Volume 56 Issue 1 (March 2021)

Knowledge Organization in the Wild:  The PropædiaRoget’s, and the DDC

by Jonathan Furner 

p. 1-31


Three popular knowledge organization systems (KOSs)—the Encyclopædia Britannica’s “Outline of Knowledge,” Roget’s International Thesaurus’s “Synopsis of Categories,” and the Dewey Decimal Classification—are compared in the context of a taxonomy of evaluation methods for KOSs that takes into account similarities and differences in formats and purposes. The goals are to argue for the wider adoption of a framework for KOS evaluation of the kind presented here; to promote the treatment of encyclopedia outlines and thesaurus synopses as well as library classification schemes as KOSs assessable via such a framework; and to improve our understanding of KOSs in general.

Jonathan Furner is a professor of information studies at UCLA. He studies the history and philosophy of cultural stewardship and teaches classes on the representation and organization of archival records, library resources, and museum objects.

Hegel and Knowledge Organization, or Why the Dewey Decimal Classification Is Not Hegelian

by Shachar Freddy Kislev

p. 32-48


It has been argued that the Dewey Decimal Classification system—the DDC—is Hegelian, that the primary division of the system is based on Hegel’s philosophy. This article argues against this claim. It demonstrates that the underlying principle for the distribution of subjects in the DDC is not Hegelian and that the support for this idea was always weak. It also demonstrates that, as a classification principle, the supposed philosophy underlying the DDC is inconsequential and implies a reactionary image of knowledge. Fortunately, the DDC makes very little, if any, use of this philosophy. Hegel’s philosophy involves a sophisticated and detailed method for knowledge organization that has been completely unexplored. This article clears the ground for such exploration by disentangling Hegelian philosophy from the dated metaphysics allegedly underlying the DDC.

Shachar Freddy Kislev, PhD, works at the intersection between the history of philosophy and digital humanities, with a particular interest in the aftermaths of the Hegelian system. He teaches philosophy, intellectual history, games and art at the Shenkar College of Design and Engineering in Ramat Gan, Israel.

The Public Interest and the Information Superhighway:  The Digital Future Coalition (1996–2002) and the Afterlife of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

by Bryan Bello and Patricia Aufderheide

p. 49-89


The Digital Future Coalition (1996–2002) was an unprecedented public interest coalition on internet and copyright policy with much farther-ranging effects than has been recognized previously. Uniting commercial and noncommercial stakeholders to push back against intellectual property maximalism on the nascent internet, it altered both treaty and legislative language, entered a trope (“balance”) into national discourse on copyright policy, blocked US copyright protection for databases, enhanced popular engagement with fair use, and set the stage for the Right to Repair movement. This historical research was accomplished primarily by interviewing representatives of the Digital Future Coalition (DFC) and opposing groups, as well as one ex-official, and by consulting a hitherto-untapped private archive of documents relevant to the prehistory and 1996–2002 history of the DFC.

Bryan Bello is a PhD candidate at American University’s School of Communication. He studies the representation of public interests in information policy debates and also works as a documentarian advancing the practice of co-production.

Patricia Aufderheide studies the social impact of media policies. She founded the Center for Media and Social Impact. She recently co-authored, with Peter Jaszi, the second edition of Reclaiming Fair Use (Univ. of Chicago Press).

What Documents Cannot Do:  Revisiting Michael Polanyi and the Tacit Knowledge Dilemma

by C. Sean Burns

p. 90-104


Our culture is dominated by digital documents in ways that are easy to overlook. These documents have changed our worldviews about science and have raised our expectations of them as tools for knowledge justification. This article explores the complexities surrounding the digital document by revisiting Michael Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowledge—the idea that “we can know more than we can tell.” The theory presents to us a dilemma: if we can know more than we can tell, then this means that the communication of science via the document as a primary form of telling will always be incomplete. This dilemma presents significant challenges to the open science movement.

C. Sean Burns is an associate professor of information science at the University of Kentucky. His research areas include scholarly communication, information retrieval, and the history of automation. He holds a PhD in information science and learning technologies from the University of Missouri.

The Promise of Artificial Intelligence:  Reckoning and Judgement by Brian Cantwell Smith, and: Cloud Ethics: Algorithms and the Attributes of Ourselves and Others by Louise Amoore (review)

p. 105-108

The Promise of Artificial Intelligence:  Reckoning and Judgement
by Brian Cantwell Smith
MIT PRESS, 2019, 184 PP.
HARDCOVER, $24.95 ISBN 978-0-2620-4304-5

Cloud Ethics:  Algorithms and the Attributes of Ourselves and Others
by Louise Amoore
PAPER, $25.95
ISBN 978-1-4780-0831-6

Elliott Hauser


Each book offers a rigorous, engaging, and ambitious take on how humans and algorithms relate to each other, and the areas in which they share form and content represent a potential consensus in this field of inquiry. Amoore and Smith both utilize frameworks that can analyze humans and algorithms in the same terms, but each stops short of the brand of posthumanism that fully decenters the human. This seems to me like a best practice for ethical and especially ethicopolitical studies of AI. Amoore and Smith are also both skeptical that calls for algorithmic transparency will accomplish much in terms of their fairness or that rule-based ethics will offer a viable way forward. By reaching these conclusions from vastly different starting points, they lend support to efforts to move beyond such simple calls for solutions. Amoore’s and Smith’s work both are grounded in and deeply engage with philosophical work that is key to their respective analyses, and they weave the particulars of historical events through their analysis. Taken together, their differences, similarities, ambition, and scope indicate the enormity of the challenge facing researchers of this topic and offer many fruitful paths for future explorations.

From Russia with Code:  Programming Migrations in Post-Soviet Times ed. by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay (review)

p. 109-110

From Russia with Code:  Programming Migrations in Post-Soviet Times
edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay
ISBN 978-1-4780-0299-4

Adam Kriesberg 


THE DECADES SINCE THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION HAVE SEEN MONUMENTAL SHIFTS as economies transformed, new nations emerged, and people moved across previously closed borders. From Russia with Code: Programming Migrations in Post-Soviet Times, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay, chronicles the post-Soviet evolution of programming and computer science cultures as they have unfolded over these years. The book is organized into four sections of varying lengths, each of which expands its focus from programming in the Soviet era to modern Russian information technology (IT) firms, coding culture at Russia’s boundaries, and the movement of IT and computer science professionals from Russia to other countries.

Digital Data Collection and Information Privacy Law by Mark Burdon (review)

p. 111-112

Digital Data Collection and Information Privacy Law
by Mark Burdon
ISBN 978-1-108-41792-1

Brandon Butler


Concerns about ubiquitous surveillance, especially “surveillance capitalism,” have begun to permeate not only scholarly treatment of privacy like Burdon’s book but also more popular writing on the topic, like Shoshana Zuboff ’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2018), and, most graphically, popular entertainment like the television series Westworld (HBO, 2016–). The latter features a future where a super-charged artificial intelligence relies on a massive data trove to shape not only the big picture of government planning and policy (the shapes of cities, the flows of public investment) but even (spoiler alert) the smallest details of which life chances are available to which people. Crucially, this last detail is not widely known by the humans in Westworld, and when it is revealed, it causes literal mass panic and rioting in the streets.

Reprogramming the American Dream:  From Rural America to Silicon Valley—Making AI Serve Us All by Kevin Scott and Greg Shaw (review)

p. 113-114

Reprogramming the American Dream:  From Rural America to Silicon Valley—Making AI Serve Us All
by Kevin Scott, with Greg Shaw
ISBN 978-0-0628-7987-5

Christine T. Wolf


REPROGRAMMING THE AMERICAN DREAM TAKES A THOUGHTFUL AND IN-DEPTH LOOK AT CONtemporary issues of technological innovation and rural economies in the United States as seen by Microsoft’s CTO, Kevin Scott. Equal parts personal biography, socioeconomic geography of rurality in America today, and hymn to the potentiality of technological progress, the book charts a wide territory. Writing in an accessible style, Scott introduces readers to the core concepts and definitions in today’s artificial intelligence (AI) scene, inviting readers to gain a fluency in key AI techniques and a broad knowledge of applied AI’s state of the art. The book weaves together tales of Scott’s own career, the everyday challenges faced by many small and medium-sized firms throughout America’s heartland, and Scott’s ideas on where AI might show promise in addressing these challenges. He offers a number of vignettes of such firms already leveraging AI and advanced automation. From niche, bespoke manufacturing houses harnessing cutting-edge automation to the “intelligent farm” experimenting with precision agriculture, this story-rich book provides a grounded glimpse into the wide-scale industrial landscape of rural America —and the transformations Scott hopes AI technologies might usher into these communities.

The full issue can be found on Project Muse