Nescient, in case you didn’t know, is the opposite of “omniscient.”
While I hate the whole “thought leader” fad, I’m finding that my favorite ally among public intellectuals is Frank Pasquale, someone who seems to actually “get it” when it comes to what issues I think are actually important concerning the big data fad, and informational issues in general. This article nails it in so many ways, but I draw your attention to this:
Wired’s flagship article on the IoT asks, “Have you ever lost an object in your house and dreamed that you could just type a search for it, as you would for a wayward document on your hard drive?”
This perfectly illustrates my love/hate attitude toward Wired. They have (in terms of my own warped worldview) an uncanny sense of what questions need to be asked, but somehow always manage to find a framing for each issue that finds enterprise-in-the-abstract essentially blameless. In this case, I wish to call them out on “bad metaphor.” My complaint isn’t with a tagged tangible object as a metaphor for a searchable informational object. That I think is a valid metaphor and in fact describes a technology which I desire. No, my gripe is with a hard drive as a metaphor for an internet. If I’m looking for a file on my hard drive my options are very direct. Since I’m a Linux user, if I remember all or part of the filename,
locate gives me almost instantaneous results. If I remember a few words or numbers, some pipelined combination of
grep almost always does the trick. There are even tools that can help with accidental deletions. Searching for “lost documents” on the Internet is a whole nother ball game, and this is NOT primarily because the Internet is a bigger informational space than my hard drive. Clearly it’s because the search tools available to me on the Internet are vastly inferior, and are inferior by design. Unless I’m really missing something, building the underlying database of a modern search engine (by “crawling”) consumes much more of every kind of resource than developing or operating tools for searching it at any level of detail one might wish. This is especially true when the even the public domain contains performant big data tools such as as Hadoop. But that’s the whole catch, it seems. I don’t have anywhere near the resources to index the web, therefore I’ll never have enough access to existing indexes of it to have the opportunity to search it intelligently. There’s no technological reason my search engine query can’t be an SQL query against all indexed pages, just like there’s no technological reason my supermarket receipt can’t be a machine-readable document containing everything from the ingredients lists on the packages in my cart to the gross weight of each item (already tabulated as evidenced by the way self-checkout operates). It’s two thousand fucking fifteen and to journal groceries and cleaning supplies in separate expense accounts in my personal accounting software I have to do data entry, like I did for temp agency wages back in the 1980s! There’s no technological reason there can’t be a USB port on my car dashboard that turns my car (or at least its onboard computers) into basically a flash drive, containing a filesystem full of everything from GPS logs to oxygen sensor logs to accelerometer logs. If there is an accelerometer log it’s for Aunt Flo’s use over at Progressive, to see if I’m braking too hard to be eligible for affordable insurance. Beyond filesystems there could be smarter interfaces to the data such as an SQL engine or a (local) webserver. The reasons are rooted in the laws of economics. I’m not a paying customer, therefore I’m the product. And the car manufacturers are very hard at work trying to create legal precedents for my non-ownership of my car. Where’s GWB’s “ownership society” when you need it?
There’s wisdom as well as irony in the fact that the I in IQ stands for the same word as the I in CIA. As market-based allocation of resources tends toward the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, likewise in a data landscape in which monetization is a prerequisite for organized activity, the smart get smarter and the ignorant get ignoranter. Advanced big data techniques in service to accumulation of information asymmetry and the accompanying arbitrage opportunities results in what I call TAIWAN. Nothing to do with the country by that name or its admirable citizens; it’s just an acronym:
Whenever there’s a discussion of poverty or inequality in the “money” sense, you can make a drinking game of counting the seconds before one of the participants invokes the “absolute poverty argument.” It could be as sophisticated as someone pointing out that a poor person today is better nourished or has better life expectancy than some medieval monarch (or has technologies “beyond the dreams” of the latter), or as crude as some passing remark about “welfare people” who have iPhones. This of course can be elided into the idea that the welfare recipient with an iPhone has more powerful informational resources at their disposal than the director of MI5 circa 1950, or even NASA circa 1969. Don’t believe the hype. Some things really are zero sum games, and some goods are indeed positional goods. Exclusive access to any resource, including information, is on the short list of goods that can be described as positional. Being in the 0th percentile means being shat upon by roughly 100% of the parties you may have to transact with in the daily grind of securing employment, housing, transportation, credit (to cover house/car emergencies). All the good stuff at the base of the hierarchy-of-needs pyramid. This is as true of being 0th percentile in the information=power game as it is in the wealth=power game.