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Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane

In information, information science, internet, philosophy on September 30, 2013 at 21:20

From: Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

Anybody reading this will have interacted with a computer. These exchanges can hardly be called conversations. One no more converses with current computers than a soldier on parade converses with a drill sergeant. However, when working on the Internet using your personal computer as an intermediary, things are rather better. Searching for a book, inspecting its contents online, then ordering it, can be a much more satisfying form of interaction. You are never, however, under any illusion that you are dealing with a fellow human: you don’t ask the Internet, “What’s the weather like down there?… Have you read it yourself?” Computer-driven machines can now carry out a huge range of very highly skilled tasks, from navigating and landing aircraft, to manufacturing and assembling a wide range of products. How feasible is it that, in a few decades, one might have great difficulty in knowing whether or not one was talking to a computer? And if unable to finally evade all your attempts to engage it in stimulating conversation (“I’m sorry, but I’m too busy to chat with you right now, what was it you wanted?”), it could answer virtually any general knowledge question, provide detailed guidance over the whole range of literature and science, do seriously advanced mathematics, and play a mean game of poker, should you call it intelligent? After all, it knows the capital, population and main exports of every country in the world, and you don’t. Furthermore, are there serious implications for society if computers linked to machines and communication systems could run all the railroads, fly all the aircraft, manage all the traffic, make all the cars and other products, act as vast reservoirs of factual knowledge, and perform almost any other activity requiring great skill? These are not merely interesting philosophical questions. Should machines reach the requisite levels of knowledge and skill, their integration into society could pose very severe problems.

To address these questions we need to define carefully three basic concepts – information, knowledge and intelligence – and explore the relationships between them. A good way to begin to distinguish between them, is to note how they reflect our relationship to present, past, and future. Information describes: it tells us how the world is now. Knowledge prescribes: it tells us what to do on the basis of accumulated past experience. Intelligence decides: it guides, predicts and advises, telling us what may be done in circumstances not previously encountered, and what the outcome is likely to be.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

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