Knowledge and the Crowdsourced Life

Phone of the FutureYesterday, Mark Elgan pointed to an article he published which poses the question: Will gadgets make knowledge obsolete? It is interesting to ponder, because as he points out:

we’re going to have to face the problem of education in a world in which nearly all knowledge is available to everyone, instantly, all the time.

Take the address book of your cell phone as an example. Without it, I wouldn’t know the phone numbers of even my closest friends and family. In fact, there are times when asked for my own number that I have to consult my phone.

I often think that I would be completely ineffective in my career as a software engineer if it were not for the almighty Google search. Whenever I encounter a problem, a few carefully chosen keywords are often enough to find a solution.

Yet, each time my own knowledge is called into question, I reach the conclusion that this ultimately a good thing. The technology industry has essentially been crowdsourced, under an open source development model where anyone can contribute. This allows engineers to build better applications, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

For example, there is advanced image processing research currently underway which can analyze batches of photos, and automatically pull out ones that are taken at the same location, based solely on the image in the picture. Furthermore, as additional photos are analyzed, they enter a feedback loop which improves the processing algorithms.

When online photo sharing sites such as Flickr are tapped, the algorithms themselves become crowdsourced, improving by the second with each uploaded photo. Eventually, this will lead to devices just like the phone of the future, where perception alone is enough to search all of the world’s information.


Lonna Hanson
June 23, 2008 at 6:11 PM

I, again, found this very interesting. As many times before, I think of my experiences being a teacher of elementary age students for the past 34 years. We try to make children find ways to make visual pictures in their minds as a way to teach memorization and automatic recall, whether it being mathematical flashcards, reading sight words, states and capitals, scientific terminology, etc. So, the cell phone and its memory bank or the computers address book does it for us. Also spell check eliminates the need for spelling knowledge. I think of the thousands of spelling tests I have given, corrected and calculated and recorded the grades. I do not think it eliminates the need for what I outlined above, but it most certainly minimizes the importance.

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