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What will “knowledge” mean in 2050? – I

A very “old” (2001) but interesting graphic representing the relative size of world Countries with respect to number of scientific papers published in 2021. Notice that the size/shape of Australia is quite similar to its geographical size area. This means that the average of papers published by Australian authors are in line with the world average. The US shape is way larger than the one that corresponds to the area, meaning that on average there are more US authors than the average. On the other edge, Africa has a much smaller shape, signalling a lower than average publication by authors from Africa. Image credit: Worldmapper.org

I am involved, as I pointed out in a previous post, in an IEEE group trying to look at the crystal ball to imagine what the world will be like, for what concerns the IEEE landscape and business opportunities, in 2050. The core biz of IEEE today, and it has been so for the last 60 years. is the sharing of peer reviewed information, in form of articles, conferences and education courses (there is more but that is the real core).

  1. Too much information

The problem. already visible today, is that there is TOO MUCH information, to the point that digesting it is impossible on a human scale. Yes. in these last decades IEEE has endeavour to make information more easily accessible but that does not solve the problem of the overload of information (in a way it makes it worse). Notice, also, that the flooding of articles and the likes is a consequence of the Goodhart’s law:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

Academia has decided that the evaluation of merit should be based on the number of articles published, then supplemented by the number of references to those articles. That has been a force in stimulating papers production (there are also other reasons, like it is easier to write a paper, more opportunities to publish it, there are more people all over the world writing them …). Whatever the reason, the result is that we are drowning in information. This is where companies like Gartner make a living: sorting, distilling,  and customising information to fit a specific need at a specific time.

The creation of information will not abate, it will only increase in the coming years. In a short while, machines will start creating “papers”, i.e. information, and machines will become the largest user community of information. Machines don’t go to conferences, nor subscribe to education courses. Most likely they don’t need peer-reviewed information since they have a way to review it by themselves. Additionally, machines are lighting fast so you can expect information to grow even more than today.

I am talking about machines, but it is obvious that the engine is artificial intelligence. AI natural language understanding, syntheses and creation has achieved an impressive level. Add to this a better than good translation capability, voice syntheses, image recognition and creation, meaning extraction and you have a perfect storm. The world of knowledge will not be the same by the end of this decade.

This will have profound impacts on education, on business, on the job market, even on the “meaning” of knowledge. I’ll tackle this in the next post.

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 New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. 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.