The Edge Foundation holds an annual intellectual fest to draw from contributors ideas and visions for the future of science and technology.
You can see this years review here – World Question Centre: What will Change Everything.
The first concept we were struck by was that of the Malthusian Information Famine, a premise put forward by Charles Seife, Professor of Journalism at NYU.
His argument is that digital media, its availability and pervasiveness, has begun to change humanity and its relationship with information. For centuries we have laboured under a lack of information to stimulate true human potential. Within a generation or two we will now move to a state where we have a deluge.
A consequence of this, Seife argues, is that ‘noise will drown out signal’.
With over one hundred million blogs, including the one you are reading, and some several hundred million emails, much of which may be spam, as ‘…information grows exponentially…useful information grows only linearly’.
We will eventually, according to Seife, be engulfed by our own ‘mental refuse’.
A couple of comments. First, this mental ‘waste mountain’ can be seen as a luxurious by-product of technology rich, industrialised societies.
For those of us deep in web and communication technology, so cheaply delivered, this may be true, but the old technology divide’ has yet to be crossed by the bulk of human society.
(We have written before on the importance of One Laptop per Child and the need for its success as a program, to stimulate the very electronic potential described by Professor Seife).
Second, the potential to harness so much information perversely brings back the old argument about the difference between information and knowledge.
The current debate in Europe about ‘super databases’ and the ‘total knowledge’ of a society and its members held by an all-knowing government are also exposed as specious by the Malthusian Information Famine.
To capture all information is not the same as turning it into useful knowledge. In the very vastness of the snared data may lie our own protection.
When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it – this is knowledge. (Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), The Confucian Analects)
You can see the Wikipedia page for Thomas Malthus here.
This post was created by Tim Smith – a partner at SmithMartin LLP.
Storage device image by craigPJ.
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