Hundreds of people attended the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki in mid-September with an intention to change the world. These people – researchers, civil activists, small business owners, IT experts and enthusiasts as well as ordinary people – were united by a desire to create a more open and communal society that works better for everyone.
An atmosphere of change was strongly evident even before the event as some 100 self-managed volunteers made preparations for a wide range of events, from open hardware to open democracy, at an almost chaotic pace. Instead of complaining or just planning, they took action and experimented, achieved and shared. This creates “wisdom of crowds”, which refers to creating something new by further processing the ideas and work of others. The focus shifts from corporations, money and power to people and ideas.
All this is related to making knowledge accessible to the public. Open data and new technologies make it possible to develop customised solutions at a low cost, as information is no longer hidden in systems and silos. BlindSquare – an application developed by Ilkka Pirttimaa from Helsinki to improve the daily life of the blind and the visually impaired – is a prime example of how open data makes technologies available and inventing possible for everyone. In other words, innovation has become more democratic. Large investments and companies are no longer needed to distribute inventions. This trend may lead to major well-being solutions.
Wikipedia and the Linux operating system are good examples of great accomplishments in open data. However, this is only the beginning; the next breakthroughs will be related to the economy, health care and services. Knowledge-intensive sectors – such as banking, telecommunications and trade – will make their data accessible to customers. Alex Pentland, an American pioneer of open data and one of the most cited authors in computer science, explains this major trend in this video.
Perhaps even the new health-care patient information system can be developed based on open data, collaboratively and publicly. There are already excellent online discussions and hundreds of ideas as to how health-care information systems could be developed and how an open source information system could be created. Patients and doctors are the top experts in planning a functional system. Open data systems are driven by users, not technology.
Why is open knowledge so important? Wisdom will not grow, increase or accumulate and the best ideas may be left unused if systems and plans are produced in closed processes within a single company. User reactions will come as a surprise to the company, and the product will not necessarily work. The more openly businesses operate, the more successful they will be in the future.
If information is openly accessible and we learn new ways of working together, the information society will thrive. As opposed to sharing goods, land and natural resources, sharing information does not reduce the reserves. Everyone wins if good solutions are shared. Ultimately, new innovations may benefit seven billion people.
The era of old and traditional institutions may be nearing its end. Today, development is not necessarily driven by those with money or power, but by those who make use of shared information and the wisdom of crowds. Processes become open, inspiring and supportive of networking. We are undergoing a major cultural transition from institutional consumer-producer models to cooperation networks of people and technologies.