Intelligence in the information age

I know kung fu.
"I know kung fu." And with that, the download is complete: a martial art has been converted to tacit knowledge with little more than a USB cord connected to the cerebellum. Although a fanciful concept portrayed in the movie The Matrix and one that, as depicted, is far from reality, the information age is certainly changing the landscape of knowledge and expertise.  While an instant download to the brain isn't possible, anyone with a smart phone or cheap laptop has instant access to all of humanity's knowledge.

What are the implications of this access for our concepts of intelligence and education? For one, the goal of education can no longer be viewed as acquiring information.  Information is free and easily obtained.  Instead, from my humble perspective, the speed at which one can process this information is one critical skill needed.  A second is an ability to distill larger patterns from the information available.

The Matrix offers additional useful analogies here.  The protagonist, Neo, quickly learns that his enemies have access to all the same knowledge as he does: everyone knows kung fu.  It's only when Neo transcends this knowledge and begins to manipulate the matrix itself that he is able to conquer his enemies.  In other words, he goes meta.  Instead of mastering specific knowledge, Neo identifies that nature of knowledge itself and can manipulate it as he needs.

The same may be said of us in the information age.  Everyone knows kung fu because we all have access to all the same information.  In this situation the ability to process that information at a higher level becomes essential.  Meta-knowledge skills will separate the effective from the ineffective.  Examples of these skills include finding, filtering, creating, and communicating knowledge.  When everyone has access to the same facts, effectiveness will be measured at this higher level of abstraction.

The Matrix has another sobering lesson to offer us in this time of the information age.  Even after Neo masters the matrix, transcending it, the Matrix isn't the real world.  The Matrix is a construct that clouds the mind of humanity, preventing access to reality.  The same could be said for the internet and information technology.  At the end of the day, knowledge workers and information technology must create real world value.  People must eat and sleep, be sheltered and clothed.  Information can do none of those things but can enable them if applied well.  Like Neo, none of us can be considered effective (and by extension, intelligent) if we are unable to apply the information available to us to problems in the real world.  In this way, applying information to reality is the ultimate transcendent skill and, simultaneously, the hardest to master.

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