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Search Engine In Our Heads

By MotorMachineMercenary in Internet
Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:59:00 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

In the near future, sophisticated PDA-type computers will make information gathering from the internet so convenient and fast that it is seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. Information will no longer be a luxury that only the educated and/or affluent people can afford. Information turns into a commodity that practically everybody in technologically advanced countries can enjoy to our hearts' content. People will not have the need to actually learn and possess knowledge of anything since it can be instantly found and read from the internet. How will this proxy server for the brain affect our notion of knowledge. Will it bring forth a renaissance or will it plunge us into new Dark Ages?

Information is power. We have access to prodigious amount of information through search engines on the Internet. Before the internet and search engines it was necessary to take a trip to the library or bookstore to learn about what is the best metal for a knife, or track down specialists who know all kinds of neat stuff about falconry. With a few clicks and keywords one can find obscure information about pretty much anything imaginable. But still we are physically constrained to our computer interface, the computer itself and (usually) wire or fiber network connection.

How would you like to have access to that information 24/7, wherever you are, without clumsy interfaces that get in the way? In the near future we will have PDAs with voice-recognition interfaces and wireless Internet connections. You just tell your PDA what you want to find in plain English. Or further down the road a computer as an implant that gives you the ability to glean information by just thinking about something, giving instant access to the entire knowledge contained on the internet. Somewhere down the road the line between the knowledge an individual has learnt through schooling, and information available from the 'net becomes blurry, and will eventually disappear.

When every single person you run into could win the grand prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, information itself will lose some of its value. Nevertheless, while information will be available instantly, pure data does not equal wisdom, intelligence or critical thinking. The ability to comprehend the flood of information, to shift through it and draw right conclusions will become even more valuable than it is today.

But what if we can't handle that information overload; many psychologists are already concerned about the over-abundance of information. Will information anxiety become the new ADD and will unplugging from the internet become the new Prozac? When information becomes ubiquitous and nags just like that Backdoor Boys song you heard on the radio, is it something that sets us free from the constrains of limited information, or is it something that will overwhelm us with its sheer volume? Will we become lazy, dumb search engines ourselves, reciting tidbits as the need arises, without the need to actually know anything? Or will we immerse ourselves in information, firing synapses in previously unprecedented numbers, using some of the rest of the 90 or so percent of our brains?


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This technology will be...
o ...the end of the world as we know it 8%
o ...the beginning of the end 4%
o ...the way to rapture 4%
o ...really nifty 82%

Votes: 47
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o best metal for a knife
o falconry
o obscure information
o anything
o grand prize
o concerned
o informatio n anxiety
o Also by MotorMachineMercenary

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Search Engine In Our Heads | 13 comments (11 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
HUI - Human User Interface (4.00 / 2) (#3)
by yuri on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:03:39 AM EST

Your story begs the question of how will people interface to this great new mass of information.

I've listened to radio programs (Mike Feldmans "What do you know?") where listeners are asked a series of silly, but information requireing questions and they can win accolades by knowing the answer. Several callers have been caught searching for the answers on the net while supposedly 'thinking' by the sound of their fingers clacking on the keyboard.

So, how will people get rapid access to the information that net contains. Search engines like google are a good start but they are still relatively slow and require finger input.

There is currently nothing that can sense what people are thinking (thank god) and thus we need some kind of input device where we submit queries to the DB. Keyboards are slow but versatile and powerful. Eye tracking systems still limit us to a set provided choices (similar to the current mouse gui).

Voice seems to be the most versatile alternative, you can speak the query and get visual feeback that you can search by eye. All we need now is a brain-wave sensor that can distinguish an intended doubleclick from merely interesting.

I think the combination of voice recognition, always on access and eyetracking could lead to a good interface.

So now the big question....would a system like this start to differentiate people on their ability to interact with the system? i.e. would some people become very proficient with this system and excell where others fail despite all attempts to master the interface.

I think the answer is obviously yes! and if such a system came into commonplace use, then there would be a stratification of people based on the ability of people to access information and use it.

Would the heroes of this new search tech be CLI guru's or sound/visual gurus waits to be seen......

Anybody care to guess?



Knowledge doesn't equal intelligence (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by jesterzog on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:35:50 AM EST

Great writeup. You're reminding me of some of Isaac Asimov's writing about the conflict between Spacers and Settlers. (Spacers built robots, let the robots take care of them and gradually stopped advancing. Settlers decided to go it alone without robots and their technology eventually surpassed the Spacers.)

Information will no longer be a luxury that only the educated and/or affluent people can afford.

Being someone who probably fits into your "educated and affluent" category (even though I have no money), I'm going to disagree with you. I think you might equally argue that the invention of a car would mean people would get less exercise.

Will people be able to get information easier? Sure. But there are several other barriers. For example, whether people want more information, and (if so) whether they know what they want.

As you mentioned in your writeup, most people can go to the library today. You also implied that going to the library is a burden that prevents many people from looking up information. I don't think it is.

People I know who don't visit the library usually don't because they don't care as much about learning. They have other things to do that they find more interesting, and knowing some extra trivia won't exactly enlighten them.

Most of the people I know who frequent the library are people who know they want to be there. They're interested in looking for information and learning things. It's possible that in the long term that these people might use the Internet more often - libraries might even disappear. (I hope not though.) Regardless of what the people who want to learn do though, I don't think easier information will have much effect on people who never really cared about it in the first place.

When every single person you run into could win the grand prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, information itself will lose some of its value.

But everyone could win it now, given the right resources. There's a reason that you're usually not allowed to take textbooks and topic material into an exam.

There's a finite amount of information that can be shovelled into you without knowing what you want, and you can't exactly look something up unless you know what it is. When people want to know something they'll usually find it out eventually anyway. All what you're suggesting might mean is that they'll find it faster than they would otherwise.

I haven't heard of problems with over-abundance of information, but I'm not sure how it'd be different from what radio and television did when they came in. Now people have learned not to believe everything they see and hear on it (one of the current problems with the net), and when they don't want the information they switch it off.

Maybe it'll change some things in how businesses work, but it's hardly going to make people smarter.

jesterzog Fight the light

critical thinking is hard. let's go shopping (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by sayke on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:50:24 AM EST

the argument presented by those who decry "information overload" can be summerized as follows: lots of information processing requires lots of critical thinking, and most people are not very good at critical thinking. so what else is new? "but", the alarmists decry, "it implies that smart, critical thinkers have an advantage in situations requiring the inhalation of massive amounts of information!" gee, who woulda thunk it? somebody please tell me why this is a problem.

and don't get me started on information anxiety. the kind of people who display information anxiety also feel a desperate need to flaunt their penis sheathes and SUVs. they fear what they don't understand, yet they refuse to read the fucking manual. they fear being made obsolete. too late, hah! they exeplify the pointless, absurd commercialism that i just love about mainstream american culture. in short, i think that maybe it's a good thing for people to experience a little cognitive dissonence every so often; a little existential angst every once in a while. i say people need to have a few facts driven home more often; facts like information is not to be blindly trusted, and specialization is necessary, and read the fucking manual, and fiddle with the guts. once again, i really don't see what the problem is here.

sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

hmm (none / 0) (#6)
by gregholmes on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:42:29 AM EST

Knowing how to smell good information from bad will still be a required skill, so I doubt portable search engines will turn the ignorant into the educated automatically.

Hmmm would people use it? (none / 0) (#7)
by Mantrid on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:18:59 AM EST

I wonder, would people use it to supplement their knowledge allowing them to accomplish great things and change the world? - or would they just use it too look at monkey porn 24-7?

Imagine a city full of people with glazed looks staring at...something. I've always thought that movies and such that show cyborgs with all sorts of information flicking across their fields of view were pretty cool.

Heh, easy access to information like this would be cool though. How would it affect testing and exams though? Oh and could someone keep their balance while playing 300fps Quake III in their heads...uh oh that opens new problems maybe too- imagine legions of teenagers in high schools everywhere killing things in their heads all day- what happens when they find a real gun? (or I guess a crowbar if they're playing Half-Life...smashy smashy!)

There will always be..... (none / 0) (#8)
by unstable on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:29:50 AM EST

Geeks that want to "know" everything.. not just have it stored in a computer... we will poke, prod, sift, and retain information that we think is important to us (or maybe not even important but "fun") if anything it will save us some of the work usually assosiated with this info gathering and let us have more time for stuff like a life.........nahh we would just spend the time looking up more stuff.

to borrow from Dennis Miller
Thats just my opinion... I could be wrong.

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

Uses of information (4.50 / 2) (#9)
by B'Trey on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:39:10 AM EST

You touched upon it but information, while valuable, is a long way from the whole story. Given all the information in the world, are you ready to try brain surgery? How about rebuilding your automobile's transmission? Hacking the Linux kernel?

There's a story on Ars Technica referencing this EET article concerning research at Amalden, IBM's research facility. One of the possibilities it mentions is ". . . For example, your eyeglasses might have an embedded camera that automatically captures images of people you meet face to face. When seeing that person again after a long period of time, your eyeglasses would alert you to when and where you first met them; perhaps also giving you their name and personal info if you had entered it earlier. . . ." This, I think, is more the type of impact that imformation meta-availability promises.

Thoughts (none / 0) (#10)
by flieghund on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:53:48 AM EST

There are three things I thought of while reading this excellent article. First is the reliability of the information. As the old saying goes, "90% of everything is crap." I'd have to amend that in regards to the internet as "90% of everything is crap, and the remaining 10% is highly suspect." In the future of ubiquitous universal knowledge, how do you determine what information is reliable? Do you have mass ratings systems (hopefully less like /. and more like k5 <g>)? Every moderation system is subject to abuse. Or do you limit yourself to a self-determined "reliable" source of information? In that case, how do you deal with the potential censorship inherent in limited sources?

Second, at what cost, if any, will this information come? Information wants to be free, blah blah blah, but really, altruistic generation of new information can only go so far (and is subject to the first point I make above). Eventually the content producers need to buy food, clothing, and shelter. Advertising revenue just isn't going to be the savior. I am all in favor of micropayments, as long as they: a) are actually "micro" (as in, fractions of a cent); and b) they stay that way (as in, two years down the line they don't mushroom to a few dollars each).

My third and final point regards the experience of learning. Now, I'm all for electronic media and what-not, but there is just something wonderful about reading a book -- even a textbook -- that cannot be matched. Perhaps this will change with the widespread use of "digital paper" (it looks and feels like paper, but the "type" on it can be dynamically altered), but I hope not. Pundits wonder why e-books haven't exploded. It isn't because people aren't reading books these days. Case in point: I have an honest-to-god print version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, an absolutely amazing repository of information, complete with yearbook updates through 1998. It cost something like $600 in 1988 when my parents bought it for me. Now, I can go to eb.com and browse through the same (and often better, i.e., updated) information for close to free (US$5/month). Yet I still prefer to consult with my good ol' 27-volume set when I have a really important question. Okay, I've strayed a little bit on the third point, so I'll try to be more coherent: Just because the information is widely available through this wonderful PDA-thingamabob, will there really be widespread use of it? Or will people use it merely as a source of trivia (like Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?), relying on traditional print media for "hard fact" information?

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
Meta-knowledge and crap (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by jabber on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:01:25 AM EST

Fascinating topic.

Let's start with the crap. Have you seen the state of the net lately? Search engines pull up crap more often than not. I would not willingly set aside a formal education in favor to 24/7 access to unreliable crap. Without authoritative sources of correct information this instant-knowledge system will surely result in a new Dark Age. Creating and maintaining reliable and respected sources of information will be costly, and that cost will be passed down. So in effect, nothing will really changeThe rich will be right, the poor will be ignorant'. Accurate and useful knowledge will still be available to the rich only. If today's IP litigation is any indication, a poor person in the future might have to prove in court that their actions were based on information to which they had rightful, licensed access. What a mess...

Now meta-knowledge. Information itself is useless unless you can, and know how, to put it to use. Means will always be a privilidged thing. Even if you get a hot inside stock tip, without money and/or contacts (and the ability to leverage same) you're not going to make a fortune. Further, the interconnectedness of information is an increasingly important thing. Facts themselves are trivia. How they relate to each other, and the discovery of new connections between seemingly unrelated bits of knowledge is a function of talent. It's the essence of intelligence, and something that computers can not do well at all. People educated in HOW to think will be better equipped to make use of readily available knowledge, while the 'mundanes' will at best have access to simple querries.

This meta-knowledge idea was implied in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Think of his Alphas as people raised to rule, to know how the systems that run the world work. People who know how to think for themselves and how to synthesize meta-knowledge to use existing knowledge. His Betas were aware of how to use the system, where to find information and how to follow processes (established by Alphas) to do the intellectually tedious things. Gammas were the service industry which followed an even simpler set of rules, and Deltas were almost sub-human heavy lifters lacking emotional and intellectual stability.

Anyway, the proposal of 24/7 access to information - even if it is filtered, catalogued and verified for correctness, would only raise technologically advanced populations to the Beta level. While Beta work is important to the progress and existence of society, it is not a Utopia, because it still relies on Alpha mentality for direction and oversight. Readily available information could only be fully useful to an Alpha class which would be priviledged and specially trained to use knowledge.

Sure, there would be the occasional flash of brilliance from the 'lower classes', where some talented individual would show innate ability for cross-referencing huge amounts of seemingly unrelated information to create new insights. These people would either be elevated to the higher strata, or subdued for challenging the social order. Just like today.

Something else comes to mind, while on the subject of having an elite trained in how to use this available knowledge. Remember the Time Machine (Welles)? The Morlocks ran the machinery that made the Eloi comfortable and fat. In exchange for the Eloi comfort, the Morlocks ate them. The Alphas trained to navigate this new 24/7 sea of information would certainly set up a caste system. They would make it preferable for the less-well educated (not informed but skilled in the use of information) to be entertained rather than free-thinking. They would set rules to harvest the lower classes - probably not for food, but rather for resources. Let's see... Mortgages, credit cards, taxes, a complex legal system... Television.. Hmmm... Where's my Soma?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

I am reminded of an Outer Limits Episode (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by Scooby on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:49:26 AM EST

I am reminded of an Outer Limits episode. In the episode, nobody knew howto read, or had to learn for that matter. Everyone was connected, through an implant in their heads, to a global network of information. Need to administer CPR? They'd just download the information needed instantly.

The trouble started when a sort of virus got to pass around, and into people's heads. It would give them false data, etc., and it was costing lives. One man didn't have the implant through an accident during birth, and eventually, it was him that realized the only way to save them was to disconnect them. Not being connected himself, he was one of the few that new howto read. The episode ends with him teaching grown-ups howto read "C is for Cat".

What you're talking about kinda reminded me of this episode, and I'm very weary of any technology like that. Then again, I'm probably just paranoid ;-D

voice recognition != speaking in plain English (none / 0) (#13)
by _Quinn on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:26:24 PM EST

   Voice recognition is more like running p2c because you don't know pascal. It doesn't help any if you also don't know c -- which (understanding natural language, in whatever form) looks like an AI-complete problem to many researchers. (Sorry, this is just a pet peeve of mine. :))

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
Search Engine In Our Heads | 13 comments (11 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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