Building a Toolbox for Global Thinking

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Acting locally: no problem.  Thinking globally: big problem!  To solve global problems, we need global understanding of local change. Yet no matter how hard we try, it remains extremely difficult to think globally.  Even in a world where Earth’s entire surface is scanned daily by satellites and made available online.  Even as all of human knowledge and most of humanity now seem accessible online.  Even for us scientists who’s bread and butter is the study of global change.


To run this planet better in the Anthropocene, this situation must change.  We must get better at thinking globally.

 

What if we could build a new set of tools for thinking globally? What if we could easily identify and network with local knowledge and expertise outside of our locales but relevant to our local situation? What if it was simple to determine the global relevance of our local knowledge? To automatically identify local holes in our global understanding and fill them by connecting to knowledge, expertise and social networks across globally similar local conditions? What if we had tools that could connect together local knowledge and expertise from around the world, transforming it into global knowledge? And what if these tools were smart, learning from how we interact with others globally and using this to improve the productivity of these interactions? In brief, what if it became easier to think globally?

 

Thanks to a major new four year grant from NSF’s Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) Program, we may now have a chance to see what such tools might accomplish. The grant will fund the development of a “Global Collaboration Engine” (GLOBE) by myself and an interdisciplinary collaboration of environmental, geographic, computer and information scientists at UMBC and others in partnership with the land change science community. The aim is to bring a powerful new cyber-toolkit for thinking globally into daily use by the scientists most concerned with the global impacts of local change and the local impacts of global change.

 

Making GLOBE work will be a tremendous challenge.  Engaging a diverse group of scientists in embracing a new scientific process for global thinking will be even harder.  But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Let’s hope this will be a step forward in the Anthropocene.

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