The Edge has a summary-article on a Kevin Kelly’s talk on The Next 100 Years of Science: Long-term Trends in the Scientific Method. Kevin Kelly helped launch Wiredmagazine in 1993 and has published several books and articles in publications such as The Economist, The New York Times, Time, etc. He rises some interesting points about what’s next in science for this century. Specifically:
* There will be more change in the next 50 years of science than in the last 400 years.
* This is the century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.
* Computers will be not just a tool in science, but they will start to test hypothesis and run combinatorial simulations through possibility spaces.
* New ways of knowing will emerge. From “wikiscience” in which hundreds of authors cooperate to the zero-author paper generated wholly by computers.
* Science will create new levels of meaning. The Internet already is made of one quintillion transistors, a trillion links, a million emails per second, 20 exabytes of memory. It is approaching the level of the human brain and is doubling every year, while the brain is not. It is all becoming effectively one machine. And we are the machine.
Although some of these predictions are rather speculative, I find the wikiscience part especially interesting. The ages in which a research is done by a sole author (or a small collaboration team) are bound to die. Results of a research will be communicated using wikipapers, which will be open to anybody and which could be modified by peers, changing the way we understand publication quality and peer-review. After all, the wiki is a publication environment in which material is added and reviewed by peers, just like a science publication should be. For example, I found particularly cumbersome the way referees and authors interact in scientific peer-review. A more flexible editorial environment like the wikipaper will have a profound impact in the way information is exchanged between editors, referees and authors. Another issue concerning the wikipaper would be the accountability of the research (important for each researcher’s cv) and the commercial part of the editorial process.
How far are we from the future? Well, maybe not that far away, since there are are already Wikibooks and Wikiversityopen courses to be used and modified within a collaborative wiki environment. There is even an ongoing discussion aboutwiki as science and about how Wiki Scholarly Journals should be.