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Future and Emerging Technologies

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Universal Information Ecosystems (UIE)
Proactive Initiative 1999

Objectives of the Initiative

Current trends show that the amount of social and, above all, economic activity that will be taking place through or within the global information infrastructure will be so large that there will be not only a dependence on that infrastructure but also an overwhelming demand for its effectiveness and efficiency in varied and unpredictable situations as yet unknown. Paradoxically, while the power of this infrastructure largely stems from the sheer size of information and the range of activities it supports, this very size and complexity will make it unwieldy to harness when it comes to meeting the specific needs of particular individuals or organisations. This problem will only become greater as the environment continues to grow both in size and in scope.

Harvesting all the potential benefits of such an information infrastructure will require realising a vision which goes well beyond incremental extrapolations of current technological paradigms.

The Universal Information Ecosystems (UIE) proactive initiative is aimed at exploring and validating new technologies and scenarios that can turn the complex information infrastructure as it is emerging today into a rich, adaptive, responsive and truly open environment.

UIE stems from the vision of an emerging information "ecosystem" that constantly scales up or down, evolves and adapts in order to best meet the changing demands of its vast and highly dynamic population of "infohabitants 1 " (for which it is not unreasonable to think of trillions). The benefit would be an environment that supports the dynamic creation of new types of relations and activities and, in doing so, creates value and degrees of scalability, sustainability and robustness that are well beyond what can be envisaged today.

Examples of the main features that could be envisaged in this information ecosystem are

  • Openness and Universality: the seamless accommodation of new types of infohabitants, domains of discourse and activity and evolution of existing ones.
  • Scalable: the ability of the ecosystem to scale up or down according to the ever changing needs of a dynamic population of infohabitants.
  • Timeliness and relevance: the ecosystem behaves in such a way that, at any point in time, each and every infohabitant is aware of those opportunities in the environment that are relevant to its objectives and activities.
  • Adapting to changing conditions: ecosystems imply continuous reacting and adjusting to changing conditions, e.g. through the decentralized creation, deletion, evolution, migration, recombination, reorganisation of infohabitants and/or through the activation of self-stabilising mechanisms.
  • Realising objectives and intentions: the environment will allow the knowledge and capabilities of every single infohabitant to be enhanced and dynamically recombined with that of others in both an effective and efficient manner to satisfy the objectives and intentions of the individuals, groups or organisations on whose behalf they operate.

To achieve this vision will require radical restructuring and insight across a range of relevant research areas. Success is expected to depend on taking a broad and interdisciplinary perspective, pulling together expertise from disciplines as diverse as for example, life sciences, distributed systems, software engineering, computational logic, artificial intelligence and human computer interaction as well as economics, organisational theory or fundamental social science. By breaking across traditional boundaries, the initiative also expects to help foster the creation of a new trend-setting research community to lead Europe to the forefront of this multidisciplinary area.

Scope and Research Challenges

UIE seeks projects that explore novel paradigms aimed at addressing subsets of the (interrelated) challenges relevant to this initiative, and is particularly keen on research efforts that do so in an interdisciplinary manner. While the list below attempts to outline some of these research challenges, it is only illustrative and in no way prescriptive or exhaustive:

  • "Scalability": Cutting across all the research challenges is the issue of scalability. UIE seeks to take a bold view of scalability requirements, as it envisions an environment able to scale up or down to best meet the demands of a population that could consist of trillions of infohabitants.
  • "Openness and Universality": The success of the emerging information ecosystem will depend on its ability to seamlessly accommodate the introduction of new types of infohabitants and evolution of existing ones (e.g. through creation of new services) and, in the process, helping to fulfil the changing needs and participatory requirements of its population.
    As the population of infohabitants evolves and as new activities, services, interactions and domains of discourse emerge in the ecosystem, new concepts and new language requirements can be expected to arise. Communication mechanisms as well as models used by infohabitants to reason about themselves and others will need to be amenable to evolution.
  • "Sensing the Environment": For infohabitants to strive in the emerging ecosystem and be able to adapt to changing conditions, they need to be selectively aware of the demands and opportunities generated by others. An important set of research issues stems from the need to develop decentralized mechanisms, models and paradigms that allow the ecosystem to dynamically reorganize itself in order to facilitate the flow of information and effectively help each and every infohabitant "sense" those changes in the environment that are most relevant to its activities/objectives at any particular point in time.
  • "Adaptation": Ecosystems imply continuous reacting and adjusting to changing conditions. It is about infohabitants modifying their behaviour or the services they offer, setting up new relations with others, migrating, creating new infohabitants to satisfy new needs or respond to new opportunities, deciding they are no longer useful etc. This also ties into issues such as modeling the drivers of change and adaptation in the ecosystem, which will typically vary from one infohabitant to another.
    Adaptation processes include recognizing situations in which change is necessary, determining what needs to be changed, what can be changed, how to change it, with whom, etc. It also includes researching computation models and paradigms that facilitate sharing, reuse and recombination of the knowledge and expertise of infohabitants.
  • "Self-Stabilising Mechanisms/Ecosystem Preservation": Another set of important issues relates to what kinds of self-regulating or self-stabilising mechanisms would characterize a large-scale information ecosystem with a complex, unpredictable dynamics such as the one envisioned. For example, this could possibly include the exploration of mechanisms to help the system rid itself of harmful behaviours, or mechanisms to help "recycle"" entities that have become obsolete, etc. The balance between the complexity of the behaviour of the individual entity and the complexity of the behaviour of the ecosystem is likely to have an impact on the "stability" of the system as a whole.
  • "Capturing and realising objectives/intentions". To effectively operate in the emerging ecosystem and take full advantage of it, individuals and organizations will increasingly need help. They will need to delegate tasks to autonomous or semi-autonomous infohabitants within the environment. This in turn entails a number of research challenges:
    • Capturing the intents/objectives of people and organizations in a dynamic and de-centralized way: The focus is on the development of underlying models amenable to capturing, learning, sharing and reusing knowledge about the objectives, the preferences of people and organizations and the constraints under which infohabitants operate as they change over time. The difficulty of capturing this knowledge is compounded by the need to minimize the amount of time required from people/organizations (e.g. through incremental learning, re-use and sharing of this knowledge) .
    • Enabling these infohabitants to autonomously or semi-autonomously satisfy the objectives of their owners. This includes the ability to cooperate, coordinate, negotiate and self-organize with others as well the development of models (economical, social, etc..) to drive these activities.
      Note that UIE is about the underlying models for capturing and realising objectives and needs, rather than the development of new interface technologies.
  • "An Environment that promotes trust": The acceptability and usability of a Universal Information Ecosystem, as envisioned in this initiative, will require the development of novel models and mechanisms capable of flexibly capturing and accommodating the trust requirements of a broad population of infohabitants and its many activities.

Overview main Conclusions & Discussion of UIE Infoday - Brussels 18 March 99

Project Overview & Summaries - UIE projects

ALFEBIITE - A Logical Framework for Ethical Behaviour between Infohabitants in the Information Trading Economy of the Universal Information Ecosystem

DIET - Decentralised Information Ecosystem Technologies

DREAM - Distributed Resource Evolutionary Algorithm Machine

EEII - Evolution and Ecology of Interacting Infohabitants

ICITIES - Information Cities

SLIE - Sustainable Lifecycles in Information Ecosystems

Information Desk

For any questions regarding this proactive initiative please contact:
(email removed)

1 Individuals, organisations, as well as virtual entities acting on their behalf, smart appliances, etc. could be denoted as "infohabitants" of a Universal Information Ecosystem.