The Knowledge Expo

The Knowledge Expo

(With the scientific consulting of the Italian Systems Society, and the Macy Conferences as a template).

A series of ten conferences was held in New York in 1946, sponsored by the Macy Foundation and chaired by Warren McCulloch. These conferences are known today as the Macy Conferences. Among the participants there were Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Norbert Wiener, John von Neuman and Heinz von Foerster. The first conference was particularly salient and worked out as follows:

The opening speech was delivered by Von Neuman, who described the fundamental architecture of digital computers (yet to be produced).

The next speaker was Wiener, who illustrated the concept of feed-back and, thus, officially founded cybernetics.

The conference was wrapped up by Bateson and Mead, who envisaged a dialogue between the new cybernetic science and the social sciences.

The Macy Conferences were arguably one of the past century’s most intense, encapsulating and forward-thinking events, and triggered an impressive flourishing of innovation.

The Knowledge Expo in practice

The Knowledge Expo can be achieved at several in-depth levels. It could also become a recurring event, beginning in Milan in 2011 and then taking place elsewhere around the world in 2012, 2013, 2014, before returning finally to Milan to be a part of the 2015 Expo. Here, we would like to illustrate what might be a week-long edition – a template which could be reiterated each year until 2015.

What’s in the Knowledge Expo

We have designed the content of this week-long event using a “Source-Use Circular Matrix”.

By “Source” we mean any model and metaphor coming from the different knowledge areas and from system sciences themselves. These models and metaphors are crucial contributions to a new vision of the world – a world which should encapsulate every single ground-breaking new element.

By “Use” we mean any human system which contributes to the creation of a new society and which should be redesigned on the basis of the new vision of science and of the world originating from the encapsulation of the Sources.

The matrix we have described is “circular” in that the relation between Sources and Uses is not linear, i.e. from Sources to Uses. The opposite is in fact true as well: Uses can lead to the discovery of new Sources, i.e. new models and new metaphors.

The “Sources” of the new models and metaphors that will constitute the new vision of the world could be the following:

  • Physics and mathematics
  • Biology, evolution and neurosciences
  • Human sciences
  • Complexity and system science
  • Philosophy and aesthetics as an encapsulating category
  • Religions as social “software”

“Uses”, i.e. the human systems that should be redesigned on the basis of the new vision of science and of the world originating from the encapsulation of the Sources, are:

  • Technological and virtual systems
  • Micro- and macro-agents
  • Social agents and systems
  • Political, institutional and regulatory agents and systems
  • Psychic, biological and ecological systems
  • Urban and infrastructural systems

Executing the Expo

The Expo days could each be split into two parts. Mornings might be dedicated to exploring a knowledge Source, afternoons to a Use. The exploration could be carried out by means of a carefully designed round-table conference. The participants could be asked to make their own vision of their respective knowledge areas available in advance. An editorial board could prepare a draft to be made available at least a month in advance and published on a dedicated website. The round-table conference would feature individual speeches, a presentation of the draft and comments from the participants and from the audience members, who should sign up in advance in order to speak.

The outcome

The Expo’s outcome could be a multimedia, hypertext artefact based on ideographic semantic maps; this would make it possible to take advantage of all the cognitive potential of Web Technologies and make the content available on the Internet.

We believe the outcome could also be made into a story. The story could be freely interpreted, just as with any form of art. It could be made into a play, a movie, etc.

The artefact, the story and whatever else stems from the Expo must become the new society’s first works of art.

The artefact should describe the new vision of the world and should act as the groundwork for a new society. It would be a detailed vision of the world, running in parallel with new ideas for governing and developing human systems.

What to expect

As we mentioned, the fundamental result of the Knowledge Expo would be to provide the inspiration, the language, the metaphors and the reference framework necessary to design a radically new and effective solution to the food problem. Indeed, the Expo’s ground-breaking innovation would be bound to make the 2015 Expo the ideal place and context where to first effectively implement this solution.

Should it fail to refer to a new vision of science and of the world, the 2015 Expo will run the risk of becoming a rhetorical sounding board for current academic thought, thus killing the chance to shape a new idea fretting to burst forth with increased exposure and driving force. Obviously, the ground-breaking content would also translate into commercial success for the 2015 Expo.

Since the Knowledge Expo could be organized as soon as this coming spring, Milan could quickly become the manifest hotbed for the development of a new society, not only because it would issue its basic project language but also because of its unique end product. As we mentioned, the Expo would include new ideas for governing and developing human systems. Hence, Milan could become the birthplace of a new generation of enterprises able to develop new ideas for governing and developing human systems. These enterprises might put forward business innovation ideas and thus open the gates to world-wide development.

For a concrete image

While the development of the industrial society was led by companies producing objects (hardware) and the development of the “intermediate” society by companies producing and distributing software, as it were, the development of the coming knowledge society will be led by companies that develop and propose methods and services for managing the development of human systems, i.e. companies producing “methodware” and able to inject new life into companies producing hardware and software. The leading countries (the local communities) will be the ones that will foster the development of this type of company. A far cry from a hunt for competition…

In short and with a dash of emotion, Milan could become the fertile ground for culture and a new society; it could be the stage of the Expo and could encourage the realization of a new philosophy and food practice, acting also as an agent providing the whole world the “secrets” (the tools: a new generation of services) to building development. Once again, Milan can be the star of a forthcoming Renaissance.

Partners we can envisage

Science and knowledge are the focus of countless initiatives. Their contribution is crucial but their scope is limited – the spreading of specific knowledge areas, from economy to mathematics to philosophy. All the organisations behind these events could become partners to the Knowledge Expo, which does not wish to be their competitor but rather a place that gathers, fosters and adds value to individual initiatives. Major international foundations and private firms could also join in.