Open Science Platforms: Chime In!26 min read
Creativity has been a unique competence of the biological brain for a very long time. Despite our belief in machine-facilitated creativity, we are sure that human ingenuity also requires the breakdown of mental models that is often well supplied by another human being. Albeit being a very speculative idea, we think that Archai must provide for two platforms that invigorate congenial collaboration and open exchange of information across the confines of established academic disciplines and other frontiers.
Moreover, these platforms will help in creating a shared consciousness for the challenges that we are confronted with—be they in technology development, reaching out to people and businesses, finance, policy-making, or any other craft that must be mastered for finding that comprehensive solution to the problem of climate change.
As we said, the notion of Open Science Platforms is a fluid concept. So please engage in shaping these floors on which our debates will be staged and help develop the means and methods that will foster our interaction! Essentially, we want you to not only build these platforms but also to maintain them and, finally, play on them.
Invite Everyone—Give Them Everything
An open attitude towards the scientific endeavor may provide a remedy to many of the factors that currently thwart viable solutions and deployable applications for mitigating the risks associated with climate change. We believe that only the most radical forms of openness suffice in an environment where scientific progress must generate real impact fast.
Specifically, we want to enforce two types of openness through our Open Science Platforms.
First, participatory openness means the attitude of welcoming every single human being if she or he is generous enough to contribute to the sustainment of an Enjoyable Planet Earth and capable of doing so one way or another. Such inclusiveness allows for harnessing those remote ideas that would go unnoticed in the hierarchical mechanisms of traditional academia, and it is the only means that genuinely pays into building a workforce of the vast dimension we require.
Second, information openness is a no-brainer. Giving everybody access to all the information at all times allows for the collective to sort through the entirety of ideas at a terrific speed to quickly identify those approaches that deserve further development. The maxim of cumulative knowledge-gain really only works well enough and fast enough if everybody has a chance to know everything, always. To receive valuable contributions, we must give every single biological or artificial brain the opportunity to be fully immersed in a problem-solving task and decide independently on the exact spot at which it can best unfold its capacity.
Building Intellectual Relations and Emotional Bonds
We can only speculate on what it takes to meet these standards of pervasive openness. In an attempt to merely lay the foundation, we think that Archai must provide for two platforms that invigorate congenial collaboration and open exchange of information across the confines of established academic disciplines and other frontiers.
In a concerted fashion, the Agora platform and the Pnyx platform might serve the purpose of navigating the way through the “gazillion” approaches and alternative aiming points towards a bold agenda for our research and deployment activities. These two platforms, as envisaged currently, are intended to be the main stages for general discourse and decision-making for all of our research and deployment activities. Moreover, these platforms will help in creating the shared consciousness we alluded to above.
Consequently, Agora and Pnyx play pivotal roles in building not only intellectual relations but also emotional bonds. Shared consciousness relies on both, but it is the feelings first and foremost that build trust and reinforce purpose. In that regard, purely intellectual connections are of no avail. We need platforms that cater to mutual understanding and felt appreciation. And we need you to utilize these platforms and chime in!
Agora: A Virtual Marketplace of Ideas
Modeled in the Spirit of the Athenian Public Space
Agora will be an online platform for concept generation and critical acclaim. The point of Agora is to amass and qualify a large array of initial ideas and build novel approaches upon this stock. There should be no prerequisite on neither the scope nor the level of sophistication of an idea. A contributor to Agora is free to put forth an idea that he has contemplated for some time, but that he has not yet been able to conceptualize fully. Or she might present the conclusion of an in-depth investigation into a specific subject matter and ask for qualified critique and further development. Hence, one post to Agora may be of a very general kind, such as a proposition to one of our Ground Initiatives at the systems level (e.g., I propose the installation of solar power systems in space with wireless transmission of electricity to Earth—and this is why), whereas another piece may address an approach to solve a distinct problem that turned up within a peripheral stream of one of our research endeavors.
Modeled in the spirit of the Athenian public space dedicated to conducting a large variety of democratic and popular acts, the Agora platform is intended to be a sphere of vivid and fast-paced discourse in the most liberal manner possible. We envision Agora as a virtual marketplace of ideas where people can stroll about and might suddenly get caught up in an argument of their interest, shouting out a mere opinion or contributing some highly qualified knowledge. Beyond weighing in on an ongoing course of deliberation, everyone is invited to either start a new argument or, on the opposite side of the spectrum of involvement, to just sit on the sidelines and watch the turbulence unfold.
The following describes our aspiration as to what Agora should bring about and how this platform is intended to work. We also offer some hints and specific scenarios on how you could accelerate your work through Agora.
At the Core of Agora
- Generate as many ideas as possible;
- build upon existing ideas by extending and enriching;
- give room to guessing; the feasibility of an idea is not the critical issue at this stage of elaboration;
- use your imagination with no restraints; there is (almost) no structure to be followed (The only structure to be followed is the one we put in place for posting those initial guesses from which further elaboration may commence. Of course, we are going to develop rules of engagement, which will then apply to all of our open-discourse spheres);
- just write along;
- play with your thoughts and those of others;
- find patterns and connect.
How Agora Is Intended to Work
What we are trying to implement as the technological foundation for Agora is very much inspired by the structural setup used for mathematical problem-solving under the Polymath Project initiative. Consequently, we offer a digital platform on which to stage an open discourse. It is through this blog-like engine that initial guesses on how to tackle one of our Ground Initiatives or on how to solve any other problem that we might encounter on our research and deployment expedition will be proposed and refined. While an initial guess takes the form of a blog-post introducing the core of an idea, refinement will take place throughout the sequence of comments that follow the introductory post. In that sense, Agora represents the canvas on which impetus and inquisitive elaboration come together. It is the marketplace for trading ideas and developing and substantiating novel approaches for solving problems—large and small, general and specific.
As the open and informal style of posting and commenting encourages a rapid-fire dialogue (which is what we want), you are well advised to maintain a high level of attendance if you wish to participate in the idea generation process actively. Except for one fixed structural layer that separates our Ground Initiatives into distinct forums (currently, there would be one forum dedicated to Super Powers and a second forum devoted to Bounce Back), every participant is invited to suggest structural adaptations to the discourse as need arises. For example, you may cut a dominant thread out of an ongoing discussion and open up an entirely new post focusing on a particular facet of that original thread.
Beyond the blog-like engine, there is an accompanying open-access platform in the nature of a Wiki. An inherent property of a Wiki is to facilitate collaborative build-up and modification of content and structure directly from a web browser. Contrary to the blog-like engine for fast-paced proposal and refinement of ideas, the Wiki is a somewhat static domain. Its principal role is to represent established knowledge, agreed-upon ideas, or longstanding open questions. Furthermore, it is much appreciated if the ongoing discourse is summarized and extracted from the discussion blogs on a regular basis here. For everyone who is not actively engaged in a particular blog centering on a specific idea but still wants to throw in a thought or ask a question, it will be of immense help if progress reports are published on a regular basis and brief outlooks on the intended further proceedings are given from time to time. Also, the Wiki may serve as a repository for presenting more extended lines of thought, for listing and linking additional material such as research papers or datasets, and for externalizing other information that is not suitably placed within the comment section of a blog. Despite its more static nature (compared to the blog), we invite everyone to edit the content and structure of any page and to create new pages within the Wiki-platform if required. You must know, however, that such work-ups will not be prepared by an Archai operative or other administrative assistant—in fact, there are no operatives and administrative assistants! This task, as with all of the other intellectual work, must be accomplished by the people who ruminate on a particular issue and elaborate on it via Agora.
The Agora blog and Wiki are not intended to be carefully crafted websites created by designers and professional writers for the general audience. Instead, both the blog and the Wiki seek to involve the highly interested visitor and user in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration. It is the evolutionary nature of that process that will bring constant changes to the websites’ content and landscape.
Your Ideation Journey on Agora
Remember, the Agora platform is a hypothetic model on how we might improve the ideation process through collaboration and open exchange of information (just as the Pnyx platform is, the basic concept of which we are sketching out below). What follows are not steps that you can pursue to make an entry into Agora today. There is nothing there! Instead, we aim at stimulating a debate on how the procedure to get involved into Agora might look like by providing a concrete starting point here. These are our thoughts on how your ideation journey might unfold on the platform:
Register to become part of the Band of Mavericks. By providing the required information and creating a personal account, you allow us to get to know you a bit better. Having a good feeling for your particular skills provides us the ability to actively reach out to you if we are stuck with a problem that we think might benefit from your expertise. Knowing what you are particularly good at will also allow your peers to invite you to contribute to solving a particular problem. However, do not worry: You are always free to choose whether or not you would like to accept such an invitation. If you prefer to opt out, that is not a problem at all. In this case, we entirely leave it up to you to decide in which problem-solving attempts you want to engage. After all, it should be you embracing a problem that fits your true abilities rather than us trying to fit you into a problem-solving attempt by surmising on your skills.
Start an idea by asking yourself “What if…?” (For example: “What if we could install solar power systems in space and transmit the energy we generate there to Earth wirelessly?”) In addition to guessing out of the blue, building on nothing more than a childish spark of enthusiasm (which is a great thing to do, do not get us wrong) you might also build upon an existing idea that carries a high latent yield from your perspective but seems to be misjudged by a majority for some reason. In this case, your starting point would be to ask yourself “What if there is something to that neglected idea of a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor after all?” and you could go forward by trying to follow from the ground up the original proposal and the arguments that lead to its defeat.
Whether you are guessing out of the blue or building upon a preexisting idea, at the stage of asking “What if…?” it is important that you find the right level of scrutiny. You must know how much delving into your proposal is demanded from yourself before publishing your hypothesis on Agora. Be sure to not get knocked out by the first counter-argument. On the other hand, if your confidence is substantiated well enough, go ahead with proposing an idea that will be dismissed as “just silly” by 90 percent of the population. Given that you are the one who has taken the trouble of pre-assessing the idea while the 90 percent have not, there is probably some value to your thoughts—so let us know about these!
Characterize and qualify your idea by telling everyone “This is what I know!” (For example: “In the 1960s and 1970s a bunch of guys at Oak Ridge National Laboratory actually operated a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) that fulfilled, even back then, the task of generating immense amounts of power by using a much abundant power source at practically no risk.” More on LFTRs can be found in this chapter of our outline on the Super Powers ground initiative.) Here, you make the case for your idea as well as you can. Put together everything you have learned on your personal journey, through the “What if…?” phase. You do not need to be an eminent scientist to properly promote your idea—although you can be one. Accordingly, you may argue from a passionate layman’s perspective and describe why your particular idea is of such great appeal. Alternatively, you make your case from an expert’s standpoint by relying on theoretical foundations and by providing some evidence in an easily accessible form. Either way, make sure your line of argument is always succinct while remaining precise. You may want to involve the arguments you came across while talking to your friends or during a conversation with a scientist. In general, you are invited to point to a wide range of sources, from YouTube videos to peer-reviewed journal articles and from anecdotal evidence to your very own inferential reasoning. Always make sure to provide some reference material that will help you to make your case.
You will also be asked to qualify your proposal regarding Archai’s broader vision, and you will have to affirm that is compliant with our core beliefs of holism and essentiality. Accordingly, you should be prepared to explain why you consider your plan to be a “game-changer” in the race against climate change. Of course, your idea must contribute to the realization of one of our Ground Initiatives, and it is definitely necessary to point out how that is going to happen. Remember, for your idea to gain traction you need to inspire others on as many fronts as possible by providing a vivid and comprehensible notion of your idea.
Perpetuate the idea generation process by using your “Yes, and…!”-impulses (For example: “Yes, and the cost of building such a Thorium Reactor should not exceed the price of a commercial aircraft, say an Airbus A380 in order to not corrupt the business case at the level of capital expenditures already.”) In this phase, the actual spreading takes place of the mental activation you may have instigated within yourself and within others. It does not matter if it is an action potential that sparked from your imagination or one that got fired off by someone else: Be sure to participate in this extend-and-enrich stage as intensely and as explicitly as you can.
For one, it is a gratifying thing to see your own idea blossom in the hands of others (or rather, in their minds), and the same applies to them putting their ideas into your eager hands. Such a metamorphosis of an idea will only happen with many people putting intense efforts into crafting a solid concept from a vague thought. That is not an easy task. You will know what it takes for the power of collective intelligence to unfold when you participate in it. You will then also realize its potential to augment your own modest thoughts, and you will understand that your effort is very well worth it because it will lift you to heights that you cannot attain on your own. Much like a stone carver taking a piece of rock and turning it into a thing that resonates well with the sensual world, the crowd will take your idea and turn it into a concept that blends perfectly into the requirements of the real world. Of course, your proposal relates to a block of marble rather than an unsightly piece of rock—no question about that! Nevertheless, by ever trying to improve even a thing of great inherent beauty, a gifted stone carver will always be able to add extra beauty to a block of marble.
For another, someone out there may be able to lock in his or her idea exactly into your chunk of creativity. That symbiosis, however, will not happen until you make that chunk accessible by writing it down or describing it by any means suitable to you. So, perpetuating the idea generation process requires you to make intense use of your “Yes, and…!”-impulses and it asks you to make these impulses explicit. Do not hold back your intuition and come forth with the extravagant argument because on Agora, vividness of discourse comes before factual precision. The least quality we aspire to at this stage is academic rigor. What we need is playfulness (read the brief note on our belief in playfulness here).
Pnyx: Real-World Forums for the Convergence of Concepts
Inspired by the Ancient Athenians’ Popular Assembly
Pnyx is the stage on which our real-world forums take place. Contrary to Agora, which is a virtual space, Pnyx is set to host those interactions that require eye contact and putting a hand on the shoulder of your collaborator. In essence, each Pnyx serves the purpose of converging on the multitude of proposals and qualified initial guesses that have been pre-elaborated on Agora (and elsewhere) and striving toward real attempts at a solution.
We are convinced that online discourse is a marvelous tool when it comes to rapid idea generation and critical acclaim. However, there must be a place where these loosely crafted notions are consolidated and solidified by discussing them face to face. Pnyx is that place for the convergence of concepts in a real-world setting.
Inspired by the gathering location used by the ancient Athenians for their Popular Assembly, the Archai version of Pnyx conduces to a proponent making a case for one concept or another and expose it to the examination of the crowd. Notwithstanding, the goal is to tighten things up in order to prepare a proposal for subsequent decision-making. Mere disputation does not suffice. We require each Pnyx to provide for directional advice and guidance.
The following describes how a Pnyx works and it particularly hints to what your role could be when it comes to driving the Pnyx-series of events.
At the Core of a Pnyx
- Build upon the proposals and qualified initial guesses that have been presented and pre-processed on Agora and elsewhere;
- sample elements of these ideas and re-assemble them as needed to build new ones;
- substantiate and qualify the ideas on factual grounds;
- dive deep as regards a proposal’s evaluation to strengthen points of consensus and resolve points of discord;
- aim at converging towards a common ground of a bold nature;
- decide on the path forward.
How a Pnyx Is Intended to Work
As soon as we feel the need for a real-world gathering to arise from the state of discourse on Agora or elsewhere, we (that includes you!) may call for a Pnyx. Personal encounters, as opposed to online interactions, taking place at these events will allow us to elaborate on points of consensus and points of discord more collaboratively and passionately. Apart from that, it will help in shaping a shared consciousness.
We provide for an open-access event series taking place in venues around the world. In each of these events, we will host a variety of sessions that range from focus group talks to interactive plenary meetings. If required, there will also be such things as expert talks, Q&A sessions, workshops, live demonstrations (e.g., of prototypes), site visits, fireside chats, and many more chances to learn and build relationships. Social interactions aside, we will make sure to have our eyes on the prize, meaning that we will facilitate precisely those encounters that serve the purpose of fortifying and sharpening the current state of reflection and that will allow us to converge toward an agreed-upon yet still bold agenda for research and deployment.
As a collective, we will be responsible for all of the preparatory work that precedes every single Pnyx. The events are going to be uninspiring if the planning fails to provide for a definite and unambiguous goal. In one way or another, the goal must always be to clarify on one distinct part of the way forward for Archai. We may even want to come up with some memorandum of understanding that concludes with a bold declaration on “what we will do (or not do) to provide for an Enjoyable Planet Earth.” It is important to recognize that preparing for all of the event sessions must be conducted with the ultimate intention in mind of gaining a major commitment to Archai’s course.
A Pnyx is not your average committee meeting—it is more like a conclave (albeit with an open-access character instead of a secretive one)—aimed at straightening out core elements that make for a significant portion of our activities. In that sense, each Pnyx is explicitly goal-oriented and open-ended in terms of the time it takes to come to a conclusion.
The Pnyx-series is intended to serve as a platform for converging and acting upon concepts that have been developed online on the Agora platform, or on any other platform of idea generation and knowledge development associated with Archai. Effectively, there will always be some preexisting knowledge and a high level of shared understanding accompanying a proposal that enters the stage of being further discussed at Pnyx. Your participation in one of the events requires you to be reasonably familiar with an idea’s evolutionary path and current state. Please avoid denigrating intellectual or practical progress coming from the disregard of the work that has already gone into developing the foundations of an idea.
If you wish to contribute to the discourse at a Pnyx in a productive way, it is always best to make sure you have already engaged in the preceding dialogue. If you did not have the chance to engage actively, please make sure to acquaint yourself with the line of reasoning that has led to the proposal of an idea and learn about any unresolved or disputed issues that may have emerged so far.
Have Your Say through the Pnyx-Series of Events
Again, akin to the Agora platform, the Pnyx-series of events is a hypothetic model on how we might improve the ideation process. We imagine to resolve disputes and get to decisions. What follows is merely a conjecture on those phases that might lead up to an event. The key idea here is that it is all about the participants—you—to initiate and stage a Pnyx. These are meetings that emerge from a perceived desire to “get together and sort things out,” rather than being fixtures on an annual plan. These are our thoughts on how you can have your say through the platform:
Decide upon your participation in an event. This may sound like a natural thing to do, but it is not! We tend to think that our potential Pnyx attendee might be way too reluctant to commit to participation. But we need you at whatever event you think you might contribute productively. Do not be a waverer. Be bold! When you commit to attending one or multiple Pnyx events, it may make sense for you to pick those events with agendas that resonate well with you. It is important to realize that the Pnyx-series is not about creating zoned bodies of experts. Even though your professional knowledge is a reliable guide for deciding upon your participation in an event, your mere intuition for a particular event to be exactly the place where you should be is an indicator for your legitimate opt-in that is just as strong as your subject matter expertise. It may also come somewhat naturally for you to attend those events that focus on an emerging idea that you helped craft on Agora or through any other means of collective intelligence. You may even be part of a working group that identifies the need to conduct a Pnyx, in which case you craft a preliminary agenda and you maybe even offer to host an event. Most probably, your personal participation is an undisputed thing in that case.
Help design the event agenda. Usually, the outline of any given instantiation of the Pnyx-series is contrived by a bonded group of people. Building on their preliminary work and current state of thinking, they suggest staging an event with the intention of amending their constrained views and zone in on the future path to be taken. That suggestion implies the sketching of a preliminary agenda. Naturally, such an agenda would only reflect the convictions of its creators and, accordingly, be skewed towards their talents and areas of expertise. To conceive of a truly productive event, these initiators rely on your input as to what you think should be covered in their event too. Therefore, you must make use of your particular talents and listen to your expertise to suggest modifications to the intended course of a particular event. The value of your attendance in an event will be amplified if you have a hand in the design of the final agenda. That goes for every participant. Each event as a whole would produce much more meaningful results if a variety of people contributed to crafting its agenda. To make your voice heard in the design of a final agenda, go to the Wiki-page of your selected Pnyx event and put your propositions up for review by the collective.
Attend and make sure we converge toward executable insights of a bold nature. First, let us say that attendance does not necessarily mean that you are there in person. As much as we would like to see as many of us as possible interacting at a personal level, we do know that it is not always feasible to travel from, say, Vosyakhovo (a truly remote village in the Ural Mountains of Russia)) to Copenhagen to attend a specific Pnyx. If you are unable to make it to an event in person, you may still engage by participating live online.
Whether you are there in person or as your “digital avatar,” make sure you bring your very best to collectively satisfy our ambition to converge towards executable insights of bold nature. These insights may come in many different shapes, however. In one case a decision may have to be made on a particular technical issue with a prototype machine, whereas in another case a coherent research map must be fixed in order to consolidate and direct our forces in one direction. Also, bringing your best means multiple things at once. It means to come with the best of your intentions to indulge in a collective endeavor rather than trying to push your own convictions through against all reason. Argue hard for your ideas, but do acknowledge the directive power of the collective. Bringing your best also means bringing plenty of optimism and willpower. After all, we will not be satisfied with your average “compromise of committees,” but we strive for the bold approach that takes much courage and maybe even a trace of naivety. Of course, bringing your best also means offering all of your talent and expertise and being an enjoyable person. That is what we want from you!
What We Need Now
This has been quite an act of imagination. Neither Agora nor Pnyx is a platform that exists in real life—these are concepts, propositions, visions. That is what we can offer; plus strong confidence in the creative potential that resides in traditional person-to-person interaction.
We cherish the progressive mind, we are eager to make change happen faster, and we know that technology will revolutionize the way we collaborate. But collective intelligence will not be of great value if we miss cultivating a shared consciousness. We must keep a balance between creativity that is facilitated by machines an human ingenuity that relies on fellow humans engaging in a non-linear, deductive act of creation. We must maintain some creative anarchy. And platforms like Agora and Pnyx may stage that chaos.
If you know of more thoughtful ways to design open science platforms or if you can provide for a testbed to implement something close to Agora or Pnyx, then please reach out to us. Let us talk about objectives, procedures, technologies, legal constraints and other pitfalls, rules for participation, etc. There is a lot to be figured out. But we have to start somewhere. Maybe you can make that start.
More of Collective Intelligence
This is about you and everybody else. This is about the individuals that can—collectively—unleash a force so powerful that it will uplift us to conquering even the most intricate problems.
The one ultimate building block for any knowledge-centered venture relying on the effort of a collective is the vast number of people participating. We call this collective of individuals, working groups, and other organizational entities the Community of Gifted Minds.