Support the IEET




The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.



Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:


Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view




whats new at ieet

American Society for Engineering Education: Why Diversity is so Important

Why there is no mind/body problem

Why Solitary Confinement Is The Worst Kind Of Psychological Torture

The Trifecta of Roommate Selection Technology: Privacy, Prejudice, And Diversity

The Maverick Nanny with a Dopamine Drip: Debunking Fallacies in the Theory of AI Motivation

Chiding CEOs at Walgreens and Other Corporate Defectors


ieet books

Virtually Human: The Promise—-and the Peril—-of Digital Immortality
Author
by Martine Rothblatt


comments

instamatic on 'Why We’ll Still Be Fighting About Religious Freedom 200 Years From Now!' (Jul 25, 2014)

instamatic on 'The Sad Passing of a Positive Futurist' (Jul 25, 2014)

Giulio Prisco on 'Why We’ll Still Be Fighting About Religious Freedom 200 Years From Now!' (Jul 25, 2014)

Giulio Prisco on 'The Sad Passing of a Positive Futurist' (Jul 25, 2014)

instamatic on 'Should we have a right not to work?' (Jul 24, 2014)

instamatic on 'The Sad Passing of a Positive Futurist' (Jul 24, 2014)

DrJohnty on 'LEV: The Game – Play to Win Indefinite Life' (Jul 24, 2014)







Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List



JET

Transhumanism and Marxism: Philosophical Connections

Sex Work, Technological Unemployment and the Basic Income Guarantee

Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work…

Hottest Articles of the Last Month


Nanomedical Cognitive Enhancement
Jul 11, 2014
(5808) Hits
(0) Comments

Interview with Transhumanist Biohacker Rich Lee
Jul 8, 2014
(5581) Hits
(0) Comments

Virtually Sacred, by Robert Geraci – religion in World of Warcraft and Second Life
Jul 3, 2014
(4273) Hits
(0) Comments

How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
Jul 5, 2014
(3567) Hits
(18) Comments



IEET > Life > Enablement > Health > Vision > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > Piero Scaruffi

Print Email permalink (2) Comments (8544) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


The Age of Big Data and the Death of Theory


piero scaruffi
piero scaruffi
piero scaruffi

Posted: Sep 21, 2012

Is the World Wide Web and modern technology… replacing the human mind? Knowledge today is not a set of theories, but instead just Data, and the machine is a better place to store data than the human mind.

Thousands of years ago the human race invented something called “science” that basically consists in learning a general rule out of many events such that one can later predict events of the same kind.

Science creates “theories” that constitute “understanding” of how the world works, and that one can then apply while living in the world. “Understanding” the world and “surviving” in the world became two sides of the same coin.

The World-wide Web is one tool that has changed that relationship. We can search for and find instructions to do something without ever learning any theory about it.

Of course there have always been “experts” who knew the theory and would help people who didn’t know the theory; but now the vast amount of data on the Web is making the expert irrelevant. We don’t need to “understand” the world in order to find a solution to our problem: we just need to know how to search for the solution on the Web. The “navigator” is another example: we don’t need to understand the territory to travel from one point to another point because the navigator has all the data required to plan the route.

It is not just that these tools are replacing the human mind. That would be the case if they contained the theory, if they worked the way the human mind used to work; but they don’t use a theory. The theory itself becomes irrelevant when the tool can access enough data.

For example, we learn the theory called “arithmetic” that allows us to computer the addition of two numbers. Once you know the theory, you can compute the addition of any numbers. However, you wouldn’t need the theory anymore if you had a virtually infinite list of all possible additions and their results: 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 1+3=4, etc. Then you would simply look up the addition that you need and find the result. We “discovered” the laws of gravitation to be able to predict where Mars will be on a particular day; but if we can just store and access Mars’ orbit minute by minute (and the orbits and motions of all planets and stars), why bother figuring out that law? What is happening as more and more data become available is that we don’t need to “teach” a tool the theory: the tool has access to enough data that can provide all the answers.

The very concept of knowledge is changing. Knowledge used to be about theories. Even when encyclopedias were invented, there were still meant for minds equipped with theories. The Web and many of the digital tools that can access a virtually infinite amount of “cases” are relieving minds of the need for theories. You need to know only “what you want”, not how the world implements that thing.

Knowledge is no longer about “understanding the world”. You don’t need to know how your navigator works, a fact that has to do with latitude, longitude, the fact that the Earth is round, down to the details of your country, region, town and neighborhood. You just need to enter the address where you want to go. In fact, you can simply enter the name of the person or business, and not even know the address (not even have a theory of what an address is).

Knowledge is not a set of theories, but instead just data, and lots of data, and the machine is a better place to store them than the human mind.

If “understanding” the world is becoming less and less important, then the way the human mind works is changing dramatically. It is likely that the ability to create “theories” is precisely the main difference between the human species and other species. The mind of other species deals with a much more basic “understanding” of the world (e.g., bananas are food). The human mind must have been doing something very different all those thousands of years when it needed to continuously invent, store, use and teach theories.

The human mind might be undergoing a transformation that is comparable (but exactly the opposite in direction) to the transformation that took place when it first started constructing general, abstract truths from specific cases.

If theory dies, then perhaps the human mind as we know it will die too.


piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.
Print Email permalink (2) Comments (8545) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


COMMENTS


This is disturbingly reminiscent of _1984_. How long will it be before the limits on what we say become limits on what we _can_ say (or think)?  Minds thus flattened would be controlled much more easily—perhaps by our AI overlords?





This is a very juvenile understanding of knowledge if you intended these remarks to be understood as a broad epidemiological stroke.  While the knowledge of “how things work” is often a form of compression, you somehow completely neglect how this understanding enriches the human experience. Understanding the world around us through our various formulas of compression, which are largely individualized, makes space for imagination and invention.  Without imagination and invention, there would be no new ideas, and without experts working to further understand these ideas, no human trails could be blazed through the cloud of data that surrounds us.  Machines can be relied upon to blaze efficient trails (to make headway), it will be the human interaction with and understanding of these machined paths that will lead to a richer body of knowledge. 

The knowledge that enriches our lives is often full of chaos, misinterpretation, debate and ignorance, but it is precisely these inefficiencies that allows us to live rich lives of mental evolution. Comprehension and understanding are vital aspects of joy and wonder.





YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: The Singularity Is A Progressive Apocalypse

Previous entry: 18 Nations Join the “Longevity Party”

HOME | ABOUT | FELLOWS | STAFF | EVENTS | SUPPORT  | CONTACT US
SECURING THE FUTURE | LONGER HEALTHIER LIFE | RIGHTS OF THE PERSON | ENVISIONING THE FUTURE
CYBORG BUDDHA PROJECT | AFRICAN FUTURES PROJECT | JOURNAL OF EVOLUTION AND TECHNOLOGY

RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
Williams 119, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford CT 06106 USA 
Email: director @ ieet.org     phone: 860-297-2376