Friday, April 21, 2006

i (sigh) am pro steak-knives

Catalogablog says this:

"I've been listening to the talk Vision: Wikipedia and the Future of Free Culture by Jimmy Wales. During it he made an analogy that hit close to home.

Imagine you are building a steak-house. One thing you need are steak-knives. However, patrons could attack each other with them. So you build your steak-house to keep all diners separated from one another by cages. No one can get hurt.

How often do we build just such systems? Allowing users to tag bib records? They might put in the seven forbidden words. User reviews linked to bib records. What if they write slander and the library gets sued? How often do we picture the very worst that could happen and then destroy our systems due to that remote possibility? Yet, Wikipedia, Amazon, et al. seem to survive. Maybe we could also."

URL: Safety at the Steak-house

Right on.

When talking powerful technologies, this issue is the one that concerns me the most. How do we balance control and authority with democracy and autonomy?

Most of us would agree (maybe even the NRA agrees) that we should not all each-and-everyone have our own personal atomic weapon. Now a bit of metadata in a record and an H-bomb are hardly the same, but where do we stop? In a post-human world where people are information objects, we'd all have a high stake in controlling and categorizing data. Information would become weaponized. Talking about steak knives isn't really too far of a leap to make.

Let's give everybody steak knives. Steak knives for everybody. Everybody gets a steak knife.

I don't mean to sound reactionary, but I think it's important to think through these matters thoroughly now, before we end up in some kind of distopian Singularity. Transhumanism bears on librarianship in ways more important than I really want to admit.

And what troubles me most is that I do actually think the best way to control the use of "steak knives" is to give one to everybody. I must be daft. You must be too. We wouldn't want to say the same if the metaphor made use of atomic bombs.

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