Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Message on sign:


FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 1, 2011

Other signs on the Quad: "Please Give Blood"; a man handed out flyers: "Judgment Day! May 21, 2011/The End of the World October 21, 2011/Does GOD Love You?"; a woman stood on the Quad collecting signatures for a petition to expand Mt. Rainier National Park

Credits: the idea for this sign grew out of discussions with Vitaly Ivanov

Some ideas discussed and thoughts expressed:

- many people smiled when they saw the sign; some shook their heads "No", apparently in response to the question

- some people said the internet does know more than they do. They said they go to sites like wikipedia to get information they need to write papers

- some said they wouldn't want computers to know (or seem to know) more than we do as then we would rely on them too much; for example, a computer might be programmed to catch criminals before they commit crimes (like in the film Minority Report) but make mistakes we would overlook and send innocent people to jail; overreliance on computers could also make us even lazier about learning than we already are; for example, with so much information at our fingertips it becomes too easy to learn

- one person said his answer to the question would depend on whether the "internet" was understood as the connective devices between people or the people themselves contributing to it

- one person said the internet could theoretically know as much as a human being could if we constructed a mechanical model which replicated all the neurological connections in the brain

- one person said the internet knows more than he does, but the individual person who answers his question on Yahoo Answers maybe knows less

- some said the answer to the question would depend on what was meant by "know"; he said the internet could store a lot of information like a library, but that it could not make use of it because it did not have the necessary will, desire or intention 

- most people said the internet does not know more than they do; even if it could contain more information, it could not put its knowledge together with experience to acquire what human beings possess, namely wisdom

- one person made the point that a computer could not know love since love is an emotion impossible to describe; but then again, if a computer did acquire sentience and came to know love, it might be equally (as we are) unable to describe the feeling so we could not know whether the computer had truly learned to experience it

- one person made the point that it is possible to have knowledge about something, or even to be able to do something, like solve a mathematical equation, but that does not necessarily mean that a person understands what they are doing; so there is knowledge and there is Knowledge...

- in any case, the issue is an important one. If computers acquire the ability to take on the tasks carried out by, say, lawyers and doctors, why do we overemphasize rote learning, erudition and the more mechanical intellectual tasks to the detriment of developing the the imagination, creative abilities, the intuition and the ability to apply ethical principles?

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow), see here, February 28-March 1.

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