Ecosystems of Collective Intelligence in the Service of Digital Archives

Digital archives

The management of digital archives is crucial today and for years to come. It is estimated that every 2 days, humanity produces as much digital information as was produced during the two million years that preceded our existence. In addition to this human production is the information that machines continuously produce. With the cost of digital memory becoming ever cheaper, most of this information is stored in vast databases. In 2025, all of these “big data” will constitute nearly eight zettabytes (trillions of gigabytes) [SAD 15]. In our age, there are very few human activities that do not generate digital archives; each day we feed digital workflows even outside our use of computers, telephones or other digital devices. It is enough for us to turn on a light, run errands, take public transport or watch television to produce digital traces that, for the most part, will never be accessible to us, but which are compiled, indexed and calculated in server farms and management centers.

The status of these digital archives is obviously not the same when dealing with the tweet sent automatically by a cow, the digitization of a course by Gilles Deleuze or the 3D modeling of the Citadelle Laferriere near Cap-Haitien. Even if these archives are ultimately composed of a set of 0s and 1s and are therefore formally comparable to one another, their

Chapter written by Samuel Szoniecky.

Collective Intelligence and Digital Archives: Towards Knowledge Ecosystems, First Edition. Edited by Samuel Szoniecky and Nasreddine Bouhai'.

© ISTE Ltd 2017. Published by ISTE Ltd and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

importance is not equivalent and they particularly vary according to space, time and actor contexts that are faced with this information. The tweet sent by a digital device in relation to a cow’s activities[1] is probably not important for most of us, but for the milk producer who wants to follow his herd’s movements to correlate the milk composition with the pastures grazed, it is important to know that a certain pasture has an influence on the amount of fat in the milk. Similarly, a certain passage in Gilles Deleuze’s courses where he speaks of the importance as a fundamental criterion seems to some people like an almost meaningless phrase while it takes on very great importance for the researcher interested in the relationship between ethics and ontology, but also for the reader of these lines who at this very moment is thinking about this concept just by the fact that they are reading it:

“What does that mean, this category? The important. No, it is agreed; that is aggravating, but it is not important. What is this calculation? Isn’t it that? Isn’t it the category of the remarkable or the important that would allow us to establish proportions between the two intransigent meanings of the word proportion?

Which depends on and results from the intensive part of myself and which rather refers to the extensive parts that I have[2].”

These proportions between the inner-being and the outer-having are quite easily transposed into the domain of digital archives. Due to their dynamic, upgradeable and interactive characters, digital archives are ecosystems where each element can be analyzed in terms of existence made up of “intensive parts” and “extensive parts”. The example of the digitization of the fort at Cap-Hai'tien sheds light on the importance of digital archives that illustrate this “intensive/extensive” double dimension that Deleuze emphasizes to show the correlation between an exterior dimension connected to having and the material, and an interior dimension connected to being and the immaterial. In the case of this historic monument classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, digital archiving is the chance to develop both a material and immaterial heritage in one of the poorest countries in the world. The creation of an international research program focusing on the issues of augmented realities, the teaching and education of students on these issues, and the mobilization of artists for the innovative use of these technologies are three examples of immaterial heritage development. At the same time, these activities allow for consideration of material heritage development through the implementation of an economy that uses these digital archives to create new services aimed at tourists on cruises passing by this country. Here, the impact of the digital archive goes beyond the scope of a company or that of knowledge by having repercussions on the whole economy of a country through a joint development of material and immaterial heritage.

Consequently, the fundamental issue of digital archives consists in examining their importance at both the material and the immaterial level in order to estimate their relevance in terms of balance between the finality of the digitization process and the uses made of it. Given the breadth that digital archives take on today and their impact on our lives, we must examine the importance of these archives at both the personal and the collective level. These investigations can only be done through long-term collective work that must take place through a pooling of analyses and the constitution of a collective intelligence capable of lending humanity the means to avoid handing over to machines the full responsibility of semantic choices necessary for the interpretation of archives [CIT 10]. Solutions already exist or are being developed as initiatives taken by the W3C to harmonize information management practices; others remain to be discovered from a technical, epistemological, political or ethical point of view.

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