Google, Wiki, … the obsolete know-it-all?

Google, Wiki, … the obsolete know-it-all?

A pretty entertaining and also interesting TED Talk by Ken Jennings discusses the importance and power of knowledge.

TED´s headline: Trivia whiz Ken Jennings has made a career as a keeper of facts; he holds the longest winning streak in history on the U.S. game show Jeopardy. But in 2011, he played a challenge match against supercomputer Watson — and lost.

After talking a while about his career and experiences as trivia whiz he finds a perfect shift to the important topic knowledge.

Ken JenningsHe – as the Jeopardy champion – undertook the adventure to play Jeopardy against the new computer. After he lost he felt kind of obsolete, he saw news that pharmacists released a machine that can fill prescriptions automatically without actually needing a human pharmacist. Software that made paralegals obsolete by the ability to sum up case laws, legal briefs and decisions. Programs where people feed a box score from a sports game and get complete news article.

Besides the economic effects – and the discussion about it – Jennings points out a very important change:

And it made me think, what does this mean, if we’re going to be able to start outsourcing, not just lower unimportant brain functions. I’m sure many of you remember a distant time when we had to know phone numbers, when we knew our friends’ phone numbers. And suddenly there was a machine that did that, and now we don’t need to remember that anymore. I have read that there’s now actually evidence that the hippocampus, the part of our brain that handles spacial relationships, physically shrinks and atrophies in people who use tools like GPS, because we’re not exercising our sense of direction anymore.


He thought about it a lot and started asking himself if information just get less important and how to judge this trend.

The more I thought about it, I realized, no, it’s still important.The things we know are still important.I came to believe there were two advantagesthat those of us who have these things in our head haveover somebody who says, “Oh, yeah. I can Google that. Hold on a second.” There’s an advantage of volume, and there’s an advantage of time.

1. Advantage of volume:

Today´s human information double every 18 months. No one can be reasonably educated on every field of human endeavor any more. But even though we can not “know it all” we can be aware of facts, of basics; we can have an understanding by education, curiosity and a big knowledge.

Jennings names a great example:

According to a National Geographic survey I just saw, somewhere along the lines of 80 percent of the people who vote in a US presidential election about issues like foreing policy cannot find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. If you can´t do that first step, are you really going to look up the other thousand facts you are going to need to know to master your knowledge of US foreign policy?

2. Advantage of time:

To points out the advantage of time he uses another explaning example about a girl on vacation in Thailand:

She was a 10-year-old girl from Surrey, Englandon vacation with her parents a few years ago in Phuket, Thailand.She runs up to them on the beach one morningand says, “Mom, Dad, we’ve got to get off the beach.”And they say, “What do you mean? We just got here.”And she said, “In Mr. Kearney’s geography class last month,he told us that when the tide goes out abruptly out to seaand you see the waves churning way out there,that’s the sign of a tsunami, and you need to clear the beach.”What would you do if your 10-year-old daughter came up to you with this?Her parents thought about it,and they finally, to their credit, decided to believe her.They told the lifeguard, they went back to the hotel,and the lifeguard cleared over 100 people off the beach, luckily,because that was the day of the Boxing Day tsunami,the day after Christmas, 2004,that killed thousands of people in Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean.But not on that beach, not on Mai Khao Beach,because this little girl had remembered one fact from her geography teacher a month before.

This example is maybe a bit dramatic but the advantage of time is also useful in everyday situations, in social situations. A meeting, a job interview or a date that gets lubricated because two people realize they share some common piece of knowledge.


In the end Jennings draws a conclussion:

I don’t want to live in a world where cultural literacy has been replaced by these little bubbles of specialty, so that none of us know about the common associations that used to bind our civilization together.

[...] we can all make that choice. We make that choice by being curious, inquisitive people who like to learn, who don’t just say, “Well, as soon as the bell has rung and the class is over, I don’t have to learn anymore,” or “Thank goodness I have my diploma. I’m done learning for a lifetime. I don’t have to learn new things anymore.” No, every day we should be striving to learn something new. We should have this unquenchable curiosity for the world around us.


The choise is ours

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