**Principia Cybernetica Web (C)**

Author: F. Heylighen

Date: 20 March 1989

Parent Node(s): Network for Complexity Research

New languages and media

The need for new languages

The intimate man-machine interaction sketched above demands an interface or communication medium characterized by extreme user-friendliness, flexibility and efficiency. Also the social and psychological approaches require enhanced methods for communicating and representing knowledge and experience. Expressing complex concepts, problems and relationships requires adapted languages or media, allowing to represent and transfer interrelated, changing and equivocal data in a simple and understandable way.

The technical and formal languages of traditional science appear rather inflexible, restricted and difficult to understand. Moreover the traditional media for storing and communicating scientific knowledge (specialized journals and books, university programs, conferences, ...) will in general only reach a limited public of experts, or people who are prepared to invest a lot of time in order to become an expert.

However, in parallel with the new information and communication technologies, new languages and media are emerging. The high level computer languages mentioned above are used for building expert systems, which make expert knowledge readily available to the public. These systems, however, are still closed, i.e. cannot be used for representing changing or equivocal ideas. A different paradigm is developing, hypermedia, which proposes a much more flexible coding of complex information.


The hypermedia concept has two aspects: the hypertext idea, and the multimedia idea. Hypertext is characterized by a non-linear or non-sequential organization: pieces of text, containing knowledge, are connected to each other by a network of associations or pointers. A reader consulting the text can navigate freely from one piece of information to another, skipping the information (s)he does not need, or already knows.

The expressive power of such a system may be amplified by integrating multiple media or languages in the same coding system. For example, the same system may contain text, graphics, sound, music, video, computer programs, ... [a good example is HyperCard (on the Apple Macintosh computer), a full-blown hypermedia system, which is already available on millions of personal computers.]

A special case is the integration of formal (e.g. mathematics, programs) and informal languages (e.g. verbal language, art), leading to what is called a "double level" language. The formal level allows to express and manipulate the invariant, rule-governed aspects of the problem, the informal level allows to express the variable, experiential and context-dependent aspects. One of the implications is that semiotic categories, such as icons and metaphors, which seemed the province of artists and poets, now form the basis for the design of computer interfaces. The synthesis of art, science and technology does not seem far away.

The knowledge navigator

An extension of the hypertext concept is that of the knowledge navigator (related to Ted Nelson's "Xanadu project"). The starting point is that - thanks to the technology for storage and transfer of information - it now becomes possible to make all the knowledge existing in all the libraries of the world available through one integrated computer network. All these pieces of knowledge can be linked by references and pointers, so that an individual user can navigate through this vast labyrinth of knowledge in order to find anything (s)he needs. It is clear, however, that the navigation and the integration of the collected knowledge requires more than just technology, it demands an elaborated theory of complexity and its manipulation.