Our own technological break-throughs during this Information Age have created a boon in productivity and data sharing. Nevertheless, they have also created a challenge: Today’s rabid growth in devices and options for exchanging data have reached a level in which human beings do not have the tools to accurately and effectively process it.
9/11, BP oil disaster, financial failures – all avoidable?
As an IT consultant, I encounter various types of organizations with countless challenges with their information systems. Unfortunately, one thing – and one thing only – remains constant among these companies that I alone cannot solve: information overload.
The problem surpasses our everyday overload of email, instant messages, and the ever-growing number of web 2.0 platforms. Take note of several catastrophes in recent years: The 9/11 terrorist attacks, the failure of large financial institutions, and, more recently, the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. These tragedies, regrettably, were all avoidable but for one common problem: The inability to process information effectively. That’s right; the information to prevent each of these events was readily available within someone’s IT systems. Whether that is the systems of the US intelligence community, federal regulators, auditors, or sensor data within an oil company’s massive systems, the information was available. Yet, in a way it wasn’t. The problem: so much data that humans just cannot effectively process and turn it into adequate knowledge to make a decision or take some other action. Well, we will just get more effective at processing data, right?
“We cannot solve problems by using the same thinking we used when we created them.”
– Albert Einstein
We continue to come up with a variety of strategies for coping with all of this information. SPAM filters for our email, time management techniques, email filtering and auto responding, more efficient analysis of our data systems, etc. My IT consultants are constantly asked their opinions on effectively handling the excess information. There is even now an “Information Overload Day” during which people are encouraged not to send as many email messages. The fact is, as Einstein foresaw, we cannot solve the problem of information overload employing the same technology that created the problem in the first place. Sure, we can take steps to help manage all of the information – and it helps the problem – but, it doesn’t cure it.
And So Is There a Solution?
If we, as humans, are unable to process information into knowledge fast enough, then what can we do? I believe there is only one feasible answer – get devices to accomplish it for us. I’m not referring to substantial computer system packed with complex algorithms coded in by a multitude of software engineers in an attempt to account for every conceivable possibility. I’m making reference to true artificial intelligence. In the circle of IT consultants that I associate, we all quietly snicker quietly as we see applications like Apple’s Siri described as artificially intelligent. I would debate that Siri is nothing greater than a voice recognition application hard coded to recognize certain words and phrases – certainly not “intelligent” in my mind.
Until the day when we possess some sort of system that will provide some sort of real cognitive powers, in my view we will not have this problem behind us. Which obviously begs the question, what problems will that technology create that we will have to solve?