Research Profile [pdf]

Research interests: philosophy of information, new media, culture & cognition, social metadata (tagging & folksonomy), digital humanities, cyberinfrastructure, technology & culture, socio-technical systems, identity, information ethics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, Heidegger, phenomenology & hermeneutics.

See my page for an extensive list of research interests.

I am interested research that stands at the intersection of cognition, culture, philosophy and technology.

My dissertation research focused on the question of semantic interoperability among sociotechnical systems–how a meaningful exchange of information can be accomplished across human cultural and technological boundaries using tags in folksonomies. Folksonomies reflect the cognitive schemas of dominant cultures when they are aggregated. The minority cultural voices that contribute to folksonomies get lost in the long tail of the tag set. Disaggregating tag sets into cultural groupings provides us with a diversity of semantic networks of tags–entry points into our human conceptual ontologies, i.e., our cultural landscapes. The patterning of our semantic networks in terms of lexical tags provides the foundation for a phenomenological hermeneutic that allows humans to explore these cultural landscapes through the continual schematic reconfiguration of our semantic networks. It is this exploration that is the essence of semantic interoperability. Semantic interoperability, therefore, is not simply an exchange of meaningful information, but rather also a pragmatic communication of understanding that facilitates the integration of new schemas—new patterns of entry points into a shared cultural landscape.

The meaningful exchange of information, in this view, forces information onto a phenomenological footing. Information is not something that can be captured, isolated and objectified. It cannot be exchanged, per se. Information is a phenomenon of ontologization, the core of which consists in the transformation of patterns through an entwined process of individual sense making and sociocultural meaning making. Moreover, the transformation of these patterns is handled schematically, which provides a consistency to these transformations such that data and knowledge are merged into one being—information as an emergent ontological whole. By characterizing information as a phenomenology of ontologization, we can account for its variable manifestation within cultural landscapes and across semantic networks. If we can identify the cultural patterns embedded in tag sets, we can create a schematic form of ontologies to facilitate semantic interoperability and the “exchange of information” among our sociotechnical systems.

Because my research tackles fundamental concepts related to information, it can be applied in a variety of domains. The research I engage in can be grouped into four basic themes: information integration, social media & semantics, knowledge representation & visualization, and information ethics.

Information Integration

Beyond the potential for enhancing the semantic interoperability of our machine systems, the ability to understand and integrate a multiplicity of schematic ontologies and enabling our technologies to do the same will become an essential component of our human response to the global climate crisis. In a planetary context, information about the effects of climate change, including natural and man-made disasters, will come from a diverse array of sources, filtered and structured according to a diverse array of cultural schemas. Schematic ontologies will help to facilitate this information integration by helping to bridge the gaps among the diverse semantic networks and cultural landscapes. Information integration is an umbrella theme that encompasses the more specific themes described below.

Social Media & Semantics

The ability to annotate and tag entities, spaces and phenomena provides users of social media technologies with the ability to embed a cultural semantics. My research opens new avenues of inquiry into tags and the tagging process. It introduces ways for researchers to disaggregate folksonomies into tag sets specific to cultural groups, thereby allowing them to disambiguate the semantics of tags through the use of cultural schemas. Designers of information systems can draw upon these cultural semantics to create adaptive data environments in a variety of domains. Libraries can organize data in ways more accessible to traditional domains, user groups and interdisciplinary endeavors. Museum curators can use the cultural semantics of tags to create technology-enabled custom navigation paths and provide meaningful tag links to descriptive narratives for visitors. Disaster response teams can stream tagged data from a variety of social media sources, enabling a more comprehensive situational awareness and informational environments—whether geospatial, organizational or intercultural—and prioritize particular schematically structured data for action.

Knowledge Representation & Visualization

Each culture has its own ways of conferring legitimacy and meaning. Necessarily linked to the data environments created in the domains mentioned above are knowledge patterns, structured in ways particular to a cultural group. Tag sets could be used to create coherent visual networks that represent knowledge narratives in intercultural contexts. Tag representations, structured and visualized using information systems as semantic network graphs, would provide a foundation for hermeneutic discourse involving varying cultural perspectives around a phenomenon of interest. Metaphors are often a key mechanism that enable us to overcome seemingly incommensurable ontologies by allowing us to traverse and reconfigure our semantic networks in ways that reflect others’ cultural landscapes. Visualizing knowledge patterns metaphorically involves varying levels of abstraction in ways that resonate with semantic networks represented through text, sound, image or combinations of these. Spatial data infrastructures, for example, would need to include representations of indigenous cosmologies if they hopes to seriously involve local communities in the management of geospatial environments. Another example would be lectures visualized as animated comics (e.g., RSA Animate, PhD Comics’ “Dark Matter“) using culturally resonant metaphors and images can help bridge divergent sets of cultural schemas.

Information Ethics

The proliferation of sociotechnical and informational systems in a variety of contexts, including artificial agents in our financial, educational, and defense systems, have them making increasingly independent decisions that affect the lives of many people. Yet, we do not yet understand well what ethical frameworks are being embedded within artificial agents nor how they are capable of making ethical analyses of their actions and making moral decisions as they adapt to new tasks and environments. Achieving ontological interoperability among our machines and information systems requires cultural understanding. Entwined with the cultural background in which our conceptual ontologies are situated are ethical frameworks and schematics that our machines will also have to use. The question of how we define or characterize these ethics regarding information and how we create the ability for our machines to choose among the frameworks of virtue, deontology, teleology, and care ethics as appropriate to the context becomes more important as our machines become more autonomous. An ability to engage in ethical discourse and decision making will become significantly more important as artificial agents act more independently. Floridi’s Information Ethics framework offers an interesting and compelling lens through which to assess, if not build, ethics into our machines, be they robots, drones, or algorithms.

Research Projects

The ShadowBox Method

2012-2014. With Gary Klein. A research project focusing on more quickly improving the naturalistic decision making abilities of less experienced personnel through the presentation of scenarios and alternative choices of more experienced personnel. I worked on modifying real-world scenarios of military and police officers and designing training materials and user interfaces for learning alternative methods to handling intercultural interactions and community engagement.

Analytic Confidence Levels for Estimative Judgments

2011-2012. IC Postdoctoral fellowship research examining the communication of uncertainty in intelligence analysis and how consumer’s of intelligence receive, reason and react to the intelligence provided. The project identifies the sociocultural factors that influence a consumer’s trust and reasoning about analytic judgments.

NC2IF: Network-Centered Cognition for Information Fusion

2008-2010. My research in NC2IF is focused on the human cultural dimensions of information processing and understanding. I worked on ways of identifying the larger cultural schematic patterns of information with respect to meta-syntax, semantics and ontologies in order to facilitate the sharing of information through information and communications technologies.

COHORT Project

2007-2008. An NSF funded project aimed at helping non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in humanitarian relief to improve their operations through better sharing of information and better coordination of decision-making processes.

Exploring Design as a Research Activity

2005-2007. EDRA was a workshop held at DIS 2006. We brought together researchers from a wide variety of fields to discuss what exactly constitutes design research, and how it should be evaluated. The extended abstract of the CHI 2007 workshop can be found in the conference proceedings.