Monday, September 11, 2006

Making humanity more intelligent

In "Artificial Intelligentsia" (subscription required) in this month's Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows has a nice passage on the goals of those working on the future of search:
These new tools could ... become the modern-day equivalent of the steam engine or the plow -- tools that free people from routine chores and give them more time to think, dream, and live. Each previous wave of invention has made humanity more intelligent overall.

The next wave of tech innovation, if it is like all the previous ones, will again make us smarter. If we take advantage of its effects, it might even make us wiser, too.
Improving our access to knowledge makes us smarter. Information is power, and the more who have information, the more powerful humanity will become.

Idealistic, yes, but it is what motivates me and, I think, many others.

On a side note, I have a brief quote deep in this article giving a simplified explanation of recommender systems:
"A way to look at these social filtering systems is to think of them as generating millions of 'most popular' lists, and finding the most-popular items for people like you," Greg Linden, who designed Amazon's recommendations system, told me in an e-mail.

"Normal best-seller lists are uninteresting to me because my tastes are not generic. But a best-selling list for people who buy some of the same books I do -- that is likely to be interesting."
This is not strictly true, by the way. Everyone buys Harry Potter, so a bestseller list for people like me is likely to be dominated by Harry Potter. What you really want is something closer to "unusually popular with people like me."

No comments: