The next Albert Einstein has been born already.
He made a leap of thought that no one could have predicted. The leap took years of work, hours of discussions and collaboration, thousands of miles of travel. When he started the journey, he had no idea he was getting ready for a new idea of such magnitude.
The relativity theory was not deductible simply from the observations he’d made. Einstein’s work changed the world because it raced through the twentieth-century network of scientists, and then of writers, and then throughout the networks we call culture and history.
We can expect that the next Einstein is more likely to be a data wonk than an absent-minded professor. New software will correlate unrelated data sets and develop insights, theories and open new worlds to us. These program will make us rethink our thinking. The next Einstein will make sense of data that a program has uncomprehendingly flagged as interestingly anomalous.
The next Einstein is like to do her work in the public space, on the connected Web. Rather than waiting to publish final results, she will post early results and perhaps a speculative hypothesis. As word spreads, a web of links and connections will grow around her. Some nodes will turn into hubs, some hosted by amateurs others by professionals, scientists, businesspeople or scholars. We know, however, that many of the nodes and the threads that connect them will disagree, will argue, will go down a dead end, will be wrong, childish and selfish, will be a waste of the links that connects them. Still, we will be able to follow how an idea spreads and the effect it has as the competent and the nutty take it up, make it their own and pass it on.
This is not just a change of tools. The nature of the knowledge that the next Einstein uncovers will be different from that produced by Albert Einstein almost 100 years ago. Our new knowledge does not consist of a careful set of works that have passed through a series of narrow gates. We once believed that knowledge was scarce, when in fact our shelves were just small. Our new knowledge is not even a set of works: it’s an infrastructure of connection. We now travel through abundance as knowingly as we can, always within a context and from a point of view, always connected with others, always with the amount of care we judge is required. Knowledge is now a network with the characteristics of the Web.
We can argue all day if the new knowledge will bring us closer to the truth. We can’t argue that networked knowledge brings us closer to the truth about knowledge.