I have been thinking about issues of meaning (semantics), context, human understanding and the like for some time now, and particularly on the role the internet plays and could play in the future in human communication and thought. The Pew Internet and American Life Project has a new report The Fate of the Semantic Web in which they sought opinions from hundreds of internet luminaries and long-time experts on prospects for the "semantic web". I find the results illuminating and reassuringly in line with some of my thinking on the subject. I'd been preparing to write an article here on the semantic web (and what's wrong with it) for a few months now, so the release of this report seemed an opportune time to put at least some of what I've been gathering out for public comment.
Everyone agrees that the internet, and particularly the world wide web that began about 20 years ago with Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the URL, HTML, the http protocol and the first web browser, has brought a deluge of information to billions of people, something almost beyond the imagination of earlier generations. But making intelligent use of all that information is difficult. Tools like Google's search engine greatly help in sifting out the best stuff on any given topic. But there is very little to help us make sense of it all. Other than the links themselves, our computers have no understanding of the meaning of what various websites provide us, they can't correlate information from multiple sources to provide a coherent story. We want our computers to give us not just "information", but "meaningful information", "knowledge", perhaps "understanding".