In 2016, World Economic Forum (WEF) founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab proclaimed the fourth industrial revolution as a distinct evolution from its predecessor because of the rapid onset of ubiquitous change.

This revolution — the current environment in which disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and the “internet of things,” among others — is profoundly changing the way we live and work.

The complexity and scale of such change have seen the need for new means and approaches to linking intelligence, understanding and specialists at the global level.

Transformation Maps, a collaborative digital tool developed by the WEF available in English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese that harnesses knowledge, charts interactions and analyzes links between industries, countries and issues that are shaping the world, may very well be the platform to do so.

According to Jeremy Jurgens, managing director and head of knowledge and digital engagement at the Swiss-based non-profit, Transformation Maps are certainly a solution made only available because of the accelerated change brought about as part of the current industrial revolution.

Allowing users to contextualize awareness of various topics — cybersecurity will be viewed differently by voters in America, business leaders in the U.K., policymakers in China and educators in the Middle East, for example — the maps use a nodal display to connect the dots between one of 130 core insight topics and its different perspectives.

Jurgens elaborated in a conversation with The Japan Times two weeks after the launch of the Transformation Maps at the WEF’s Annual Meeting of Global Future Councils in late 2017.

“This project is something I’ve always wanted to do. I saw the potential at the WEF because we’re basically a multi-stakeholder network, where you have people coming from different facets of life sharing ideas and thoughts. What happens is that we now actually have tools that allow us to connect these together.”

Jurgens, who has been at the WEF since 1999, after a stint at Microsoft and previously working in Japan for various government ministries, said experiments for Transformation Map-type tools began about 15 years ago. “I remember I went through and I personally read every summary of every session and workshop that we’d conducted over two years. And then I manually tagged each one and put them into a database,” he recalled.

Inspired by Austrian-British economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek’s 1945 essay on decentralized information, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” and economic socialist Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” — “Second-tier connections are more significant … transformations and disruptions are coming from the periphery” — the visually striking maps draw upon the WEF’s knowledge networks and make the most of hybrid intelligence.

In a time of fake news, the use of AI augmented by the judgment and sensibility of human curation is of utmost importance to the project’s integrity. “There are increasing signs of distrust for traditional channels that were once considered an authority. Whether it’s the media, whether that’s academia, politicians or other groups. What we wanted to do with the maps was provide a place that we keep humans in the loop. We’re using AI techniques but (people) curate the content, curate sources. Inevitably there’ll be some biases, but at least they’re explicit, they’re transparent and they’re conscious to a certain extent,” Jurgens explained.

Despite being approached by numerous corporations, the WEF retained its independence and intellectual integrity when creating the maps, instead working with academia, foundations and other like-minded organizations from its networks.

According to Jurgens, the maps use cluster analysis and the concepts of entity and concept extraction to connect issues that at times may seem disparate. Key ideas are found within a given piece of text and then surfaced. Using algorithms, summaries are extracted from texts based on key concepts, enabling the maps to “Monitor this flow of knowledge being generated by different sources, create a summary of that, and then provide the link so that people can go and look into that topic further.”

Human experts assisted in curating customized news feeds for the insight areas, drawing upon media, think tanks and peer-reviewed journals, among other sources.

A WEF team of machine intelligence researchers, designers and others is now looking into how to harness new techniques “such as modal temporal logic to explore the aggregate flow of knowledge, and see if it is trending toward different scenarios.”

Accessible after signing up to the WEF TopLink portal, Transformation Maps can be likened to a solar system. Select a core insight, and see a map open up. Your topic is at the center, surrounded by various key issues identified by forum experts. When clicked, these sub-topics spawn a further ring of interlinked, related insight areas “exerting influence” on the key issues. Clicking on one of these outer points spawns a new transformation map, its topic now at the center.

Because of the different perspectives offered, Transformation Maps in effect acts as a counterbalance to so-called filter bubbles. “Some people read The Japan Times, some people CNBC, some prefer NHK. Most people just don’t have the time to look at a broad range of sources. So one thing we do is we provide a flow that’s not just kind of pure news or social feeds, but a flow of knowledge that can actually tap into this wide range of sources from different parts around the world,” Jurgens said.

Over 10,000 people registered to use the maps within the first t wo weeks of launch and there have already been requests to expand the maps into the Portuguese, French and Korean languages. Initial popular insight areas included AI, blockchain (“Because of cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings”) and a “perennial domain of interest,” health.

But what has really excited Jurgens and his colleagues at the WEF is the impact of the Transformation Maps, their wide global reach and how they dovetail with the theme of the 2018 WEF Annual Meeting in Davos, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” At the time of the interview, Jurgens was road testing a beta version of a Transformation Maps mobile application that the WEF plans to release at the summit.

“We ran a workshop in Colombia with around 50 individuals from a cross-section of society,” Jurgens said. “We found that the map was then presented to the president and cabinet and now they have one additional tool in their policy toolkit; the maps can act as a complement to their existing policy tools.”

Users vary from individuals to corporations, academia, NGOs and governments.

“You see some domain names, you don’t actually know what country that domain name represents straight off and you go and look it up. That’s the nice power of the internet right there,” Jurgens said.

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