The Knowledge Engine

Here are some interesting examples of how the Internet is like a big, useful, knowledge engine. Insert query in one end. Let simmer. Extract knowledge.

  • For the past two years I’ve made a hobby of finding retired China Marines for my friend Steve in Thailand. He sends me a name and some sketchy details like “the last time I saw him was in Memphis in 1948” and I spend a couple of weeks hunting around the shockingly voluminous sources of public information about people on the Internet and, with luck, make contact. There are few greater feelings in the world than hunting for a 77 year old Marine, last seen in 1948, and finding him hunkered down in North Carolina (or the woods of Minnesota, or…), giving him a call and telling him that one of his long lost buddies wants to chat. Wow
  • Yesterday I sent two friends, Buzz Bruggeman and Oliver Baker a wacky idea for making WiFi waves visible. I thought it might make a neat event for Pop!Tech. I received back carefully considered thoughts from Oliver on how this might or might not be possible. Buzz posted a note on his weblog (which, in turn, Doc Searls pointed to. I’ve already gotten one interesting response back from Buzz’ network of smart people.
  • In response to my note about airline timetables XML, someone I’ve never met, a guy named Lars Marius Garshol from Oslo, wrote me asking for more data, and offered me help on improving the format of the XML file. I took his advice, sent him an updated file back, and now he’s building some neat thing around it.
  • I ran into Matt Rainnie and his burgeoning family yesterday at the coffee shop; he mentioned that he was going to see Insomina. Inspired by this mention, I decided to go and see it myself. I reported this on my website. Matt read this, and wrote me back offering to lend me a DVD of the Norwegian version of the film.
  • Having something of an obsession with the film Heaven Can Wait, I found that the papers of Harry Segall, who wrote the play the film is based on, are in the collection of the University of Texas at Austin. I sent an email off to a librarian there, and received a very helpful response inviting me down to Austin to examine the papers.

I don’t really think the Internet is anything new in this regard: it’s simply a “performance enhancing drug” for knowledge adventures, making things that would have been so inconvient or unlikely as to be impossible in the pre-Internet world suddenly quite easy, and compressing space and time in the process.



Oliver's picture
Oliver on May 28, 2002 - 08:04 Permalink

But the sad thing about the Web for you, Peter, is that it makes it seem like you’re a guy like everybody else—typing words into Google and whatnot. Whereas we who knew you before e-mail know that you’d put your questions to the Kremlin by phone if you had to—and as you did. Now mere dilettantes like me can follow our curiosity on Rukavinesque excursions, though we lack more than an umpteenth of your moxie. On the plus side, I suppose Gorbachov is more likely to reply to your e-mail than take your phone call.

Olivia Rukavina's picture
Olivia Rukavina on May 29, 2022 - 11:59 Permalink

20 years!