How the accessing/processing of information has evolved
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
How did we work with the information in middle school?
Here are some memories of the process of writing essays in middle school (2001-2004):
Receive the topic from the teacher.
Visit the library.
Search for relevant books/articles.
Scan pages with interesting information.
Construct a story from the fragments collected from the library. Type it down if you have a PC; otherwise, use a pen.
The requirements for the essays were considering multiple sources, thoughtfully analysing the information and verifying main statements.
Information became more accessible in the high school
I recall my first encounter with the internet. It was during my 9th-grade year at school. I went to my classmate's house, as I had helped him with a math test, and he promised to return the favour by helping me with a history essay. He was one of the first people I knew who had access to the internet. It's funny to think back to how the internet was back then; when you were browsing the web, no one could call your home phone, as the telephone line was being used for the internet.
It was 2005. We searched for essay topics, copied the text from the first results we found, and inserted it into Microsoft Word, making some minor changes, and voila - the essay was ready.
It was a revolutionary experience. I felt like I had access to a world of knowledge. With the internet, I could instantly find any information I needed. I felt so empowered.
Looking back on it, I don't think much changed from middle school. We did less legwork and used some tricks until teachers started checking for plagiarism, but the thinking process stayed the same: we still needed to ask the right questions, analyse answers and synthesise the thought.
Filtering the information is a new problem
As the amount of information on the internet grew exponentially, we encountered a new problem: informational noise or too much information.
We can now access vast amounts of information from all over the world, but this comes at the cost of quality. With so much information available, it can be difficult to distinguish between reliable and inaccurate sources. The task of mining information was changed to its validation.
This new challenge requires a new set of skills. We need to learn how to assess the accuracy and reliability of our sources. We need to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion. We need to be able to recognize bias and verify references. We must learn to think critically and thoughtfully analyse information. Is it a new set of skills? Isn’t it something that was required from us in middle school?
How does ChatGPT change it?
The advent of AI-powered tools such as ChatGPT has raised the question of how it will change the way we access and process information. ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool that can generate content from a few input sentences. It has already been used to produce blog posts, essays, and even entire books.
The capabilities of this tool could make it easier for people to access and process information (or to access the processed information? 😑). With AI-powered content creation, people could generate high-quality text with minimal effort. This could revolutionize how we access and process information, making it easier to find and analyse relevant material.
However, this technology also comes with certain risks. ChatGPT is an automated tool that cannot recognize bias or verify sources. As such, it is essential to use it cautiously and double-check any generated content. ChatGPT uses content created by humans, so it will bullshit as much as they do.
Being a big fan of ChatGPT and playing with it almost every day, I want to emphasize that it has drastically improved the mining of information compared to typical web searches (not to mention library searches). It has removed a lot of noise by providing small, digestible data. However, the processing of the information is still on us. We still need to ask the right questions, analyse the answers and synthesise the thought.
Analysis and synthesis are still our weapons
All things AI tools provide today are a compilation of things that have been written before. No matter how advanced AI tools become, humans will still need to be able to analyse and synthesise information. We must be able to evaluate the quality of sources, recognize bias, and determine the relevance and accuracy of information. We must also have the skills to synthesize this information and create meaningful arguments and insights.
These skills are not only necessary for accessing and processing information but also for understanding the world around us. They are essential for making informed decisions and developing creative solutions to complex problems. These skills are more critical than ever in the age of AI-powered tools.
A wrong but useful mental model
Producing steel includes mining natural resources (iron ore, coal, and limestone) and processing them (steelmaking).
Steelmaking involves a complex process that requires several steps. First, iron ore, flux, and other materials must be added to the furnace. The furnace is then preheated with oxygen and recycled gases and heated to the desired temperature. Additional oxygen is then blown into the furnace to facilitate steelmaking. After that, slag and other impurities must be removed from the surface of the molten steel. Finally, the molten steel is poured into a ladle and transferred to a continuous caster for cooling and solidification.
The same applies to producing meaningful insights or ideas. It includes mining the information and processing it. I believe that the evolution from library searches to web searches to AI chats has drastically improved the process of mining information, while the processing step remains essentially unchanged. We still need to think critically and thoughtfully analyse information (as we did in middle school). We must be able to identify the important pieces of information and determine how to put them best together. We must also be able to recognize the gaps in existing knowledge and be able to fill them with new ideas and insights. This is where creativity and critical thinking come into play.