If knowledge is power, we'll be weak

from the better-buy-some-stock dept.
Senior Associate ChrisPhoenix looks at trends in data mining and analysis: "I got to thinking about Netscape's SmartDownload reporting on all the files we download (and their Search button does the same thing). http://www.computeruser.com/n ews/00/07/17/news10.html

I've been told that IBM's patent server keeps track of queries, and IBM uses that information (surely among the most valuable IP in the world). At least one company has told its employees not to use the server for this reason.

Now think of a transparent society… it's nice to be able to spy on the government spying on you, but that's really beside the point. The point is that the _data miners_ will be the ones with the real power. As more information is gathered, it will be harder to sort through, meaning that only those with access to huge bandwidth and crunch resources will be able to get anything useful from it. As sensors become cheaper, and fiber advances faster than CPUs, the gap will only widen. Read More for further thoughts. Ordinary people have no way to make use of the large databases, even if they could get access to them. But the information that can be extracted from them is quite valuable, and will continue to get more valuable. It could be used not only for marketing but for invention–and that feeds straight into the Singularity.

We all know the problems of the current patent system–how it increases the barrier to entry for small inventors, and how large companies use bogus patents and expensive litigation to lock out innovators. The law is obviously bad, and we can hope it will change. Data mining for ideas presents the same problem, but for completely different reasons that need a different solution.

Most inventions do not arise out of the blue. Even paradigm shifts require existing paradigms to build on. There have been many examples of novel inventions or discoveries made independently when the time was right. A smart data miner would be able to see these coming, and synthesize the new idea months before any individual would have gathered the necessary hints to become aware of it. Independent inventors would be "scooped" time after time by such a system. If ten inventors groping toward a new idea each asked one-tenth of the right questions on-line, the miner could see all the questions together, and the invention would be obvious.

I don't know how important independent inventors are to the success of our economic system, much less a post-nanotech system. I don't know how many people could be employed by a large company that had a sneak preview of most new ideas. I don't know what the competition between two such companies would look like. But I'm pretty sure that today's account of creativity would have to change. The problems arising from this change are obvious. I can see two hopeful scenarios. First is that a company with access to so many ideas would have to hire everyone it could in order to make use of them. Second is that a company might choose to make some of the ideas available to outsiders or contractors, thus allowing private individuals at least a partial independence.


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