TechNotes

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Introduction to TechNotes

It’s often said that “the Internet gives us access to all of human knowledge,” but that now-mundane “fact” is far from true. A lot of important knowledge and data is still only kept in institutional memory and physical books, or is technically available online but practically hard to find, hard to use, hard to understand, and/or potentially restricted by patents or copyright. In other cases, we have access to so much information, changing at such a rapid pace, that it’s an overwhelming task to make sense of it.

Consider electric batteries, such as the lithium ion battery in your phone. These batteries are a crucial technology that makes modern life possible, and are used at all scales, from tiny wireless earbud batteries to electric vehicles to massive utility-scale solar applications. Ongoing advances in battery technology have improved them year after year. Now, say you want to write a paper about battery technology, or found a startup with an innovative battery-powered consumer product, or are curious how your phone’s battery compares to the very latest cutting-edge battery technology. How can you get accurate, up-to-date information?

Wikipedia is of course a good starting point, but its nature as a wiki means that it can be inconsistent and out of date. The “electric battery” article today says things like “Newly introduced to the market (2009).” One might also read three different articles (“electric battery”, “lithium polymer battery”, and “research in lithium-ion batteries”), and get three different answers.

One can turn to research articles, but there is such a huge volume of them that placing them in context and prioritizing them by relevance can take days of work. Many are behind a paywall and even if one has access, they can be difficult to interpret. We’re all familiar with reading news articles about some breakthrough or another and then never hearing about it again.

Technical information that’s “technically” available but not well-organized is like a car without tires. It has theoretical value, but not practical value. It’s not getting you anywhere.

TechNotes is an ambitious project that aims to fill a significant gap in how technical information is organized and made available online, in order to catalyze technological and scientific innovation at an even greater pace than we have seen to date. We want to put tires on the car and see how fast it can go.

Core Vision

The central idea is to build an authoritative, free, collaboratively developed online library of detailed and practical information about engineering and technology. This website would be somewhat analogous to Wikipedia, but focused entirely on technology and built with different content and capabilities.

Mission statement: to accelerate and protect humanity’s technological advancement by providing a comprehensive, open, and practical library of technological knowledge.

The goals for this project are:

  1. To accelerate the pace of technological and scientific innovation

    Humanity has a lot of knowledge about how to build amazing things, but much of it is not easily accessible - available only from specialist books, obscure research papers, internal corporate documents, and in-person instruction. This is especially true of the hard-won practical advice that is necessary to go beyond theory and actually build things yourself.

  2. To make all of its information easily discoverable, cross-referenced, in standardized formats, and as accessible as possible

    Here accessible means both to humans and to machines.

  3. To promote standardization, collaboration, and open standards

  4. To create a single resource that contains enough in-depth engineering and technological information to build a modern technological civilization from scratch

    If humans had to abandon earth and land on another habitable planet, TechNotes would provide the knowledge needed to quickly build mines, factories, power sources, habitats, and (eventually) things like smart phones. This scenario is hopefully never going to occur, but any resource which meets that aspirational goal would provide countless very real benefits here and now.

  5. To collaboratively develop and publish open-source ready-to-use designs for important tools, devices, and technologies

    If an engineer were asked to design a lightweight habitat that humans could live in on Mars, instead of having to design everything from scratch, her team could start by downloading complete plans for things like washing machines, lighting fixtures, microwaves, smoke detectors, door locks, etc., then modify them to be as simple and lightweight as possible, then print/order the components - creating a much more complete and functional habitat in a fraction of the time as would otherwise be possible. And of course, the community could continue to iterate on and improve these Mars design variants.

  6. To preserve detailed knowledge of now-obsolete technologies

    Why? For historical purposes, to avoid any loss of technological capability, to serve as inspiration for future discoveries, and to be used if needed to rebuild civilization after an apocalypse.

Details

To achieve these goals, as TechNotes is built over the coming decade, we will:

The main component of TechNotes (what users see on the main website) will be the TechNotes “Database”, which contains the following types of articles and data:

The TechNotes Database will also have a Discussion section on some pages for technical community discussion and work to improve the articles/data. This is meant as a low-barrier way for people to contribute who aren’t comfortable editing articles, and to collect useful related information and tidbits. We will experiment with having the Discussion immediately following the content, not on a separate page like Wikipedia does.



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