The New Digital Age

Who says that watching TV is not educational or a good use of time?*!

While watching the Colbert Report, I saw a spot on The New Digital Agea new book written by top Google Execs.  Fascinating and much to do with the types of things our group of faculty has been discussing!  You should check it out!

They pose an interesting idea->”The internet is one of the few things that humans have built that they do not completely understand.”  Why?

The point they make is interesting.  The internet’s properties and where it takes us all are based on humans, what they do and what they need.  Humans are unpredictable and, as a result, we cannot really predict the potential of the internet or the real impacts it will have.  Could this be the reason why our predecessors in the ’70s until now have not successfully predicted the potential of the internet, either overshooting or undershooting it?  Is this why the internet is greater than the sum of it’s parts?

Biology, brain science in particular, has long since held this principle–the organism or the brain is greater than the sum of its parts.  The collective leads to emergent properties that we wouldn’t have predicted.  Rather, we look at the outcome and try to figure out how we got more complexity from a series of less complex parts.

Robots and related technology still cannot perform at the level of a human.  Motions are not fluid and processing requires every step to be followed and integrated. In other words, the element of “machine” still exists.  Recently, a Virginia Tech undergraduate researcher tried to explain to me why this is the case and how he is trying to program the machine to operate more like a human. Let me see if I can articulate what he shared.

If our brain stored every piece of information we encounter for recovery the next time we need it, the space (memory) would quickly fill. Perhaps our brain is only capable of storing a few gigabytes of information, significantly less than powerful computers but yet we are able to do things and make connections the computer can not.  Our brain “looks” for things that are new, creates and stores memories by association. This means that the first assessment is always, “is this thing or experience similar to something I have encountered before”. The elements of similarity are connected to something already stored and only the new information results in a new connection or memory.  Right now, most computers operate by storing ALL of the information and then trying to make the connections or patterns from that, recalling the requested information or task.  In other words, every piece of information is new or has been predicted based on a formula, limiting the capacity of the digital entity and requiring huge amounts of memory.

It seems then, that one of the holy grails of the digital age is making a computer or computer system that operates like the human brain or like a biological system.  In some ways, it seems that the internet has done this but it is because its emergent properties are determined by the PEOPLE who use it…Does this make the internet more human that we would like to admit?

2 thoughts on “The New Digital Age

  1. I pre-ordered “The New Digital Age,” and eagerly took it with me this weekend to read. The sentence you quoted was the most interesting part of the book so far, unfortunately. The book is a disappointment from my perspective, and not in the same category as the class readings.

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