The human species can be defined by its special ability to manipulate symbols. Each great augmentation in this ability has brought enormous economic, social, political, religious, epistemological, educational (and so on) changes.

There have been only four of these big changes. The first one is related to the invention of writing, when symbols became permanent and reified. The second one corresponds to the invention of the alphabet, Indian numerals and other small groups of symbols able to represent “almost everything” by their combination. The third one is the invention of the printing press and the subsequent invention of electronic mass media. In this case, the symbols were reproduced and transmitted by industrial machines. We are currently at the beginning of a fourth big anthropological change because the symbols can now be transformed by massively distributed automata in the digital realm. My main hypothesis is that we still did not have invented the symbolic systems and cultural institutions fitting the new algorithmic medium. So my research in the past 15 years has been devoted to the invention of a symbolic system able to exploit the computational power, the capacity of memory and the ubiquity of the Internet. This symbolic system is called IEML, for Information Economy MetaLanguage. It is :

(1) an artificial language that automatically computes its internal semantic relations and translates itself into natural languages,

(2) a metadata language for the collaborative semantic tagging of digital data,

(3) a new addressing layer of the digital medium (conceptual addressing) solving the semantic interoperability and network efficiency problems,

(4) a semantic coordinate system of the mind (the semantic sphere), allowing the computational modeling of human cognition and the self-observation of collective intelligence.

The development and use of IEML could lead to an epistemological revolution in humanities and social sciences (facing currently a flood of “big data”). It could also become an important tool in the hands of human communities to create, assimilate and “manage” knowledge. All this goes in the direction of augmentation and self-reflection of human collective intelligence linked to a generalized continuous social learning.

I have explained the philosophical and scientific principles behind IEML in The Semantic Sphere (Wiley 2011). The formal grammar, basic algorithms and mathematical demonstrations related to IEML are here. A small team of engineers is currently developing a first application in the field of data curation and data analytics. A prototype has been presented in Montreal and Bologna in the summer of 2018. The white paper in French is here and the white paper in english is coming.

Follow IEML on Twitter

Prof. Pierre Lévy
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada