To know in the age of algorithmic knowledge is to be a cyborg—a human asking a question merged with a device providing an answer.
Cyborg. Sounds dehumanising, yet it might be just the opposite. As cyborgs we might become more human than we were as writers. Writing, the previous technology of knowledge production, separated knowledge from knower. It separated the writer from the living person. In doing so, it made us more machinelike: cold processors of information aimed not at answering our own questions, but those of some unknown others.
Before writing, we pointed to our wise men and said, “This is where our knowledge is.” The knowledge and the person were inseparable. Each question was asked and answered in context. Today, or was it yesterday, we point to the library and say, “This is where our knowledge is.” It does not matter that the people who wrote the books are not present, they may even be dead. In contrast, our algorithm-running devices reunite knowledge and the knower; they again provide answers within the context in which they are asked. Continue reading →
Privacy leads to an increase in child and spousal abuse.
“If a husband batters his wife or parents abuse their children, they are not often restrained by outraged relatives or concerned neighbors. Protected by the privacy that the society values so highly, they are tacitly permitted to continue until somebody is hurt badly enough to bring the family in to court,” David Maybury-Lewis points out.*
Without privacy, a community is able to monitor its members’ actions and often prevent serious abuse by acting early. With privacy, abuse can go undetected until its effects are serious enough that they cannot be hidden. Continue reading →
Third part in my argument that writing is becoming surpassed by computer algorithms as the primary technology of knowledge production. The first two are here and here.
writing is dead (he writes)
IBM’s Watson computer, the one of “Jeopardy” fame, is being used today by insurance companies as they make decisions to approve or deny coverage of procedures. It can advise doctors on the best possible course of action. It can read and analyze every piece of medical literature ever published in less time than it takes a human doctor to drink a cup of coffee.
I see the next generation of computers that will come after Watson, contributing to the decline of writing as the primary technology of knowledge production.
But before getting to that point, we first need to go dress shopping and stop by a library. Continue reading →
Writing is dead because we can interact with our devices without writing, and from our devices we get all the information we ever need.*
Traditionally, we accessed information through reading and writing, be it a book or a computer keyboard. But the keyboard is disappearing, and instead we touch things on the screen; we swipe, we pinch, we shake. We are increasingly talking, in natural language to our devices and they talk back to us. We are using the movement of our body to control our devices. We can interact with them by moving our eyes, or even simply by thinking (oh horror?). Soon, we will not need writing to interact with our gadgets at all.
This fact alone means that soon one will be able to function perfectly adequately in our society without knowing how to read and write. Who needs to read a road sign when the navigation app tells us to turn right at the next light?
However, there is an even deeper change happening that diminishes the role of writing in our society.
We are moving from learning about ideas (which are served well by writing), to learning how to do things (which is not well served by writing). Continue reading →
Computer algorithms that have access to information about us already influence how we think of ourselves. Soon we will turn over to them the creation our own identities because it will be convenient. How I think of myself, how I want others to perceive me, what is the real me… I want my devices to tell me that.
The DVDs I had on my shelf at one time defined how I thought of myself. It was a fine movie collection and I was proud when visitors examined it (“Why yes, I do have Tarkovsky’s Solaris”). My Netflix queue did the same— it reflected my identity. Recently, however, I have been upset by the recommendations Netflix is giving me. “I am not a person who watches crappy Discovery Channel specials!” I protest. But, apparently I am. (And, yeah, I don’t think I ever did finish watching that Solaris). Continue reading →
There is never a first post. One cannot start with a blank slate. One can only start from where one already is. I cannot unlearn what I have learned, I can only try to add to it. Each utterance always responds to something, and always awaits another response. We can only start from where we are. The only place we will ever be. Here and now. Continue reading →