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Cyber Summit 2016: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data


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The Internet has revolutionized how — and how much — each of us can know. Our digital tools put the knowledge of the world at our fingertips — and soon, maybe, right into our heads. But what kinds of of knowledge do our devices give us, and how are they reshaping and challenging the role that education and libraries should play in our lives?

This talk was delivered by Michael Patrick Lynch, professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, where he directs the university’s Humanities Institute.

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Cyber Summit 2016: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data

  1. 1. Knowing More & Understanding Less Michael P. Lynch University of Connecticut
  2. 2. Knowledge is Power KNOWLEDGE is ENERGY
  3. 3. A Crucial Truth We can PRODUCE and CONSUME energy WISELY or UNWISELY Same for Knowledge
  4. 4. NEUROMEDIA Convenience can make us over-value some ways of knowing at the expense of others.
  5. 5. On its way  When you think about something and don't really know much about it, you will automatically get information…. Eventually you'll have an implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer” Google CEO, Larry Page
  6. 6. The Internet of Us  The most striking fact about our use of information technology is that it has become part of our form of life and as a result, has already changed how we know.
  7. 7. 1. Google-Knowing
  8. 8. Knowledge by digital interface
  9. 9. Google-knowing: perception and reality  Our devices allow us know in ways that seem familiar: like asking experts or a personal assistant to look It up for you.  But the reality of Google-knowing is more complex.
  10. 10. 1. Preference dependent  What we learn via digital interface is typically the result of OUTSOURCING our effort to collaborative or networked platforms.  Platforms DESIGNED to be immediately sensitive to, and affected by, preferences and biases—yours AND other people’s.  In other words, our digital devices work by predicting what you want.
  11. 11. 2. Cognitively Integrated  We rely on Google-knowing as a matter of course.  We give it default trust—Googling is believing.  Seamless  In these respects, Google-knowing is like perception.
  12. 12. Out of the box  Knowledge by digital interface doesn’t fit in the normal boxes.  It is both cognitively integrated and outsourced.  That’s what makes it so useful in the short-term.  It is also what can lead to troubles in the long-term.
  13. 13. 2. Long-term Worries
  14. 14. Desire isn’t truth
  15. 15. Bias-confirmation  We tend to believe what already fits our biases.  Which leads to information bubbles and social media echo chambers.  Which (partly) explains why it is a super vehicle for propaganda and manipulation. (See: Trump, Donald)
  16. 16. Overconfidence  Increased amounts of information and ease of access increases (over)confidence.  That leads to the Dunning-Kruger effect: illusions of superiority. The less we know the more we think we do.
  17. 17. 3. Understanding & Deep Knowledge
  18. 18. NEUROMEDIA again So what’s the point of education if we have Neuromedia?
  19. 19. Critical Thinking  People with integrated devices need to be able to:  Tell the difference between good sources and bad;  Appreciate evidence  Educational institutions help to refine these skills.
  20. 20. Deep Knowledge  But educational institution’s real value lies in their aim: to produce a different kind of epistemic energy, a different kind of knowledge.
  21. 21. Connecting the dots
  22. 22. Understanding as a complex form of knowing  Recognizing why or how something is the case.  Grasping: “how things hang together”  A chief aim of scientific modeling and investigation
  23. 23. Understanding as a creative act  A mental act is creative for a person to the extent that it generates, for that person, ideas that are contextually  Novel  Valuable  Surprising
  24. 24. That’s what makes it important  Active, not passive.  Something you must do for yourself.  I can’t outsource it.
  25. 25. Looking Forward 3
  26. 26. The Internet of Us  Cognitive integration means our relationship with IT is more and more intimate.  And that brings both comfort and vulnerability.
  27. 27. 3 lessons  We must be careful about what sort of epistemic energy—what sort of knowledge—we are producing.  Networked Google-knowing is powerful but over-valuing it can be limiting and driven by bias.  We must tailor our educational technology to produce deep knowledge—acts of understanding.
  28. 28.  In the past, the things that men could do were very limited . . . But with every increase in knowledge, there has been an increase in what men could achieve. In our scientific world, and presumably still more in the more scientific world of the not distant future, bad men can do more harm, and good men can do more good, than had seemed possible to our ancestors even in their wildest dreams. —Bertrand Russell
  29. 29. THANK YOU