Keynote Speaker :: HCITOCH 2012 :: Prof. Dr. Kim H. Veltman


Beyond an Internet of Things




In the first half of the 20th century, visionaries imagined electronic access to all of human knowledge. The first decades of the Internet (1969-1989) and the WWW (1990-1999), while acknowledging images and multimedia formats, focussed on text and born digital materials. Since 2000, there has been an unprecedented explosion in mobile devices, a trend to digitize existing documents and increasing attention to an internet of things. Ironically, the move towards electronic “bitification” of the world is accompanied by trends towards reification, as if to counterbalance the trends towards the virtual, virtualization, the nano and the invisible.


Some see an upcoming trend towards brain-interfaces, mind interfaces whereby computing as we know it today will soon be obsolete. As a result interface design tends to focus on connecting: a) with an outside world, and b) with an inner world, thoughts. This paper explores the need for another domain for interface design, namely: alternative systems of knowledge.


Scanning an ancient manuscript on astronomy gives us a digital version of an old text, which entails some obvious hurdles: a) knowledge of the ancient language, b) knowledge of palaeography. Translation tools, access to online dictionaries, encyclopeadias of words, symbols, signs, glyphs and letters are necessary but not sufficient tools for understanding. 


Needed are interfaces for earlier systems of thought. To take a simple example: a modern reader of a manuscript on the zodiac who encounters the sign for Pisces, , will think that they have understood the symbol. In the alphabet of the Magi, however, this sign is also linked with letter 19 of the Hebrew alphabet, Quoph, with a gematria value of 100 and with projection, the 12th stage of the alchemical process in the Great Work (magnum opus) leading to an elixir of life, or philosopher’s stone, in both a medicinal and philosophical sense. Many encyclopaedic works from especially from the 12th to the 19th centuries provided visualisations of these earlier systems. New interfaces are needed to make these contexts of knowledge visible and usable as we explore other cultures and civilizations. We need a GIS of the mind, in the sense of products of earlier minds, which helps us see other ways of ordering and understanding.    


To paraphrase the Field of Dreams, current trends assume: scan it and they will come (the “users” of tomorrow). Digital copies, like photocopies, have their uses. But a creative future requires more than copying the past. It requires that we learn to see the records in new ways. An internet of things is a first step. But we also need an internet of no-things: an internet of body, mind and spirit.