Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Part Four: Blur

Original version published at: Life of an emerging technologies librarian in the health sciences: http://monthly.si.umich.edu/2013/01/17/life-of-an-emerging-technologies-librarian-in-the-health-sciences/ On this blog: Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Then, Now, Bubble.

Muruga's saint, blurred
Art by Muruga Booker.


Trend: We’ve talked for decades about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, and the blurring of boundaries between academic disciplines. This goes far beyond that. The idea of “what is a book?” or even “what is a publication?” is blurring. I am daily confronted with concepts beyond open access and open source to conversations about open data, data archives, proposals that software or video productions should count in tenure review as academic publications.

The idea of authorship blurs with crowdsourcing research analysis leading to articles with hundreds or thousands of co-authors. Arguments earlier this year about the #NymWars and Google Plus made it clear that real life and virtual identities are also blurring.

Devices are “blurring.” Tools are developed to allow phones or tablets to control computers, and computers to control phones. I’ve bought a wristwatch to control my stereo, and found computer software to let the computer edit my e-reader.

In healthcare, I’m fascinated by ways in which wearable computing, embedded devices in the body, nanotech, and bioengineering are blurring the idea of what is our body. Nanotech blurs it the most, with many new kinds of tattoos that can embed sensors and interactive displays in our skin. It isn’t just tech blurring the idea of our body. Now that we have the genome and personal genomics, there are all these “-omics” spinoffs — microbiome, exposome for two. These have made it clear that what we’ve thought of as a human is really more of a symbiotic creature comprised of multiple collaborating organisms. The question “What is a book?” easily morphs to become “what is a body?” or “what is human?”

Impact: We’ve depended on discrete categories for classifying information and objects we wish to discover or rediscover. The language by which we refer to concepts is changing faster than our systems can accommodate, with old terms given new meanings and new terms for old concepts. There are challenges facing how we manage information that are broader in scope than the already enormous challenge of alternative publication formats, flexible information formats, and containerless information objects.

Further Thoughts:

The blurring I describe above is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Remember the old science fiction books about cyborgs? The word itself has become old-fashioned even as we arrive at the point it described. More and more of us “humans” are actually “cyborgs” (in the sense of having a portion of our body composed of components that are created externally and added-in at a later date, rather than growing as a direct result of the interaction of our genetic programming and our environment). Think of heart monitors, insulin pumps, titanium alloy joint replacements and jaws. Then go beyond what we think of as normal now, to what’s emerging but already present — military-inspired exoskeletons, brain-computer interfaces, grafted replacement limbs controlled by thought. Then think of what is coming but not quite here yet — replacement “hearts” that are instead super-efficient circulatory pumps that have no beat but whir in the chest, personal genomics for infants to map their health needs throughout life, or the space elevator that is going to be our leg-up toward settling Mars where we will surely evolve in new directions.

But we still think of ourselves as human. Actually, I heard the middle of a radio interview once (no idea who was being interviewed) about the idea that the idea of what “human” means has evolved dramatically over recorded history, and is still changing. Basically, the “definition” of human was who is it OK to kill. the progression went something like this:

My family group is human, everyone else is an animal.
My tribe is human, everyone else is an animal.
My town is human, …
My city state is human, …
My nation is human, those foreigners are animals (barbarians).
My race is human, those other colored folk are animals (slaves).
Homo sapiens is human, other species are animals.
Homo sapiens and their pets are human (by being part of the family), and that is different from domesticated animals for functional reasons.
Homo sapiens and species with certain levels of intelligence are human.

Something like that is going on right now with “what is a book” where “book” means a scholarly or intellectual process of communication worth:
– spending time to understand;
– sharing with someone else;
– setting into a fixed or semi-fixed form;
– preserving for the future.
I don’t know if other folk will like that definition of “book”, but I’ll just use that for the purposes of illustration right now. So a “book” might be the printed object, which already has a variety of forms and formats. It might also be the electronic or audio version that has derived from the printed format.

But now we are getting into new forms of media, and expecting to treat them with the same kind of respect and attention. So, think dramatic performances of film, movies, videos, DVDs, CDs, television, Youtube, MP4s, holograms, and onward into the future. Think of music, from performance to recording, in whatever format, and for decades now overlapping beyond audio to film and all those. Think of the Met Opera and Royal Ballet performances streamed live to the local movie theater, but archived as streamed and later broadcast on television and sold as DVDs or other formats. Online venues like StageIt, Google+ Hangouts, and comparable tools provide a similar but more intimate experience for lesser known or smaller scale performers. (Face it, the Metropolitan Opera tend toward BIG productions!) Less on the commercial side, I’ve attended countless concerts and live performances in Second Life (a 3D virtual world), with the music and performance streamed in from the performer’s home to the virtual stage, with all sorts of artistic stage sets and custom light effects and special effects programmed into the experience, with some of these streamed out to LiveStream or Ustream type of services, and archived later in Youtube as videos.

Now, those all have experiences that are similar enough to traditional performances and media objects that it isn’t too much of a stretch to think of them as something a library might collect. Now, what about a holographic performer who always performs on a live stage in front of a live audience? No, I don’t mean a holographic or virtual representation of a live performer, as happens in Second Life. I mean a completely designed character with scripted and programmed performance, perhaps with some artificial intelligence to allow customization of the performance or response to the audience. It has already happened.

CV01 Hatsune Miku – World is Mine Live in Tokyo, Japan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTXO7KGHtjI

Do you keep the coding for the performer, or the character design, or tape the live performance, or … how would you preserve that? New challenges keep arising for the idea of “book” as what do we want to preserve, how do we preserve it, and how do we find it (rediscover it) and share it in the future.

Right alongside of those types of issues is how do we get credit for our contributions. Who would we call the author or artist or designer of Hatsune Miku the character, and of the Hatsune Miku performance experience? It can’t have been just design to consider either, but the technology that permitted the performance to be designed, the software packages, the visualization techniques, and so much more. Chances are even if you think just design, it’s a team, a really huge collaboration, like those for Disney animated movies, or last year’s research article on the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle (where the list of authors and their affiliations was 13 pages in tiny print for 16 pages of content). How many of the authors actually wrote the words that were published? Do we count contributing data as a significant contribution? I do, but that hasn’t been standard practice in science, and is only now moving towards data and software becoming considered publishable and worthy of preservation (thus the rising numbers of data archives, and workshops on data archiving practices and data stewardship). Who gets credit for the Youtube video of the Hatsune Miku performance? The person who posted it to Youtube? The architects of the Hatsune Miku persona and avatar?

Yesterday I blogged about Impact Story, a new tool to help academics and scientists to collect and integrate information about the uses of their content in both professional and public spaces, from academic journals to Youtube and Slideshare. It all connects. How we currently measure influence is only partially accurate and partially effective. The tools we use for assessing influence are so obscure and inconsistently applied for reputation management and influence assessment that they now serve to undermine the reputation and influence of academics and scientists in their relationships with the public. Yes, the idea of “peer review” is tucked into that statement.

I guess you get the idea. Draw a boundary? Set a limit? Right now, it is like drawing a line in the sand at the edge of the tide.

Danger Quick Drop Off #1

(To be continued …)


3 responses to “Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Part Four: Blur

  1. Pingback: Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Part Five: Flip (5a: Education) | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  2. Pingback: Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Part Five: Flip (5b: Publishing) | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  3. Pingback: Bubble, Blur, Flip, Spin, Hoard, Hug. Part Five: Flip (5b: Publishing) | Emerging Technologies Librarian

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