“Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I would like to ask you…”

[An imaginary question session]

” Sir Tim Berners-Lee, welcome to Athens and thanks for yet another thought provoking speech about the launch of Web Science as a new scientific discipline. Here are a few questions that propped up in my mind while listening to you:

  1. Hari Seldon, the greatest psychohistorian thet ever lived (well, in Asimov’s mind at least) was able to develop a probabilistic theory of prediction of human behaviour based on the law of large numbers assumption. Can we now say that Web Science, by tapping into collective intelligence, could serve the same goal  in a manner hitherto unknown?
  2. Thomas Kuhn indicated that science progresses via revolutions -the paradigm shifts – which essentially are sudden disruptions of the dominant paradigm, rather than linear progress. Can we say that web science will form a new paradigm and if yes what does it replace?
  3. You said that 10¹¹ is the number of pages on the web today, which is comparable to the number of neurons in the human brain. Since I assume that even a human embryo has the same number of neurons, and that we have over 6bill humans alive today, what does that tell us for the web?
  4. Theory precedes practice. This is a known fact for natural sciences (astronomy being the obvious example). Today, what we observe with the web, is that practice threatens to overthrow old practices and models. So, we either had a theory but didn’t recognize it as such, or a theory is long overdue. Which is true?
  5. It is known that birds fly in flocks by following their peers in their immediate viccinity. Essentially, no single bird has an overall perspective of direction although there must be a Darwinian “higher purpose”. If the web facilitates flocking behaviour, where does the purpose come from? (flock simulator here)
  6. You said that web science must be multidisciplinary. Of course, science does not progress in this way, its applications do. Considering that philosophers are the only true “multidisciplinarists”,  wouldn’t it be more apt to call it WebPhilosophy?
  7. On a practical note about the Open Linked Data project: Do we really need or want access to some ill-designed, botched-up spreadsheet of a bored trainee in the accounting dept of a toothpaste manufacturer? In other words, how do we ensure the credibility of linked data? (or maybe I am missing the point…) “

[Note: On March 18, 2009, Sir Tim Berners-Lee opened the WebSci’09 conference in Athens, an occasion which he considered to be the kick-off for “Web Science”, a new science discipline to be pursued through his WSRI initiative. In the presence of seminal personalities, one is challenged to “rise above water” and this is our greatest gain. Thank you Sir Tom for this wonderful opportunity]. 

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