Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Knowledge and The Information

Right after one of my first really brutal breakups, at the suggestion of a friend, I picked up The Information by Martin Amis.  It's incredibly depressing, but it has a lot to say about what's important in life, and what isn't.  I read it the same way some people like to listen to maudlin emo albums after a breakup.  The main character Richard likes to frequent a divey joint called The Warlock, which has, along side the snooker table and other accouterments  a bar trivia machine which is colloquially referred to by the denizens of The Warlock as "The Knowledge" (named after the test that London cabbies have to take before they can get their hack license.)  Richard is the hands down world champion at The Knowledge.  He knows every answer to every crossword puzzle.  He has read everything by everyone.  He is a fount of trivia.  But, the quiz machine (and, indeed, the modern sense of the word "trivia" itself) slyly winks at central paradox of The Information.  Martin has all The Information, but he has none of The Knowledge.  He can answer questions about dead authors and living cricketers, he's a novelist who has read every piece of fiction there is to read about the meaning of life and the human condition, but he has no idea what the meaning of his own life is.
The 3 P's: Plumbing, Payment, and Politics

I've spent the past several years on the front lines of the Big Data wars, and I spend a lot of time thinking about issues around data, information, meaning, and intelligence from a very pragmatic perspective: How do you get organizations to share information?  What are the obstacles to actually moving information around within and between organizations?  How do you bring value to organizations through data?  Where are the trends taking us, and what are the emerging contours?  (In my recent talk at Georgetown, I coquettishly categorized these under "The Three P's: Plumbing, Payment, and Politics".)  So, consider this an invitation to a discussion about (or, more likely, a solipsistic ramble through) getting us from Big Data to Big Knowledge, the "ecstasy of consciousness" , and/or a marginally functioning information economy.

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