Radio Readers BookByte: Knowledge is Exponential

Oct 22, 2019

Complex exponential function graph suggests the intricacies of the expansion of knowledge resulting from the speed with which masses of data can be analyzed
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Hello, my name Eric Mercer. I am an industrial and organizational psychology practitioner in the southwest Kansas area. The book, Homo Deus, purports not to present predictions, but merely possibilities and potentials of future human endeavors; as well as, perhaps, some timely warnings and reminders of what makes us human. 

The following quote from the book may provide some insight into how knowledge can lead to changes, whether we are fully aware of it or not. "This is the paradox of historical knowledge. Knowledge that does not change behavior is useless. But knowledge that changes behavior quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated."

In theory we should better understand more of the political, economic, and social world we live in, and to a certain extent we do, but not at a speed that has kept up with the additional knowledge being generated.

I’m rather fond of the axiom that knowledge is exponential. Knowledge starts off slowly but can quickly multiply as each new piece of knowledge generates many more pieces of knowledge across time. Viewed in this way, it is easy to see how knowledge may outstrip our ability to see a system as large as the world in its entirety. Instead, we may commonly see only small parts and/or systems of the greater system.

To understand this we'll use the concept of a system-of-systems. A system can be thought of as a set of different parts so interconnected or interrelated that the parts perform a unique function not able to be performed by the part alone. The concept of a system-of-systems, then, is simply a system that is made up of multiple other systems, which in turn is made up of different parts. Therefore, a combination of a set of different systems that serve to form a larger system-of-systems would be capable of performing a function not able to be performed by a single system alone.

The objective in using a system-of-systems approach would also not be one of prediction (which is currently quite difficult to do over time, just ask any meteorologist), but instead would serve to generate understanding of the essence of a problem (i.e., the hard to grasp insight) by elevating our perspective.

However, while a global approach may facilitate our own intuitive understanding of the larger problem, it would not necessarily make communication between the systems or parts any easier. History (as outlined through much of the book) is full of examples of disruptive and unintended consequences occurring as a result of miscommunication or simply lack of communication. History shows us that no single technology, program or even agency can adequately solve problems stemming from a system of systems. If we want to avoid unintended consequences on a global scale, we should ensure careful analysis is done on the interactions between technology, policy, and economics.

Therefore, as outlined in Homo Deus, the very act of considering a future consisting of homo sapiens upgrading themselves to Homo Deus already begins to change the possible outcomes. Just as capitalists could read the warnings of Karl Marx and avoid many of the dire predictions, so we too can read the warnings outlined in Homo Deus and seek to avoid our loss of humanity. We do not have to fear the future, we just need to be aware of what is happening and why. Thanks for listening.