Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Hive Mind

Over the past few years, I've radically redesigned my approach to learning. In the past, I memorized information. Now, I need to be a knowledge navigator, not a repository of facts. I've delegated the management of facts to the "Hive Mind" of the internet. With Web 2.0, we're all publishers and authors. Every one of us can be instantly connected to the best experts, the most up to date news, and an exobyte multimedia repository. However, much of the internet has no editor, so the Hive Mind information is probably only 80% factual - the challenge is that you do not know which 80%.

Here are few examples of my recent use of the Hive Mind as my auxiliary brain.

I was listening to a 1970's oldies station and heard a few bars of a song. I did not remember the song name, album or artist. I did remember the words "Logical", "Cynical", "Magical". Entering these into a search engine, I immediately retrieved Supertramp's Logical Song lyrics. With the Hive Mind, I can now flush all the fragments of song lyrics from my brain without fear.

My daughter asked me a question from her chemistry homework about calculating the mass of nitrogen gas gathered over water. I did remember the ideal gas law (PV=nRT), but I did not recall how to correct for the partial pressure of water using Dalton's Law. One quick search for "nitrogen collected over water" yield sample problem sets from colleges that refreshed my memory with all I needed to know.

While writing, I'm constantly looking up words, concepts, maps, and dates. I know how to look for them and where to find them.

There are a few times when the Hive Mind yields surprising results. I wanted to learn more about the Stimulus Bill's "Healthcare IT Standards Committee". I wanted to check out the "ARRA privacy timeline". Finally, I was looking for information about the "healthcare CIO". All three of these searches returned my own writing as the first hit. The blessing and the curse of Web 2.0 is that blogs are the news and personal opinions can become facts.

At the moment I have a balanced separation between my own mind and the Hive Mind. However, as we Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I wonder if the separation between our human mind and our network mind will blur.

I remember an Outer Limits episode Stream of Consciousness (actually, I found it in Wikipedia by searching Google for "outer limits episode stream") in which everyone in society is connected to the "Stream" and shares a network connected existence based on information, not knowledge. In the end, the Stream is destroyed and mankind has to re-learn how to think for themselves.

As the closing dialog of that episode notes

"We make tools to extend our abilities, to further our reach, and fulfill our aspirations. But we must never let them define us. For if there is no difference between tool and maker, then who will be left to build the world?"

Words to live by as we use the Hive Mind of the internet.

7 comments:

JWoods said...

I believe Einstein once said "Never memorize anything that you can look up." I have lived by this in my professional career, and am glad to see your post that you do as well.
As a current MBA student, and someone who has held management and consulting positions for the past 15 years, it concerns me that there is a heavy focus on regurgitating formulas in my course work. The instructors focus on what people have memorized in their undergrad work seems to assure the students that this is how real business is run-plug in some numbers in a mathematical model and there is your organization's answer.
As any person who has managed, or consulted, knows, it is the big picture that matters. What direction do the numbers point in a certain context, and not what the numbers themselves say.
I believe that the internet helps people like us succeed at levels we could have never before dreamed of. We can spend more time focused on solving the puzzle, instead of building and rebuilding the pieces.

Brian Ahier said...

Check out CADIE
(Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity)

http://tiny.cc/F2IkW

V said...

thanks for your post. thoroughly enjoyed it and fully agree. the last paragraph is especially telling.
one of the fallouts of the raw information being so readily available is that everyone is now a self-assumed expert. sites like webmd really convince people of that. people are more than ever, self-diagnosing, self-assessing situations and instances where they would not have, had the information not been so readily available. there's another article on this topic - let me see if i can find it. thanks again.

Diana Garcia said...

Excellent post! Reminds me of Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things.
The Web is a great tool when we use it mindfully...

Ben said...

I don't think you'll ever see what many fear--a society comprised only of cogs in the grand machine. Fears of that sort have been pushed with each great advance in communication and information transmittal, and the result has always been that the technology frees us more than it imprisons us; a quick look at the growth of knowledge since the advent of modern communications illustrates this point well.

Even in a future society where we all had mind-machine interfaces that allowed us to search the web, retrieve information, or communicate with one another seamlessly, I doubt you would ever see any loss of "self" that was not willing. Personality, individuality, these are traits innate to us that--barring serious genetic modification--will not go away. I'm actually quite excited about where things are going, because I've never been a more efficient communicator or more productive employee than I am now.

jcooley said...

Several Star Trek episodes, both classic and recent, explored the darker side of the hive mind theme. The Borg, featured in the Next Generation (both TV and a movie) was a hive-minded race that assimilated other sentient species into itself.

While I agree the ability to look up everything is wonderful, the ability to use the information effectively may still depend upon our abilities to retain it and apply it. Learning a formula (which I don't do well, I admit) may be rote, but it teaches the brain how to think in formulas. Memorization may train the brain with the ability to recall disparate bits of information and assemble them into a new thought or idea. At some point, perhaps we have enough puzzle pieces that the puzzle simply assembles itself and we proclaim "Eureka!"

Football Matches said...

Even in a future society where we all had mind-machine interfaces that allowed us to search the web, retrieve information, or communicate with one another seamlessly, I doubt you would ever see any loss of "self" that was not willing. Personality, individuality, these are traits innate to us that--barring serious genetic modification--will not go away. I'm actually quite excited about where things are going, because I've never been a more efficient communicator or more productive employee than I am now.

Recep Deniz MD
DoktorTR.Net