Thursday, October 04, 2007

Unstructured Prognostication

Futurology is a suckers game. The reason for this is that history is a turbulent system that doesn't lend itself to prediction; however, every so often you'll come across a prediction that seems eerily prescient in retrospect. Even though the shotgun nature of prognostication guarantees that will always be a few hits and some spectacularly close near misses, it's difficult to not feel a shiver when you come across one that turned out to be on or near the mark.

Paul Otlet was a Belgian who lived in the first half of the 20th Century. He was a scholar of the theory of knowledge and information. Among his ideas was something that he called the "radiated library". As you can see from this clip, from a documentary about him, his ideas is very much akin to the modern web (although his concept was based on a far more centralized paradigm and relied on humans to do the information searches).

At the time that Otlet was developing his theories, they garnered a reasonable amount of attention. Sadly, Otlet's work was truncated by the second world war and fell into obscurity thereafter in part, ironically, because they appeared antiquated by post-war developments in information theory and computer science.

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