is the first significant attempt to operationalize knowledge, making the processes involved overt and giving us knowledge science and technology. It is particularly significant for Canada because the rationale for sixth generation research is that we need to understand more about the nature of knowledge before we can make effective use of fifth generation systems. The applications of knowledge-based systems require interdisciplinary collaboration on a scale never previously achieved.
The key to socio-economic success in this information age is the development of knowledge sciences in their own right--but not as a new discipline. All existing sciences and professions will be transformed by their incorporation of knowledge-based information technology. We need to facilitate this process of change within our existing institutions and industries. We need to promote the exchange and interaction of knowledge across disciplines rather than create new inter-disciplinary "disciplines." In time the boundaries will erode, the scaffolding will disintegrate through lack of maintenance and be dismantled because it is in the way. That will take some time and the transition must be facilitated not forced lest we destroy much of what we value.
There is a need for Knowledge Science Institutes that serve to facilitate the application of knowledge-based information technology. They will bring together many sciences and professions in an attempt to exploit expert systems on a broad front and re-position those disciplines involved as knowledge sciences in which knowledge, expertise, experience and theories are made overt and operational using information technology. At one level they will help to create markets for the new technologies in Canada--at another they will help to put Canadian universities and industry in the forefront of the use of artificial intelligence techniques--at another they will help create a pool of trained students who can aid industry in the effective commercial application of these new technologies.
The USA and Europe responded to the Japanese fifth generation proposals with massive programs of their own. Canada is still discussing its policy in relation to the fifth generation, although the technology is already in place and will be in widespread commercial use by 1988. The sixth generation program with its emphasis on knowledge sciences is vital to our interests as it emphasizes applications. We cannot afford to be slow in entering the sixth generation race. We have the raw material. We have the opportunities. We only need the perception of both and the will to succeed.
This model is consistent with the concept that all disciplines and professions have major roles to play in the development of a knowledge-based society. No one new institution would be adequate to subsume all these various roles. Existing institutions will adapt to new roles and the major need is to facilitate this adaption. The knowledge needed to do this transcends disciplinary boundaries and may in itself constitute a new discipline. However, even if there is a new discipline involved, it is one that must learn its own lesson and come to operate in a new way--through a cross-disciplinary network with no particular institutional or geographic focus.
The KSI should be chartered to facilitate the development of many perspectives on knowledge-based societies, particularly where these cross disciplinary boundaries, and particularly where they highlight significant social and economic consequences.
The Executive Director should have a background that enables him or her to communicate readily with universities, government and industry, and to understand the differing perspectives of their organizations and people. He or she should be familiar with computing and information technology, and should also have a broad familiarity with a wide range of disciplines and professions.
The Board of Directors should be representative of the diversity of interests that the KSI seeks to serve. The individuals appointed should be influential in policy formation for their own sectors and experienced in the management of strategy and change.
Projects undertaken by the KSI should be on a task force basis with a number of individuals and organizations collaborating through a network. Provision should be made for individuals to have temporary attachments to the KSI and to be able to publish through the KSI--it would be appropriate for graduate students to be attached to it.
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