Age of information
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Mind & Brain
Science & Art
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☞ A Box Of Stories
“The amount of data available to us is increasingly vast. In 2010 we played, swam, wallowed, and drowned in 1.2 zettabytes of the stuff, and in 2011 the volume is predicted to continue along its exponential growth curve to 1.8 zettabytes. (A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes; that’s a 1 with 21 zeros trailing behind it.) (…)
Big Data is about to get much, much bigger, as we enter an era in which digital data merges with biology. This synthesis of codes takes the abstract world of digits and brings it back into the physical world. We of course know quite a bit about how life is expressed—in the four letters of DNA, in more than 20 amino acids, in thousands of proteins. (…)
In this new era—the transition from digital code to digital-plus-life code—the capacity to generate data exceeds our capacity to store and process it. In fact, life code is accumulating at a rate 50 percent faster than Moore’s Law, it at least doubles every 12 months. Without extraordinary advances in data storage, transmission and analysis, within the next five years we may simply be unable to keep up. (…)
Programmable cell platforms are like computer chips. They could eventually be designed to help create or do anything, if you figure out the right code for what you wish to make. (…)
Life programming may also solve the problem of how to store gargantuan data sets. All digital data can be coded into life-forms, and all life-forms can be coded as digital data. In theory, this means you could eventually store, and copy, all the words and images from every issue of the New York Times in the gene code of a few bacteria.” “
“Ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world. (…)
There is the retreat in universities from the real world, and an encouragement of and reward for the narrowest specialization rather than for daring — for tending potted plants rather than planting forests. (…)
We are certainly the most informed generation in history, at least quantitatively. There are trillions upon trillions of bytes out there in the ether — so much to gather and to think about.
And that’s just the point. In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us. (…)
We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to. (…) Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions. (…) The most popular sites on the Web, are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas. (…)
“This isn’t to say that the successors of Rosenberg, Rawls and Keynes don’t exist, only that if they do, they are not likely to get traction in a culture that has so little use for ideas, especially big, exciting, dangerous ones, and that’s true whether the ideas come from academics or others who are not part of elite organizations and who challenge the conventional wisdom. All thinkers are victims of information glut, and the ideas of today’s thinkers are also victims of that glut.
But it is especially true of big thinkers in the social sciences. (…) Because they are scientists and empiricists rather than generalists in the humanities, the place from which ideas were customarily popularized, they suffer a double whammy: not only the whammy against ideas generally but the whammy against science, which is typically regarded in the media as mystifying at best, incomprehensible at worst. A generation ago, these men would have made their way into popular magazines and onto television screens. Now they are crowded out by informational effluvium.
No doubt there will be those who say that the big ideas have migrated to the marketplace, but there is a vast difference between profit-making inventions and intellectually challenging thoughts. (…) Still, while these ideas may change the way we live, they rarely transform the way we think. They are material, not ideational.
Tim Harford on Why there will never be another Da Vinci
"Approximately 3,000 scientific articles are published per day – roughly one every 10 seconds of a working day. We can now expect that these papers will, each year, cite around five million previous publications. And the rate of production of scientific papers is quadrupling every generation. (…) The percentage of human knowledge that one scientist can absorb is rapidly heading towards zero. This side of a new Dark Age, there will never be another Da Vinci. (…)
This means that funding new ideas that matter is almost certainly getting more and more expensive. By itself that fact need not be too disturbing: we can afford to spend more on science, and there are more qualified scientists across the world than ever. But it also suggests that scientific and technological innovation is, more than ever before, an organisational problem – and an organisational problem to which we have probably devoted too little attention.” ”
'Cybernetics are the stuff of which the world is made. Matter is simply frozen information'
— Timothy Leary, American psychologist and writer (1920-1996), Pataphysics Magazine (1990), ☞ See also: Timothy Leary on cybernetics and a new global culture
“To be involved in the creation of knowledge means that students are self-directed learners. Rather than learn about science from an external source, such as a teacher, they plan and design their own labs in order to “do the acts of a scientist.” The global citizen must approach learning with the assumption that “nothing is certain” because we live in a multifarious world with a plurality of ideas and choices. It is not enough for students to simply study history, or even to know it; they must also be active participants. Teachers value this kind of inquiry because it leads to an “independence of learning,” rather than the “static reception” of knowledge.
The flexible thinking of the global citizen also means that he or she is open to other perspectives and viewpoints. Collaboration is important because there may be more then one way to solve a problem. Innovation and getting things done is largely dependent on one’s ability to adapt to and skillfully navigate a cooperative setting of diverse opinions. (…)
Historically, education has been understood to be, as the French sociologist Émile Durkheim stated, “the means by which a society prepares, in its children, the essential conditions of its own existence.” In this sense, education is always an exercise in the transmission of a culture, a passing on of inherited understandings of the self and the world. The movement to teach 21st century skills and cultivate global citizens is no exception.”
Freeman Dyson on James Gleick’s "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood"
“The explosive growth of information in our human society is a part of the slower growth of ordered structures in the evolution of life as a whole. Life has for billions of years been evolving with organisms and ecosystems embodying increasing amounts of information. The evolution of life is a part of the evolution of the universe, which also evolves with increasing amounts of information embodied in ordered structures, galaxies and stars and planetary systems. In the living and in the nonliving world, we see a growth of order, starting from the featureless and uniform gas of the early universe and producing the magnificent diversity of weird objects that we see in the sky and in the rain forest. Everywhere around us, wherever we look, we see evidence of increasing order and increasing information. (…)
A darker view of the information-dominated universe was described in a famous story, “The Library of Babel,” by Jorge Luis Borges in 1941. Borges imagined his library, with an infinite array of books and shelves and mirrors, as a metaphor for the universe.
James Gleick’s book has an epilogue entitled “The Return of Meaning,” expressing the concerns of people who feel alienated from the prevailing scientific culture. The enormous success of information theory came from Claude Shannon’s decision to separate information from meaning. His central dogma, “Meaning is irrelevant,” declared that information could be handled with greater freedom if it was treated as a mathematical abstraction independent of meaning. The consequence of this freedom is the flood of information in which we are drowning. The immense size of modern databases gives us a feeling of meaninglessness. Information in such quantities reminds us of Borges’s library extending infinitely in all directions. It is our task as humans to bring meaning back into this wasteland. As finite creatures who think and feel, we can create islands of meaning in the sea of information. Gleick ends his book with Borges’s image of the human condition:
We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and of the future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information.”See also:
☞ James Gleick: Bits and Bytes - How the language, information transformed humanity, (video) Fora.tv, May, 19, 2011
☞ James Gleick on information: The basis of the universe isn’t matter or energy — it’s data
☞ What Defines a Meme? James Gleick: Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve