New Civilization News: Information Order and Ease    
 Information Order and Ease1 comment
16 Mar 2004 @ 16:15, by Flemming Funch

These are just some lose thoughts while I'm thinking aloud.

One can learn a good deal just by plotting various kinds of qualities on different axes in a coordinate system and noticing what seems to end up in the different quadrants.

Now, one of the things I'm interested in is how to get myself and others the most useful information I need in the easiest and fastest way possible. That sounds kind of tame in itself, so let me skip ahead a little bit.

What I really would want is that I'm presented with exactly the most useful information I need at any given time, without any work on my part. Doesn't have to relate to computers particularly - I'd like that in life.

If I suddenly need a plumber, it would be nice if the first person who walked by my house, say within the next minute or so, would happen to be a plumber who could use some work. And, incidentally, he happened to be the most skilled and reliable guy, and cheap too.

OK, it wouldn't be much more trouble if I had to make a phone call and he showed up. But the trouble is the information. I need to know who the best person is, who has optimum pricing, who can be here quick. Maybe I already know the answer and it would be great. Maybe I know who to call quickly, and they would know the answer. All of that would work. But the yellow pages involves too much chance.

And that's a simple and routine problem. It is harder if I want to find somebody to go into business with, or I needed the answer to a unique and maybe complex question.

I might know the answer already. I might be good at guessing it. Or I might know people who're likely to know, and I can reach them quickly. Or I have the right book to look up in. Or I go and search in a search engine. Google has made me much smarter already. I can answer a lot of questions within a minute, simply by guessing at a couple of search words. But, again, if my need or my question is more complex and unique, it will not give me anything.

Nevertheless, I want ALL of it to be ordered suitably, just for me. All information in the world that I might possibly need. I don't necessarily care HOW it happens. Although, I do care if I need to help making it happen in some way. But at first I just care about the effect I want.

There's, for example, how ordered my information is...

OK, words can be used in various ways, and of course everything is ordered somehow. But I'm talking about what I might need. If I go into a library, the best kind of order would be that the two books I need happened to be standing right by the entrance, easy for me to see. A friendly sign saying "Flemming! Here are the books you're search for!" would help too. See, if doesn't at that point matter to me that the whole library uses the Dewey decimal system and alphabetical sorting. What matters is that I find what I want quickly. Or slowly if somehow I enjoyed that more. Anyway, we're talking about a somewhat subjective quality of orderedness. But we're talking about how to accommodate our subjective idea of what order something should be in, by some system in the real world, which probably is computerized. And it needs to do it even if I don't really know exactly what my preferred order is. I want it to be in the right order without me having to spend any significant time in finding out what that might be. Of course, if I do know, and I suddenly have a preferred order I can state, like "Give me all the books sorted by the colors of their backs", I'd want that too.

Actually, besides how ordered things are, we get into the issue of how much work it is to make it so. I could sort all of the books in the library in color order, if I took a few weeks and they didn't kick me out. Or some other mechanism might do it for me. Anyway, there's naturally a scale of...

which leaves out various dimensions, like who or what does the work, and does it need to be done in advance, or is it done at the time the need arises.

I suppose it is not a problem if something requires a lot of work, if either it has been convenient for somebody else to already do it before I need it, or some parallel supercomputer has put it together, and can present the results to me easily. But I prefer doing as little as possible. And I suppose we can say that it is generally better if things happen with ease and minimial trouble, as opposed to with great time and effort. And how that adds up is maybe more clear if I put it together in two dimensions like this:

OK, I'm really just brainstorming here. Nothing scientific about it, and we can argue about how to use the words and where various things will fit.

But you'll notice for example that some activities and some people involve a lot of effort for little result. It is sometimes how it is to be poor or having bad infrastructure. Walking 10 miles for a pot of water. Or how poor people in an otherwise rich society might do stupid things and waste the resources they have. Or how people just trying to survive in developing countries might make an ecological mess.

Then there's the situation that you apply massive power and resources for a rather small purpose, and it therefore can be extremely well organized and ordered. Say you're a billionaire and you insist on getting fried hummingbirds freshly caught in Madagascar on your dinner plate every evening. You might command a jet to fly them to you every morning, and employ a whole hierarchy of people to make it happen in the most precise manner possibly. Or, say you're Microsoft, and you make software. Instead of making better and more inherently elegant software, you might instead hire 1000 more highly qualified engineers to try to close the holes in what you have. In other words, if you have great wealth or power, you can afford doing something in an inefficient but very organized way. If you are very wealthy and you want some kind of information, you can have a whole team of the most highly qualified and highly paid experts sitting around trying to get it for you.

In the lower right, I put "Nature", which one could well argue about. Nature is ordered, but not in the way we normally call ordered or organized. It is in many ways a mess, but a mess where nothing is ultimately wasted, and where there are lots of synergies between different lifeforms and elements. Lots of work is being done, but not really in the sense of what we normally call work. Each living creature is pretty much just going about its business and doing what comes natural, and apparently not losing any sleep over how things are "supposed to be done". If some suitable food walks by, you'll eat it, and if something comes by that considers you food, they'll eat you. The waste products are just left behind randomly. But somehow it all works rather beautifully, and something else will probably consider those waste products its own lunch. If you examine, for example, ants, they just walk around and follow very simple rules for what to do. There's a lot of redundancy, and eventually things get done, haphazardly, but quite well. It is done in a messy way, but without anybody having to make plans or work hard on making them turn out. Thus, great ease, but low organization.

Although we humans can learn a lot from the rest of nature, and strategies like what ants are using to find food might well be useful for our own algorithms to automate, those approaches aren't how we ourselves would like to work. We'd like to work at a higher order. I'm not satisfied with having to wander around haphazardly if I already know what I want and where I'm going. I wouldn't at all be nonchalant about being eaten on the way there. No, we humans usually want something fairly complex, but focused, and we want to be quite sure to get it, but most of us don't have a lot of time and resources to put into it.

So I want something very ordered that takes next to no work to acquire. We're back to talking about information. Ideally I want something just-in-time, exactly when I need it, without having to wring my brain trying to plan everything in advance, and without having to start a big project whenever I want something.

When we're talking about information, there are various noble approaches that are aiming at giving me ordered and useful information easily. There's the Semantic Web, which tries to mark everything with added attributes so that we can ask more meaningful questions. Instead of just storing text, somebody notes down which parts are an "address", a "person", a "place" and that kind of thing. Which adds some intelligence. And the hope is that people will actually feel like recording this kind of information somehow. Another philosophy is that this isn't going to happen, but we need better search engine technology that itself guesses at what things mean, based on our behavior when we move around on the web, so that it might better give us what we might need. Maybe it will be combinations. Social networks, or networks of economic activity, might gather information, by both the behavior and the deliberate value choices of many individuals. And it might add up to better information, and a better way of giving me the information I might want.

As a user, I don't necessarily care how it happens. I want an experience where things appear either like synchronicity, where an apparently random item I get presented with happens to be exactly what I need; or simply as the answer to a question I pose. But I expect that this can happen in some kind of sustainable way, just like how google comfortably can provide everybody's searches without incurring any impossible costs.

I suppose some kind of free market, self-organizing, collaborative filtering is part of what will get there. Plus somebody's clever inventions that aren't there yet.

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1 comment

16 Mar 2004 @ 21:38 by Ge Zi @ : knowingness
you know the answer! I guess you just want to challenge your readers a little bit, aren't you ;-)
Thoughout literature (mostly science fiction) and philosophies we are being taught that there is some higher harmonic to knowledge. One of the excellent examples in literature is Doc EE Smith's Lensmen series. I forgot what the name of this race is on the positive side of the equation, but they just know things, even into the future - not too far because there also still have room for improvement, but to some extent.
And philosophies - I mean they are full of the concept of intuition, knowingness or whatever that might be called.
But this kind is somehow the opposite of a google. Don't get me wrong, I love and use google and currently I prefer to use it instead of just doing a chant, close my eyes and type in an URL and have what I need - - - what a sec, I actually never tried that - maybe I should.
Actually I did and I'm sure you did too. Whenever we do debugging on a program. I am sure if we would go about that with logic - physical universe logig - we would never get anything done because the possibilities are just too numerous.
Ususally we know where the bug is. In order not to break all reality we still search a little bit, but that is just to keep the physical universe as we know it going.
Totally off topic - but I meant to ask that for a while - how do I include links in a comment like this? and another one: is there a way - and if not I request to add that feature - to watch a blog or blog-article in that I get an e-mail when either an article is added to a blog or a comment is added to a blog-article?

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