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Cognitive Digital Twins: bridging minds and machine – XIII: Ignorant Savant

An illustration of Plato’s statement that information is what you can transfer from one person to another whilst knowledge is internal to a person and cannot be transferred. Image credit: Physics Catalist

For as long as we can go back in time our relation with tools has been ambivalent: on the one hand it is no brainer that they simplify our life, extend our capabilities, on the other hand it is often the case that they take away something from us (it becomes up to them to do things … we are no longer The Player).

This ambivalence raises even more concerns when we are facing tools that take over some of our “mental” aspects. Long time ago Plato reported on the concern of a few as writing was invented and spreading. Up to that point people have to rely on oral transmission and on memory. Those few against writing pointed out that writing will rob humanity of its capability to memorise since people will just turn to written text to get information.

Internet has multiplied a thousandfold the capability of storing and accessing information and again we have some saying that our education curricula and modality should be changed to take into account that information is available at your fingertips anytime, anywhere. You waste time to study? Of course, others are placing the anathema on the web saying that students should not use it, they have to learn the “old” way by studying books, highlighting sentences and writing down summaries.

There has also been a lengthy, almost philosophical discussion on the difference between information and knowledge and if you browse the web (why not!?) you’ll see so many interpretations of the difference making clear the point that the difference is fuzzy and getting fuzzier.

As an example, some claim that information is about “knowing what” whilst knowledge is about “knowing how”, information is about “what is”, knowledge about “what works”… and so on. The fact is that artificial intelligence is blurring the boundaries between information and knowledge. On our side we have preferred to distinguish between a static body of knowledge and “executable knowledge”, this latter requiring an understanding of the context in which it has to be applied.

Cognitive Digital Twins, from stage 4 onwards, have embedded “executable knowledge” and they are seamlessly connected to their Physical Twin. The old concern of writing robbing humanity of individual capability to memorise information and create knowledge is very much real today when discussing CDTs.

With my CDT I will be able to extend my knowledge, including my executable knowledge. I can have both the history of the world in front of my eyes as well as the capability to repair a turbine because my CDT seamlessly connect to my brain (via AR in the near term, via BCI -may be- in the long term). This is a leap forward like the invention of writing on steroids:

  • will future generation be “ignorant-savant”? Ignorant because their brain will know just a fragment of what the person knows once it makes use of her CDT, savant because through the seamless connection to the CDT she will know all what it is needed at that particular time in that particular situation.
  • will people buy knowledge off the shelf as we used to buy books and manuals?
  • will people be judged, both at professional and at social level, on the knowledge of their CDT?
  • will company be more interested in a prospective hire CDT than in the physical person?
  • will the CDT be certified by some independent third party?

The list of questions goes on and on. Listen tot this webinar recording where Patrick Henz and Derrick de Kerckhove examined some of this thorny issues.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

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