I was watching the Boob Tube yesterday (NFC and AFC championship games) when I noticed an ad from IBM about "building a smarter planet." The concept is interesting in itself. But beyond the obvious there is something else that crept into my fertile brain.*
We are expanding the power of our smartest people.
That's right. Instead of an intelligent person dabbling in his arts in some research facility or university, sharing his findings among the intellectual elites through lectures and books, he can be right there with us in everyday life. He can be assisting all of the rest of us as we struggle through the many little puzzles we must solve each day.
The ability to make fire ages ago gave man the ability no other animal had. Some ancient, almost ape, forerunner of man was a genius of his day and figured out how to create fire. Not just capture it from a burning tree or plant, not just to keep it going, but to create it where it had not been before. And then he did the truly amazing thing... he shared that knowledge with his peers. Beyond discovering how to make fire, the ability to share knowledge has been key to human civilization.
We all know that knowledge is power but it is limited unless it can be shared. It might help a few but it can be lost if they are lost. Without passing that knowledge to others, knowledge can easily be lost and progress will be slow. Modern man's greatest inventions have been in the arena of communication. From cave pictures depicting hunts (which help teach the younger tribesmen how to hunt ) to paintings and sculpture, to clay tablets, to papyrus, to schools, to paper, to pen and ink, to printing presses, to photography, to moving pictures (silent to sound and monochrome to color), to televisions, to computers. All of these things have spread the ideas and knowledge of the relatively few geniuses to the masses of people.
Today we are seeing the proliferation of computing into all kinds of machines and tools. Instead of the tool user having to learn how to use the tool, the tools can now function more on their own. The knowledge of the tool maker built into the tool. This is passing the knowledge without the recipient having to learn.
Let's look at ovens. After man figured out how to make fire, he began to cook his meat. He did this on open fires. Eventually he learned to contain the fire so it could be used more efficiently. Stoves first, cooking on top, then ovens where the heat would be all around the food. But no control beyond knowing how much wood (fuel) to use. Ovens got more sophisticated, wood was replaced by gas and electricity. Ways to measure heat were found. Ways to control the amount of fuel were found. This allowed more precise control of the cooking process. Cooking can now be done more easily, more uniformly, more efficiently. This was sharing the knowledge, bringing it to the everyman.
Timers were invented, then integrated into the ovens, making it possible to cook more precisely through use of technology. Smart ovens are out there. One day, you will select "roast beef, medium rare", put the meat in the oven, and come back when the oven reports it is ready. Or maybe robots will do that for you.
As people think of new ways, better ways, more efficient ways to use a tool, we are starting to build that knowledge into the tools we use everyday. Take a good look at cars, for example. Computers monitor fuel mixture and spark. It was not so long ago that these were set by the driver, later by mechanics when they tuned your car. But those computers now also monitor tire pressure, control safety devices, warn of possible danger, remind us of service needs.
IBM's advertisements talk of a smarter world. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it's just Smarter Tools. Tools with "smart people" built into them.
And we are hardly noticing.
*(aside: it is fertile possibly because it is full of manure).
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago