Thursday, January 30, 2014

Google is not wise

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about Sujatha Das' definitions of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Jim Ulvog has also written about this; we both referenced Das' original post, in which she defined wisdom as follows:

Wisdom, lastly, has a more active component than data, information, or knowledge. It is the application of knowledge expressed in principles to arrive at prudent, sagacious decisions about conflicting situations. From the viewpoint of the definition given of organizational knowledge, we now ask what an organization is doing when it validates information to produce knowledge, it seems reasonable to propose that the validation process is an essential aspect of the broader organizational learning process, and that validation is a form of learning.

I originally wrote about these definitions in the context of Narrative Science (the algorithm that can automatically create certain types of news articles, such as summaries of earnings reports).

But I recently ran into another case in which the terms apply.

As a member of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, I receive a weekly newsletter that talks about proposal and procurement trends. While the news is biased toward Federal opportunities (I primarily work in the state and local sphere), the items in the newsletter certainly are interesting. For example, a recent newsletter linked to a Steve Hall post, Why Procurement Isn't Like Google. Hall notes that it is possible to create a procurement algorithm that provides (in Das' terms) data, information, and even knowledge. However:

No-one should know better than a fleet manager whether their company has the most efficient cars or whether there is technology to track fuel consumption in a cost-effective way. Equally, if a food producer is looking to grow into an exciting new market, procurement’s role in building ties with new suppliers and using careful sourcing strategies to obtain ingredients to meet local tastes can be the difference between success and failure.

That wisdom can't be captured in an algorithm. But when the mighty computer screen presents something, we may mistake it for wisdom.

Google does many things, but as an algorithm, it’s constantly saying to you, the user: ’here’s what we think you want’.

However, despite advances that allow companies to detect a woman's pregnancy by the types of searches she performs, these algorithms still have not reached the level of wisdom just yet.

The lesson? If you're using some sort of automated service to obtain knowledge, be sure to apply your wisdom to it.
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