Martin Sambauer is a civic tech enthusiast, media professional and founder. With DIVERSUS he has launched an open source project that could form the knowledge infrastructure of tomorrow. The idea: A hyperlayer above the normal web gives users the opportunity to relate and curate information and content from any source. This is how the "full picture" of information is created, as Sambauer says. This is the basis for gaining new insights and finding solutions to our global problems.
Yannick Lebert: Hello Martin. Today we want to talk about you and DIVERSUS, the project you founded and have been working on for a long time. What is DIVERSUS?
Martin Sambauer: DIVERSUS is a "communicative infrastructure" that gives you better access to data provided by other people. The moment someone searches for certain information, they find it faster. Finding faster is always important the moment knowledge is needed. Knowledge is actually permanently needed: Which doctor should I go to? What is the right workplace for me? Which school should I send my children to?
I want to know what is dangerous and what is best for me and my family. Knowledge building is the decisive technology that enables us to survive in our society. The Internet is a knowledge platform, but we find that knowledge is not as easily accessible as it seems at first glance. That is why we want to develop and offer a new instrument.
Yannick Lebert: How does DIVERSUS make knowledge more accessible?
Martin Sambauer: We see ourselves as a future hyperlayer over the current Internet. Our data is always brought into the system in relation to other user data. This creates a network where everything is in relation to each other. This is set up by the users, perhaps later supported by artificial intelligence.
As a central paradigm for use and presentation, we are developing a "flower". The pistill of the flower represents information, while the flowers attached to it in a circle represent other information that is related to the initial information in the pistill. At first glance, this flower tells us something about the richness of information. We are interested not only in the inner richness of the information, but also in how much complementary information is attracted.
At this point we react to a certain shortcoming of the current Internet. If you are researching a certain topic, it is difficult to find the related complementary topics at the moment. We are directed by Google to the most powerful echo chamber of the searched keyword. If, for example, we end up at Spiegel Online, we end up in an echo chamber, because like-minded editors often illuminate a topic there. So I am pressed twice in a certain direction: first by Google, which leads me to the richest echo chamber and then within the echo chamber to a certain view of the topic. We are also interested in such information.
However, we are also interested in everything that is attached to this information, i.e. any conceivable complementary information. Every contradiction, every fact check, perhaps even every joke. This is important the moment you try to explore a field where you really need knowledge.
Yannick Lebert: Can you explain this with an example?
Martin Sambauer: Whenever you don't want to rely on a single medium or information because you're more interested in the subject or because the answers are important to you, DIVERSUS is the right choice. Example: There is a petition for a referendum on the subject of the extinction of species and you want to decide whether you want to sign it or not. Then you look for the topic in DIVERSUS and get offered more information.
The "flower" around the information immediately tells you which information has more information or not. The colors tell you, for example, that there is a lot of contradiction (red) and at the same time a lot of support (green) - this could indicate that the source information is controversial, which may be particularly interesting. But there are also many scientific contributions (blue) and even some jokes (orange).
You are probably choosing the information that has magnetically attracted the most further information. Then you begin to sight this bouquet. Within a very short time you will find out what the most important concerns of the referendum are, what the critics say and where unresolved questions have remained open. You get the "Full Picture" and not just a single piece of information. The more the system is accepted, the more topics it will cover. In this way, research becomes fast and child's play.
Yannick Lebert: The association is to be founded in a few weeks. In your preamble it says, "the ecological threat of mankind by mankind grows steadily. The challenge is to further develop our technologies, social systems and cultures in a humane way in order to exist in such times in an equally humane way. Can you describe how these threats are concretely expressed?
Martin Sambauer: When I look at the possible scenarios that will face us in the coming decades, climate change is always the dominant factor. Climate change may have the consequence that agriculture is not stable. The loss of agriculture leads to unrest and migratory pressure in other regions. We want to avoid such scenarios and if they do come, we need to find social and technical systems to cope with them. All this has to do with building knowledge. The rapid development of knowledge, which is already so important today, will become even more important in the future. It concerns the survival of the species, but also the beautiful and safe life of each individual.
Yannick Lebert: How did you come up with this idea? Can you outline your career a little?
Martin Sambauer: I worked as an art director for television stations and advertising. It was always about mass communication. You can't help but make an ethical structural analysis of the media. You can't overlook the fact that the media process is quite distorted. But today, in times of climate change, we can no longer afford that. Today it's all about finding the most sensible solutions together, not the most lucrative solutions for individual industries. In addition to my profession, I have always tried to find a structural answer: How can such distortions be offset? The basic idea is to balance every piece of information, within its spectrum of complementary information. In this way, it actually rectifies itself by itself.
Yannick Lebert: Was there a concrete incident that gave you the idea?
Martin Sambauer: Ten years ago I was asked to do a show for a car manufacturer. I used part of the money to do interviews with well-known experts who explained the peak oil phenomenon and climate change to me. While typing the interviews I noticed that all the answers are interesting and all fit together like the pieces of a giant puzzle. Now I didn't want to make another monoperspectival film out of the interviews, but rather I wanted every user to have this possibility. It made me realize that dialectics is the key, the pros and cons, the back and forth that has produced so much knowledge in politics and science. The interesting thing is the dialectical assembly of the puzzle pieces.
Yannick Lebert: And what do you mean by dialectic?
Martin Sambauer: I thought about that for a long time and discussed it a lot. Hegel refers to this great historical process, built up from thesis, antithesis and synthesis, which hopefully at some point will lead to an ultimate republic. Someone told me that Hegel even thought dialectics cosmologically. If we listen to the physicists, how first protons and electrons were formed and then neutrons were added, then maybe that's true. This is also somehow a dialectical process.
But for me it's more about the human processes of knowledge, they are also dialectically structured. Example: How fast is light actually? Finally or infinitely fast? This discussion began in antiquity and lasted about 2,500 years. Today we know the speed of light down to the ninth digit after the decimal point.
Dialectic can start from any thought, which may be wrong or right, clever or stupid, the dialectic process iterates inevitably more and more towards the truth - as long as the group of the discussers is diverse, this is important, otherwise we end up in echo chambers again. That is my concept of dialectic. We want to accelerate this process digitally, on a global scale, so that processes that used to take 2,500 years may now be completed in a shorter time, in a few months or weeks. That is the great vision behind it.
Yannick Lebert: This is a scientific vision. Where is the human vision?
Martin Sambauer: What I would like to achieve is that through the infrastructure we give everyone in this world the opportunity to dialectically participate in the future process in which we are all involved. Everyone, whether it is an African girl or a Nepalese boy or a European grandpa like me - everyone has an important perspective. That is why we are called DIVERSUS, because dialectic is most effective when everyone can really get involved. Because this shadowed phenomenon, which we call reality, can only be described from everyone's perspective.
Yannick Lebert: Now to the project. You don't do everything alone, but you don't have a permanent team either. How does that actually work? How did you get here? Where were the difficulties?
Martin Sambauer: That was a long process. On the other hand, years ago we were already thinking about solutions for which there are only now the technologies. We used video mockups to approach a prototype that demonstrated what the usage paradigm looks like on a mobile phone. These mockups have led us to have a support community of maybe 20 people who want us to go a step further together.
It is important to us that the project is not subject to commercial distortions at its core. That's why it's the right step for me to have a non-profit association in the middle of the project. For the dissemination of the project we will look for business partnerships, as soon as a convincing demo is available. But the initial starting point is a non-profit corporation.
Yannick Lebert: Do you have financing?
Martin Sambauer: We now finance everything privately out of this group. We have software engineers of different backgrounds in the system. One of them works for a large consulting firm. Another is a senior developer at an aircraft manufacturer. At the moment, small financial impulses are coming from this to build the first prototype, the first demo.
With the foundation of the association it is planned to start a fundraising campaign soon. The association will remain non-profit and all we do is open source. We have an interest in producing as much code as possible to build the paradigm and make it accessible to everyone. Accessible to everyone means that we like to go to different countries, especially the poor areas.
We pursue the thesis that stable peace in this world is only possible if there are no disadvantaged groups. To this end, disadvantaged groups must have an opportunity to participate in the shaping process of our world. Perhaps we see ourselves as a possible counter impulse to the centralist Silicon Valley. We are trying to build a decentralized structure where everyone from every country can participate in building the infrastructure.
Yannick Lebert: How is DIVERSUS technically implemented?
Martin Sambauer: At the moment we have several teams that go slightly different ways. One team works on the basis of the Web Annotation Protocol, another team goes a different way. What they all have in common at the moment is that we work with React and D3. We are actually a Data Viz project dedicated to the task of correlating semantic coherencies of content with physical properties of information objects in a display. Colors, shapes, size, mass, velocity, attraction or repulsion of objects - all this makes a statement about what the objects - or rather the information - have to do with each other.
We use man's innate ability to interpret physical events at lightning speed to make content easier to understand. Man is not optimized to constantly read lists, which we consider to be a relic of the 19th century. All common paradigms of Netflix, Facebook and Google are based on lists. We ourselves become list objects in the permanent consumption of lists and that makes us unhappy. We feel redundant.
On the other hand, we see the future of data presentation in the manifold forms of representation of nature and physics. That's why we are definitely shifting the focus of processor use to the area of graphics units (GPUs), which can take on more and more performance here. This is faster and more attractive.
Yannick Lebert: Thank you very much for the interview!