Update: The CritSuite Toolset Project has been completed. This page is now part of an archive of CritSuite web pages. The domain http://crit.org no longer belongs to this project or to Foresight Institute. For current information on CritSuite, please see the site maintained by the author of the software, Ka-Ping Yee: http://zesty.ca/crit
Foresight Institute has a special interest in systems to
improve the evolution of knowledge and to enhance the quality of
discussion and decisions on complex issues. Currently there is no
good way to carry out such discussions: paper is too slow and
inconvenient, while Internet discussions--whether they be in the
form of newsgroups, static web pages, or chat sessions--are too
Our Web Enhancement Project aims at adding features to the World
Wide Web needed to better carry out critical discussion. These
features have been described in the essay "Hypertext
Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge" available on the
and on paper from the Foresight office.
Hyper-G has true hypertext
We had originally thought that this would require Foresight to
produce the needed software, but fortunately this has become
unnecessary by the introduction of Hyper-G
by an international team (originating, as did the web itself, in
Europe). Hyper-G, known as HyperWave in its commercial version,
has almost all of the features on our wish list for hypertext
publishing, because it was based on the early concepts of
hypertext from Ted Nelson, and also explicitly designed for
Bidirectional links: links that work in both
directions between linked documents. On today's web,
links work in one direction only.
Extrinsic links: links that can be made visible
without the document author's permission. Needed for
Link typing and sorting (filtering): the ability
to label a link with a keyword describing its type (e.g.,
criticism or example) and sort for only those links to be
displayed. Needed when a document has many extrinsic
links. Annotations are an explicit link type
already coded into Hyper-G.
Fine-grained links: as on the web, links can be
made to only part of a document, even one word or one
letter. In Hyper-G, up to six links can overlap.
Links in non-ASCII documents: links can be
made and viewed in PostScript, gif, jpeg, tiff, video,
VRML, and soon audio and PDF (Acrobat) documents. This is
possible because unlike conventional HTML documents,
which encode links within the document itself, Hyper-G
supports the ability to maintain a list of links in a
database, which can be merged into the document at
display time. Links are treated as objects in their own
right, with their own attributes and permissions
Fine-grained access control: for each document,
one can specify who can see the document, who can see
each link, who can edit the document itself, and who can
edit the links.
Advanced structuring facilities for documents,
including graphical and even 3D visualization of the
Sophisticated search abilities, including the
ability to search Postscript document contents (i.e.,
special Hyper-G tools can "read" PostScript
document contents and make a full text index of them). A
search engine is built into the server, which cooperates
with a more lightweight search ability on the Hyper-G
Compatibility with the existing web: Hyper-G
documents can be viewed using standard web browsers.
Hyper-G client software is available for UNIX, Windows NT,
Windows 95, and is in preparation for the Macintosh. A
line-oriented terminal version of the client is also available.
However, the UNIX client is the most advanced, and can be run
under the operating system Linux on Wintel
machines, as Foresight plans to do.
Partly because they include commerically-useful features such as
subscriptions and licensing, Hyper-G or Hyper-G spinoffs are
already in use at publishing companies such as Springer, Academic
Press, Wiley, and Oxford University Press. It is also used
extensively by the European Space Agency.
Foresight can experiment with Hyper-G without betting on its
long-term success as a standard. The goal is to use the basic
capabilities of second-generation hypertext publishing systems by
building information structures with real content. This content
could later be transferred to another system that provides the
same basic capabilities. Foresight hopes to show the usefulness
of the advanced hypertext publishing features listed above: we
may be instrumental in spreading these back into the World Wide
Web as a whole. Thus, our efforts don't depend on Hyper-G and
HyperWave commercial success, but on how well we demonstrate the
Computer security debate
Our first experimental debate will be in the field of computer
security, specifically language and operating system security:
how can we maximize cooperation without vulnerability? We will
start by examining Java-style languages. This topic has several
advantages for an initial debate:
It is important to the safe and widespread deployment of
nanotechnology, i.e. it is critical to our shared future.
It is already of great current interest for commercial
It will be debated by those familiar with computer
technology: early adopters who already use the web and
may be willing to install the Hyper-G client software so
they can participate actively in the debate.
It is complex enough to demonstrate the usefulness of our
target feature set for debating complex issues.
It is relatively theorem-like: propositions can be
clearly stated--"Given these assumptions, this
security violation is impossible"--which can then be
tested and possibly disproved either theoretically or
experimentally. Thus, while the topic is complex, it is
not as messy as human systems. Our first debate should be
one in which actual progress is possible.
The funds for Foresight's Hyper-G server were raised at this year's Senior
Associates Gathering. This machine has now arrived and is
being configured by Russell
Whitaker, technical leader of the project. We will be putting
in a skeleton argumentation structure, and then inviting specific
security experts to join the debate one by one. The reason for
this controlled build-up of participants is that we expect to
encounter glitches in the process which will have to be solved
using social rules, rather than the procedures we can enforce
using the software. We will also have to evolve filtering
Once it's clear that the debate software is working well, and we
are being successful at adding needed social rules, we will open
up access to the debate first to Senior
Associates, later to Foresight members and some relevant
professional groups, and eventually to the general public.
This computer security debate is only the first of many Foresight
plans to conduct on advanced technologies of public policy
importance. We hope that the debate procedures we evolve can be
of use to those debating other topics as well-including
"messy" human issues.
Hyper-G information sources
Those interested in assisting the project at this stage can
start to familiarize themselves with the software by reading the
book HyperWave: The Next-Generation Web Solution (by
Hermann Maurer, Addison Wesley, 1996; available free online at http://www.hyperwave.de/hw_book)
and by installing the client software available free online
In addition, funds are needed immediately to pay for
(1) Foresight's client machine, about $3900; (2) people's time in
organizing the project, tech support to targeted experts, and
uploading reference documents; (3) $500 membership fee for
Foresight to join the Hyper-G Consortium, and thereby become
eligible for R&D grants from the Consortium; and eventually
(4) our own connection to the Internet when we outgrow our
initial shared T1 connection.
In the longer term, we invite all Foresight members--and
eventually all web users-- to join us in debate online. We
believe that full hypertext publishing capabilities are a
breakthrough equal in importance to the invention of the library.
No other tool is sufficient to deal with the complex problems to
be solved in successfully implementing nanotechnology and the
other advanced technologies now on the horizon.
For project updates, visit our web site www.foresight.org.
Donations may be discussed with Chris Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or tel 415-917-1122, or mailed to Foresight Institute, PO Box
61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA, and are tax-deductible in the
Special thanks to Russell Whitaker for technical leadership;
those who donated funds for the server machine: Hughgie Barron,
Ken Blakeslee, Steve Burgess, Warren Freeman, Dan Fylstra, Jim
Lewis, David Lindbergh, Joy Martin, Chris Portman, Gary Pullar,
Dick Smith, and J. Tory.