Some say that technology provides ever-expanding access to shared knowledge. Ergo, the need to absorb and digest said knowledge has diminished over time. How true is this?
To explore, discuss, and possibly refute such a statement I will attempt to challenge the former and examine some situations where such a statement is indeed applicable from the origins of humanity, the ascendancy from hairless apes to bipedal gods, to AI, and beyond.
First of all, to pass judgement upon this statement one must affirm to the fact that technology, will be defined as the knowledge used in a practical context that overcomes problems when compared to a point said technology did not exist.
The term ‘Technology’ itself has been generalised over the years and has many definitions. It can explain any number of things ranging from flint tools all the way to genetic-engineering. According to my understanding ever-expanding access to knowledge, either firsthand or secondhand, is almost always a by-product of advancing technology.
So does technology really provide ever-expanding access to shared knowledge? I believe that such a statement can only be true in specific contexts and fails to hold true in other situations, with mistaken belief to be found both within the alleged fact of ‘Technology Provides Ever-Expanding Access To Shared Knowledge’ and the claim of ‘Therefore The Need To Assimilate Such Knowledge Personally Is Relentlessly Diminishing’.
Technology since the dawn of time.
How is the spread of technology assisted or confined by technology? In the annals of history, man was nothing but another animal out of countless others on earth, and advancements of technology along with the promulgation of said technology was slow.
For example, one can take a glimpse of the history of the homo genus and parallel advancements of technology. As of the time of writing, the earliest evidence of stone tools being used is roughly 3.3 million years ago, and contrasting with human advancements of a similar era, Homo Habilis, known as of the time of writing as one of the earliest branches within the genus first appeared merely ~2.4 million years ago, and as a point of comparison, Anatomically Modern Humans only appeared less than ~195.000 years ago, of which the difference of the former alone is over 4.5 times longer than the latter.
Take the harnessing of fire, an indisputable advancement of technology of the hominids. The use of fire itself has it’s share of information learning, such as how we observed that fire had the ability to ward off predators during the night. However the main contribution of fire was the technological advancement which resulted in reducing sickness and healthier living standards for the civilisation as a whole.
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A similar example can be seen with ferrets, with the domestication of ferrets as hunting animals affecting their behaviour even long after the use of ferrets for hunting (in addition to teaching ferrets to hunt) ceased. As the human brain continued to evolve and the development of language began, knowledge and its expansion would encompass a three-step cycle; the expansion and acquisition of knowledge; preservation of gained knowledge; and finally building on previous knowledge for improvement and advancement.
Acquisition of knowledge could now be grouped into firsthand (such as reason) and secondhand (such as language, an example of knowledge transmission to those who have not received such knowledge themselves.)
Gutenberg’s printing press
Another possible example that I can provide when attempting to prove that technology is the key to expanding one’s knowledge is Gutenberg’s printing press, invented sometime in the mid-1400s.
Although block printing has been in great use in the far east by the 8th century, the printing press was comparable to the emergence of the internet in the way it helped the flow of information.
This historical event needs no explanation as its multiple impacts, ranging from the democratisation of knowledge would directly lead to the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the modern age.
The communication of information led to greater literacy rates, reformation of the church, and the spread of knowledge, proving once again, that technology within this specific context, does lead to a widened access to shared knowledge.
Access to all?
One issue with the statement is the affected target of expanding access. The question itself presumes that the answer to that is ‘everyone’, but as seen from examples of history, such as the understanding of latin within the middle ages within the occidental (western) world, I personally believe that the definition of shared knowledge and the degree of access to it to the common layman is highly dependent upon who exactly technology provides said ‘ever-expanding access to.’
The Rise of A.I
Take example of the rising field of Artificial Intelligence. With unparalleled degrees of power, artificial intelligence may one day have the power to form it’s own brain complete with neural connections and thought processes.
The rise of A.I has been feared by many and welcomed by some. Big figures of the tech industry such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and even Steve Jobs all say that we should fear the rise if artificial intelligence. However one could argue that artificial intelligence is the key to understanding deeper and more complex life forms and even simulating deep space travel to avoid organic casualties.
Arnav Kapur made a great TedTalk on the matter, feel free to click the link to check it out (https://www.ted.com/talks/arnav_kapur_how_ai_could_become_an_extension_of_your_mind)
According to my own interpretation of shared knowledge and definiton of knowledge given above, technology does indeed provide expanding access to shared knowledge, even if shared knowledge will take time to circulate and transition from personal knowledge to shared knowledge.
I personally believe that with expanding access to shared knowledge, the need to understand fully such knowledge is diminishing in certain situations as such efforts can be better directed to achieve other matters. (An amateur proponent of the theory of ‘Spaceship Earth’- the idea that the people across the planet should work harmoniously for a greater goal.)
I also believe that if there is no value related to the understanding of such knowledge, except within the case where assimilation itself is essential to the task being completed, such as in cosmonautical colonists where technology which may provide said knowledge and information would not be available, is merely squandered away in assimilation of of what is already accessible by technology.
Lastly, despite the multiple problematic issues related to the statement of ‘science is growing exponentially’, I generally believe in the truth of such a statement and to do unnecessary things, arguably, is to regress and hold back progress.
Ultimately, I believe that from the examples that I have provided, it can be seen that within specific contexts, technology does provide expanding access to shared knowledge, whether expanding access to shared knowledge is or is not the ultimate goal of technology.
As for whether or not one should use the information or absorb it, is up to their own beliefs and judgement.
From what I have concluded I am in full agreement of the idea that as we have more information available to us we no longer need to learn all of it. When there is no longer a need or a drive to learn, there is no more reason to continue to do such things.
Though it could be argued that technology may indeed restrict access to shared knowledge (censorship), but speculation tends to lead to extreme and oft-inaccurate scenarios and I believe it best to be patient and see what the future holds.
One possible additional direction one could take the question further is questioning what ultimate goal shared knowledge will contribute to and what is the purpose of such a goal? One can even question the validity of the statement of ‘Science is growing exponentially’, but I digress…