What is the Internet for?

Timothy Wilken

In 1984, I imagined a future where information and knowledge flowed from home computer-communication terminals like water from a tap, electricity from a plug or gas from a spigot. I am a synergic scientist. Synergy is that positive relationship between humans when both individuals—both self and other—are mutually benefited by their relationship. Both individuals are more happy, more effective, and more productive because of relationship than they would be without the relationship. A synergic scientist seeks to know how such relationships can be created and sustained. In 1984, I originated a prototype for today’s web site. It utilized ‘state of the art’ software that allowed the user to create a RBBS—Regional Bulletin Board System—that ran on the original IBM Personal Computer and its clones. The software could serve information and files and and allow message exchange over a ‘state of the art’ 1200 baud modem to callers who using their own IBM PC ‘s could connect using 300 baud to 1200 baud modems. I called this prototype the Future Positive BBS. It was on that BBS, that individuals could download my 18 page proposal for what I called The Knowing Utility. The following was published in 1984:

The Knowledge Utility

Imagine Late 1985, Anywhere USA.

Life was complex in 1983. It was even more complex in 1984. And now it’s 1985. I need to know and I need to know now. I need knowledge at my fingertips. I have to live and work smarter just to survive.

As I return home from work in the evening I realize I have left a needed report at my office. I simply enter my den, switch on the ‘Help’ terminal and within seconds I have accessed my company’s computer at work and have the file I need. I will go directly to my appointment tomorrow without need to go by the office. That will save me time. Still connected to my company computer, I leave an electronic note for my secretary. If she happens to use her ‘Help’ terminal this evening she will be notified she has electronic mail waiting. Then sitting down by my terminal, I select today’s electronic edition of the Wall Street Journal. It comes up promptly with one command, and I am immediately engrossed in the financial news.

In the kitchen a second ‘Help’ screen displays a recipe for my wife as she cooks our dinner. Earlier today she selected the food for our dinner from an electronic supermarket menu and then picked it up at a drive-thru window. She could of had it delivered at additional charge.

In the family room, our five year old and her three year old sister are using the ‘Help’ terminal for ‘edutainment’. This is a powerful mix of education and entertainment developed to maximize learning. The children are using a program from the list their mother has approved for content and appropriateness. Because the ‘Knowing ‘ utility is intelligent, it can determine who is using it and only provide what is approved for that user.

In our guest room, our nineteen year-old nephew visiting us from college is writing his term paper on another ‘Help’ terminal. The ‘Knowing ‘ utility provides the same services at his college. He can do his homework wherever he is. He is able to write his assignments on a provided word processor program and access a wide assortment of electronic libraries and data bases. When he is finished, the paper can be electronically sent to his teacher 600 miles away. Deciding to take a break he electronically stores his homework. He then uses the ‘Help’ terminal to finish and electronically post a letter to his grandmother. Finished with the letter he selects the electronic edition of “TV Guide” to see what he will watch on the video after dinner.

It is my intense hope to catalyze the creation of a ‘KNOWLEDGE’ utility for our human species. I envision a system wherein users can obtain useful ‘HELP’ with any situation they may encounter where any knowledge or information can be obtained rapidly and easily by simple request. I see a future where KNOWLEDGE is as available as power and water where ‘Help’ terminals are as common as telephones.

Our human history reveals we have made enormous technological progress. Within this century, we have seen the technological advancement of our culture marked by the completion of several major revolutions. Interestingly, none of these revolutions were political. They are the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the communications revolution, and the computer revolution.

The percentage of Americans that work in the fields of agriculture or husbandry to feed our nation is small and growing smaller every year. Our agricultural scientists have even learned to grow plants without soil or sunlight. The causes of starvation in 1983 are political not technological. The agricultural revolution is complete.

The industrialization of the planet is extensive–over extensive. Many modern factories are operating at partial capacity. Our ability to produce goods far exceeds our ability to consume them. State of the art manufacturing uses computerized robots to make products without need of human labor. The industrial revolution is complete. A world-wide communication system is now in place that allows for instant ‘live’ communication between humans anywhere on the globe and beyond. We commonly watch from the comfort of our living rooms as our astronauts explore Universe in zero gravity and absolute vacuum. The communication revolution is complete.

The computer revolution is barely 25 years old. The phenomenon has been so explosive it has been divided into generations. We are now seeing the emergence of the 5th generation computers. These 5th generation machines will attempt to match ‘human’ intelligence. The computer revolution is complete.

What possibly could be next?

In his book THE FIFTH GENERATION: Artificial Intelligence and Japan’s Computer Challenge to the World published in 1983, Edward A. Feigenbaum writes:

“The wealth of nations, which depended upon land, labor, and capital during its agricultural and industrial phases;depended upon natural resources, the accumulation of money, and even upon weaponry will come in the future to depend upon information, knowledge, and intelligence.

“For we shall argue that the new wealth of nations has its source not in land, or in labor, or in capital alone, but in KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge will increase the productive powers of all laborers, the ‘Knowledge Industry’ will not only broker knowledge itself to the world, but it will also sell products and services whose design is knowledge-intensive that their superiority must inevitably claim a large proportion of world markets.”

Feigenbaum concludes that humanity is at the beginning of another major computer revolution. He says the focus of this future revolution will be KNOWLEDGE, and Knowledge and Information are not the same: “Knowledge is information that has been pared, shaped, interpreted, selected, and transformed.”

I agree there is another revolution coming, and it is Knowledge focused. But then we differ, I believe it will be a ‘human’ revolution rather than ‘computer’ revolution. Computers will play a major role. However the revolution will be in HUMANS ACCESSING KNOWLEDGE. Evermore humans accessing evermore Information and Knowledge evermore easily.

THE KNOWLEDGE REVOLUTION will occur even more suddenly and explosively than the computer revolution. The computer revolution took 30 years. The KNOWLEDGE REVOLUTION could occur in 5 years. The computer revolution changed our lives a thousand ways. The KNOWLEDGE revolution will change our lives a million ways.

Least Action

Unrestrained access to KNOWLEDGE will link us humans back to our beginnings to the stage of process called light… to the PRINCIPLE OF LEAST ACTION.

‘Life’ continuously seeks efficiency. It achieves this through its continuous seeking of the ‘path of least action’. This phenomena of Universe is a driving force of Life’s evolution. It is the power behind man’s progress–the biological reason for the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the communications revolution, the computer revolution, and now the Knowledge revolution.

The ‘Knowing ‘ utility will allow us to apply the principle of least action to human social organization. This principle has always been the pathway of successful survival for life. And now it can serve as our pathway to universal human success.

Instant electronic access to Knowledge assures the path of least action and this allows all humans to accomplish their goals in the shortest possible time. When ‘Knowledge and Information’ are integrated with a communications system, they are most available. The path of least action is assured.

And if man teaches himself how to become “one” with universe then he has got it made. He has reached a level of process that is far beyond any other level of process known. The KNOWLEDGE REVOLUTION will enable him to understand how to become ‘one’ with universe. It will ‘edutain’ him on how to become ‘one’ with the pine trees, the streams, the rivers, the wind, the rain, the next door neighbor, the Russian worker, the Japanese industrialist.

As the Japanese have proclaimed with their 5th Generation Project, imagine a world where ‘INFORMATION PERVADES THE SOCIETY LIKE THE AIR’. Let us further imagine a culture WHERE KNOWLEDGE FLOWS FROM A TAP LIKE WATER–only the tap is the path of least action–the electromagnetic transmission of Knowledge-Information. The tap is the KNOWING utility.

The agricultural revolution provided us cheap food; the industrial revolution cheap power; the communications revolution cheap transportation of information; the computer revolution cheap information distribution and calculation. And now the KNOWLEDGE REVOLUTION can provide us with cheap SUCCESS.”

General Description

An INTERACTIVE KNOWLEDGE-COMMUNICATION-TRANSMISSION SYSTEM could develop into the largest service industry on this planet within a few short years. Operated in the style of a ‘utility’, this system would provide continuous on-line services to millions and eventually billions of subscribers. The service must be powerful, useful, highly intelligent, and inexpensive. The focus in this proposal has been Knowledge, but the system of necessity requires powerful ‘state of the art’ communications technology as well.

In the beginning the subscriber will receive requested services over interactive ‘Help’ terminals. These will evolve to become evermore attractive and easy to use. Eventually most homes would have several of them. Mobile versions will be soon created for people on the move, as well as ‘Help’ booths for general use in public places.

The knowing utility must keep a careful profile of each user in order to continuously modify itself for maximum efficiency. It is always seeking to reduce the number of commands it must process. It is programmed to minimize the user’s efforts. It too will always seek the path of least action. If you ask for your newspaper, it will remember which newspaper you usually want. It will know you through your requests. It will learn to have your frequently requested items immediately available. It will anticipate your needs. It will seek always to become the most efficient and inexpensive path to Knowledge.

The ‘Knowing’ utility will be INTELLIGENT. This means it will ‘KNOW’ you. It will ‘know’ your family. It will ‘know’ which member of the house is using it. It will ‘know’ when a stranger is using it. It becomes intelligent in its duties of serving the user. It keeps a record of every request. A pattern of probability occurs. If the pattern is broken the user may not be who they claim to be. Security is assured as the system will simply query for password identification, whenever usage changes. Eventually the system could recognize your typing style, or with voice-controlled terminals maybe even your ‘voice’.

Once a user accesses the ‘Knowing’ utility through a ‘Help’ terminal, he enters a world of opportunities. Opportunities for help which could lead anywhere and eventually may lead just about everywhere.

Read the complete 1984 description of The Knowing Utility.