The Future of Knowledge: Part One

Information Age

When I was a young person (when my personal computer was a slide rule, and bikinis were obscene) I thought that data and information were basically the same thing, and that knowledge was simply information stored in a person’s head. Through the passing of time, I have learned this is not true. I also learned that PCs and bikinis are really awesome, but that’s not what this blog is about. It's about how data, information and knowledge are related but different. 

Data is the fundamental building block of information. Information is nothing more than the organization of data. What you see on the internet when you go to the GE Automation website (and I know you do, not least because that’s where you are now) is information (generally referred to as “content”). The data sheets, white papers and even this blog are information—content—organized out of data by brilliant writers (LOL). 

Information has no purpose

No matter how good that information is, though, it serves no purpose until it is used. So: information alone is essentially impotent. It is potent only through interpretation—and this is what knowledge is. What we work hard to do on our website (and in every contact we have with our customers and followers) is provide information and offer our interpretation of that information. Knowledge happens when we get it right and you "get it."

It has been said that we are now living in "The Information Age" (something that followed on from "The Industrial Revolution" by virtue of "The Digital Revolution"). While it is true that the internet is (currently) the ultimate fountain of information, the explosion of information began a long time ago. 

Professor Steven Goldman of Lehigh University writes: “The dissemination of more books to more people as the literacy rate increased was already a fact of 19th-century life. At the same time, mass-circulation newspapers and, by the end of the century, magazines created an information problem. By the late 20th century—with the telephone, radio and television in addition to books, newspapers and magazines—not even scholars could keep up with their disciplines.” 

The internet (it may interest you to know that it was originally intended to simply provide broad access to data stored in remote locations, not as a tool for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, watching cat videos or even this blog) has served to exacerbate the information problem geometrically—and today, not just scholars, but you and I can no longer keep up with all that is published on anything we are interested in. 

A hodge-podge

Adding to the overload is the ability of nearly everyone to broadcast. Subjective (and often unsupported) information is posted, collectively mashed up and reposted endlessly. So: what is the validity of our knowledge when gained from such a hodge-podge of constantly flowing information? It is valid only in a moment in time and in an individual’s head. Knowledge therefore is personal and individual. Your knowledge and my knowledge are necessarily different as we filter (and subsequently interpret) information differently. Knowledge is not universal, not static and not truth. Is it any wonder that we talk about how “stupid” some things are in this “Information Age”?

OK: that sounds depressing—and what the heck does it have to do with The Connected Battlefield anyway? That’s what I’ll be looking at in the second part of this post.

Larry Schaffer's picture

Larry Schaffer

Larry Schaffer has been with us in a business development role since 2001, and works to create and maintain long-term, strategic relationships with key companies engaged in embedded computing for ground systems applications with a strong emphasis on image processing and distribution. He was born in Pennsylvania and educated as an Electrical Engineer in New Jersey and California (where he now lives). Just don’t ask him to tell you about being a war baby…

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