When it comes to the amount of intelligence and experience required, we have a clear hierarchy from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. What we get from raw observation are just data points. We apply some techniques of aggregation, reporting charting etc. to arrive at information. Further higher level processing in revealing interconnections and relationships will give us condensed and actionable information, which we can consider knowledge. But to arrive at wisdom, we need a keen mind and years of experience, because what we mean by wisdom itself is far from obvious. Rather, it is obvious, but not easily described, and so not easily delegated to a computer. At least, so I thought. How could machines bridge the gap from data to wisdom?
Recently, I read an article on how research can be done using computers. It showed a disturbing trend in generating wisdom using machines. Before getting into what it said, let me sketch the progression of computers in the hierarchy of data to wisdom echelon.
In the beginning, computers were merely number-crunching machines, residing firmly near the data end of the spectrum. But when equipped with spreadsheets and reporting tools, they slowly turned into information processing machines. With the advent of the Internet and the information revolution, their position as information providers became entrenched. In fact, the easy access to information and the unwelcome changes it brought about in our reading and studying habits was the topic of one of my columns in a newspaper a while ago.
While we, the end users, were marveling at the information revolution and enjoying its benefits (like eBay, Facebook, Netflix and the like), the machines, networks and the smart people controlling them were quietly upgrading themselves to purveyors of knowledge. Through data-mining, big data and other sophisticated techniques and technologies, they now know your habits and interests better than you yourself, which is why Google shows you ads on bodybuilding and Asian dating sites when you least expect them.
The latest foray into research is the natural progression of the machines and the vast amount of information they collectively control. They are moving into the highest rung of the ladder. They are beginning to experiment with wisdom. It is the dawn of the spiritual machines, as Ruy Kurzweil put it. And it makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I will tell you why in the next post.