knowledge systems and collective questioning

Icarus Diving has the most hysterical post called Google the Magnificent which addresses the peculiarity of a “how do you use” search on Google resulting in the following suggestions:

As he puts, “Wow! That’s amazing! I had no idea I wanted to know any of those things! And wasn’t that a great example of what Web 2.0 has to offer? Well, keep at it guys. Any month now you’ll be making the same impression on people that paper clip thing on Windows did.” I cannot duplicate the humor of his post, so read it in full.

I reference this because i think it is a really important issue. We often talk about the power of collective knowledge/questioning and the transparency of such information without thinking about the moral issues. On one hand, it’s a fascinating insight into what people are looking for. On the other, it’s kinda disturbing. What if the queries were “How do you use a machine gun?” or “How do you use a hanger for an abortion?” ::shudder:: Regardless of where you stand on these issues, such queries would make you want to reach out to the person asking them, to see if you can help them. But you can’t. Does the machine have a moral responsibility to prevent people’s dangerous acts? Most people would probably say no. But what if the machine makes its knowledge transparent to people? What happens when those people feel responsible but only the machine has the ability to communicate back to the person in trouble?

Furthermore, how would you feel about your own query (or about the system) if a suggested query like that came up? The things that disturb our moral senses stick with us; they are hard to get out of our heads. Sometimes, there are costs to making the knowledge of a machine visible to people unrelated to the interaction between the person and machine. It’s eavesdropping and it’s not always wonderful to overhear things.

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6 thoughts on “knowledge systems and collective questioning

  1. David P.

    On the other other hand, there are certainly a lot of questionable topics that one could ask on the internet where we might prefer dangerous morally unsupervised answers to a vaccume of information that might prompt an individual to take matters into thier own hands and “wing it” with that hanger and/or machine gun, thus doing even more harm.

    As for the suggestions mentioned in the article, its rather encouraging to see some of those things on the list at such a high place. There might be more people interested in HTML than condoms, but at least there seem to be quite a few people interested in them. And nothing turns a girl on than some lean html!

  2. Infreemation

    This is exactly why I think Yahoo’s “powered by humans” approach is more effective than Google’s “powered by machines.”

    An un-editorialized world is a scary place where a poorly educated traveller without some kind of moral compass can lose themselves, and where cultural drift can occur all too quickly with unintended consequences.

    Balance is really what is required, balance is the ultimate goal of the editorial profession and humans are better at that than algorithms certainly for the forseeable future.

    As we gather, sort and analyze the world’s information, balanced presentation and access to this information will be most important in ensuring that cultural and political evolution can continue to proceed without destabilizing society.

    As the mass of information increases we need more teachers, library sciences and jouralism/editing majors, and we need them more urgently than we need processing power and bandwidth. We have too many raw materials and not enough good analysis.

  3. B

    Well, such questions were asked at Google since it went on-line. I can’t find back an old Wired article about a first visit to the Googleplex, where the journalist remains fascinated by the screen in the lobby (a world map of requests and five [porn-censored] questions every five seconds, with the originating town). He then sees a “what to say to a friend who is about to commit suscide” and panics. An ingenieer then comes across and tells him unmoved “I’ve just checked: he was directed to the right answer”.
    There are not going to make special efforts for such querries: they considr it part of their job. That was some ti!me ago.

  4. Greg Quinine

    Considerthat therelationshipof trafffic-to-quality isinverserelated and build an eng ine for themachine to minimze noxious e m i s s i o n s.

    Do auto biz metaphors still apply?

  5. anne beaumont

    Not actually about collective questioning, but about the use made of information presented ‘in good faith’ on the internet.
    The organisation I work for has a fair size digitisation programme, images from our heritage collections. One of the sub collections is relates to Australian service personnel. Earlier this week I was checking the WebTrends logs – including the most popular referring URLs. From time to time we are concerned about posting on web-sites without appropriate attribution. This time I was really glad that no-one knew that the images on these websites were originally from our collection. I did not like the company they were keeping. But that does not mean that we should stop digitising and making these images available to the historians, genealogists, and others who have used them.

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