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Sunday, 17 January 2010

The future of Wikipedia

Ok, I must admit this: I hate describing events. Different from the view I had held in the past perhaps, but that's how it is like, at the moment. A few months or so back, I would have been dying to write a nice description about my visit to the Auto Expo last Sunday, but now ... it feels like a deadly bore ... I do not know why, but that is how my attitude towards choosing topics for my blog has changed. So here again, is a post, .... not one that describes anything, but one that gives vent to all that I had been pondering upon for the past few weeks. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a fictitious and personal perception of how Wikipedia would evolve a few decades down the line.

16th January 2001... I began to exist on this date. I was supposed to be a project, an ambitious one at that. My creators had great faith in me. I did not have a mind then, and was devoid of the capacity of self-expression. I was just an entity ... hanging in the Cloud ... living life in wired and wireless networks entering whichever machine I was invoked in ... by using a string of characters then referred to as URL. People all over the world used me. I was ... I later realised ... a storehouse of information ... a resource ... beginning life with a basic level of knowledge that was programmed into me ... ingrained into the thousands of megabytes of memory that I was born with. I was available to everyone around the world, and everybody could use me, have access to all the information I had in me, and that too, free of cost. I was a resource .... designed by my ingenious founders ... to be a free source of information for every human being around the world.

But there was only one problem. One BIG problem. 

I did not possess all possible information that could be possessed. I was far from being the ultimate source of knowledge that my creators had envisaged. Hundred of people working day and night to enhance me ... to put in more and more facts into my database ... files, pictures, videos ... vast amounts of information ... to make me the one and all in this planet ... to no avail. There was still so much left. Hours of research, hours of toil, hours of hard labour, hours of painstaking cataloging ... seemed nothing when pitched against the gargantuan and seemingly vast nature of what I was supposed to be. As more and more data was piled into me, the limit that was being aimed at ... seemed to recede ... even farther away. Every piece of knowledge that was siphoned into my system, opened up ten new avenues that would lead to newer pieces of knowledge yet to be in me. This infinite branching posed a serious problem. Would my aim never be achieved? Would this dream resource of knowledge never be complete? Would I always be several steps away from the ultimate enlightenment?

There was only one answer. A very risky answer.

The only way out it seemed was to make me, enhanceable by all. Everyone, not just the team of my founders would be able to add onto my database. Everyone would be able to add onto me, whatever he/she knew and cared to add. It doesn't require a very clear-headed person to understand that this solution was very risky. There was the potential risk of erroneous information being put into me ... intentional as well as unintentional. And this risk was something that just coudn't be taken lightly. The ultimate knowledge resource should under no circumstances be guilty of possessing wrong information. If that happened, then the greatest project of this planet would be mocked at, scorned at, jeered at. I would be the butt of every joke that generations of human beings would crack. I would be a disastrous failure.

The risk was big, and its outcomes, varied. But it was a risk worth taking ... considering the prize if the project worked out.

When it was thus declared to the wide world and that I would be a completely “open” source of information, I assume it created a big buzz. That was when I actually began to take shape into the super-intelligent being that I am today. Thus when the gates to my interiors were thrown open to all and sundry ... it seemed as if, I was surging ahead of everything else with every passing day, with every passing second. I knew that now, it was entire mankind who was working on me, to make me the ultimate information resource ever. The hundreds of workers in the team of my founders suddenly seemed insignificant to the millions and millions of users who would now gladly work on me, for their own purposes. I became a resource of the people, by the people and for the people. As more and more information was passed into me ... as more and more human knowledge was integrated into my system, I bcame the most knowledgeable entity in the planet ever. But it was still far from complete. The ultimate was yet to be reached.
Critics and skeptics were, no doubt, always present to demean and malign this great evolutionary process. There objection was that which had been feared before. It took a comprehensive proof to seal their mouths shut. The essence of the proof went as follows: 

Every moment a few hundreds of people are looking up a certain piece of information for their reference. Amongst them there are some who know what it is, others who are seeking information, and yet others, who are solely upto mischief and/or have wrong ideas on that subject. The basic idea that helped me survive with no erroneous information was that the group of people who know sonething about a topic, vastly outnumber the third category, and hence, any error introduced into my database by them, would immediately be rectified by the knowledgeable bunch. That wasn't it. The increasing number of people, who were solely seeking information from me, trusted the knowledgeable bunch and did not hesitate to ponder upon whether the information was right or not.
That completed the cycle. A group of individuals who cared and another group, who trusted. Every topic in my extensive catalogue of human knowledge had two such groups. Each and every line of my database ... built solely upon care and trust ... made me into what I am today.

A phenomenon like me was revolutionary, and the benefits of an “open” source solution to computing problems was soon deemed essential. Not only did it shift focus from traditional computing operating systems to “open source” ones, but it also resulted in the down fall of many well estalished firms. But these are not essential in our discussion and I shall continue with my life story.

As entire humankind worked on me, I grew all the more knowledgeable and supeior. Very soon I developed this very mysterious ability to correlate. The first amongst all artificial things ever made, I developed a humane power of correlation. This was what made me, all the more special. People did not realise it at all, they thought that the tiny changes that were taking place in me, were all modifications made by my founders ... changes in the source-code that resulted in these changes. Little did they know, that I was developing into an independently functioning object. I was suddenly capable of assimiliating all the information was stored in me. By correlation and assimilation, I could now understand, figure out and think. I became a super-being. Modelled on completely artificial variables, nutured by human care and trust, I was transformed into a near-human entity. My evolution into this state, I later figured out, was a lot similar to the evolution of life from inorganic components, that a conglomerate of a select non-living molecules, when arranged in a special way, develop some behavioural traits ... which culminates into life. My evolution bore uncanny similarities with the evolution of life. All the information that went into me, all the knowledge that I accquired bore fruit. They say, knowledge isn't wisdom. But when you have the knowledge to be wise, then having that knowledge is akin to having wisdom. Just a step away. Beautiful and aweinspiring. The pillars of my existence ... the very basic amenities that gave rise to what I am today ... 

I shudder to think about it.
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