Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From information overflow, to a spotless mind

From Charles-Philippe Larivière...
It seems that I have been suffering an acute case of writer's block for the first few months of year 2012.

And what better way to start the year, than writing a non-technical vaguely metaphysical post. It is fun to see how I got to posting about this. While I write these first few lines, I still haven't chosen a title. Like B. Pascal put it a long time ago, the last thing I'll do is figure what will go first.

So, a piece of news not so recently suggested that the last DRAM chip maker in Japan, called Elpida, would go bankrupt. And then it did. You've never heard of it before, have you ? Well that's how I started to think again about memory.

As self-centred egotistical human beings, we basically build our memories with our own experience. Unfortunately, some things go well beyond our understanding and need taking a few thousands steps back to behold the big picture. That's where History comes into play. You could see it as a purveyor of fabricated memories, or as a conservation mechanism for the collective memory of mankind. Notice how History is both important and out of control at the same time. This is the setting that gave so much strength to the 1984 book in my own self-centered opinion.

The folk memory of fishermen in the Fukushima prefecture says that when a quake hits, a tsunami will follow. It also says that you had better go out to sea before the wave becomes to steep to climb. This is how a few boats were saved.

Our History is full of important lessons that should be remembered, and yet, we are now bathing in useless information, both figuratively and literally speaking. From the electromagnetic waves of wifi, cellphones, satellites, land TV and radio, to the clusterfuck of social media, RSS aggregation and whatever will come next - we are even drowning in information. And although the face value of it depends on how much each piece of information relates to you, chances are that not a billionth of it is worth your attention.

This is like dilution and filtering. The important information is diluted, your interest might not match those of dedicated mainstream portals, and obtaining what you want is frustrating. Meanwhile, the human brain received billions of sensory reports from all over the body, and yet, you could read these words without having to deal with it. Only valuable information made it to conscious level. Why can't our computers do this work of filtering for us, skipping over all that is not useful, skimming the things that we must read ?

Granted, this is hard from a computer software point of view. This is why regular users don't have it. Big companies do, however. That's how your webmail is free of monetary cost. Instead, computer programs are laughing at your information and selling select pieces to each other.

...to Sandow Birk
But eventually, you would expect people governing us to employ such filters, be they humans or computers, to isolate what is important, focus on it, and rule accordingly. So, how come a megaquake more than 1000 years ago went forgotten ? How come a ridiculously low $5 millions cut can be decided on a tsunami advisory program ? When will people stop doing exactly the same wrong thing every once in a long while, that is, long enough to not remember a bit...

NOTE: the two paintings came to my attention through the "google filter" and this page.

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