《镜子大全》《朝华午拾》分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/liwei999 曾任红小兵,插队修地球,1991年去国离乡,不知行止。

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Trap of Information Overdose

已有 2190 次阅读 2017-1-17 10:15 |个人分类:立委科普|系统分类:生活其它| Information, addiction, overdose, overload, explosion


Today, my topic relates to the issue of information overload.

We are born in the era of big data and information overload. As an NLPer (Natural Language Processor), for years I have been stuck in the belief that my sole mission is to help solve this problem of information overload. Just like Alibaba’s Jack Ma's vision that there should be no barriers for any business in this e-commerce world, my colleagues and I seem to share the vision in the community that there should be no barriers for instant access to any information amid the big data. So Google appeared, with crude keywords as basis and with its insatiable appetite to cover as big data as possible, to  have solved the problem of information long tail. Today whatever your query, and however rare your information need is, you google it and you get some relevant info back. We don’t want to stop there, so we begin to criticize Google because its solution to the information on the long tail has the defect of poor data quality. Hence AI (Artificial Intelligence) is proposed and being practiced to enhance the deep processing of data (whether via deep learning or deep parsing), in an attempt to both handle big data for its long tail, as well as to drastically raise the data quality through natural language understanding (NLU). The aim is to satisfy any soul with information needs, whether explicitly requesting it or implicitly carried in the mind, by a steady flow of quality information. This is the perspective from us practitioners’ point of view, currently mixed with lots of excitement and optimism.

Let us change our perspective to ask ourselves, as a consumer, what have we benefited from this exciting AI battle on information overload? Indeed, what we now get is more and more data -- to the point, high-quality, with constant and instant feeds, which we have never before been able to reach. Previously we were drowned in the overload of the information ocean, mostly garbage occasionally with a few pearls, and nowadays we end up being choked to death by over-satisfaction of quality information thanks to the incredible progress of information high-tech via AI. So the feelings are dramatically different, but the ending remains the same, both are an inescapable path to death, drowned or choked. So each day we spend more and more time in the social media among our circles of friends, on all types of news apps, or entertainment apps, with less and less time for real-life work, family and serious thinking. Numerous geniuses out there (many are my talented peers) racked their brains to study our preferences, study how to make us stick to their apps, and what tricks they can apply to drive us crazy and addicted to their products.

It is the iron law that a person is no match for a calculated and dedicated world. Made of flesh and blood, each individual consumer is no match for an invisible legion of tech gurus (including myself) from businesses and their accomplices in the information industry, looking closely into our behavior and desires. So we are bound to sink to the bottom, and eventually become a slave of information. Some of us begin to see through this trap of information overdose, struggling hard to fight the addiction, and seeking self-salvation against the trend. Nevertheless, with the rapid progress of artificial intelligence and natural language technology, we see the trend clear, unstoppable and horrifying: more and more are trapped in the info, and those who can save themselves with a strong will are a definite minority.

The world has n billion people, and m million organizations, each producing information non-stop every moment, which is now recorded one way or the other (e.g. in social media). Even if we raise our bar higher and higher for our information needs for work and for pleasure, to the extent of an incredible ratio to the effect of something like ten-millionth, using a variety of technology filters of information, we are still faced with info feeds from n-hundred human entities and m-organizations. There is simply no way in our lifetime to exhaust it all and catch up with its feeds. We end up feeling over-satisfied with information most of which we feel we simply cannot and should not miss. We are living in a terrible bliss of an over-satisfying world. As consumers we are doomed in this battle to fight the addiction against our own nature, trying to resist the temptation that by nature cannot be resisted.

Having pointed out the problem, I have no effective remedy to this problem to offer. What I myself do is that at times, I simply shut down the channels to stay in info-diet or hungry mode, focusing on family and the accumulated to-do list of work. This seems to work and I often got my work done, without feeling I have missed that much for the information gap during the "diet" period, but it is not a sustainable technique (with exception perhaps of very few super guys I know whom I admire but really cannot tell whether that lifestyle is really for better or not as shutting the info channels for too long has its own side effects, or consequences, to my mind). In the end, most of us fall back to being willing slaves of information. The smarter minds among us have learned to shift between these two modes: shutting channels down for some time and going back to the "normal" modern way of information life.

For people who want and need to kill time, for example, the retired in the lonely senior homes, info age is God-sent: their quality of killing time has never been made better. But how about the younger generation who is most vulnerable to info overdose, as much as the addiction to the crazily popular games today. The "shutting the channels" technique is a survival skill of middle-aged generation who needs to dedicate sufficient time to go about their daily work and life, making a living, supporting the family and keeping it running. But this technique is almost impossible for the young generation to practice, given that they are born in this info age, and social media and stuff are part of their basic lifestyle. Nevertheless, there is no short of struggles and helplessness as we observe when they are being drowned in the sea of games, social media and Internet, in front of the academic pressure and career training competition. The external world is not in the least prepared and is basically helpless to them. So are us parents. Many times we cannot resist the temptation from being enslaved in the information trap for ourselves, how can we expect our next generation to learn the balancing skill easily, considering they are at the age of exploration with tremendous curiosity and confusion.    

Sometimes I tell myself: why should we work so hard on info technology if we know it has both positive effects as well as huge negative impact which we have no clues how to fix. After all, we do not need to rush the entire world of life and time to be engulfed by info no matter how high quality we can make it to be. Meanwhile, I really hope to see more and more study to get invested in addressing how to help people resist the temptation of the information trap. The ideal world in my understanding should be that we stay equipped with both intelligent tools to help access quality information as nutrients to enrich our lives, as well as tools to help resist the temptation from info over-satisfaction.

Translated and recompiled from the original post in my Chinese blog: 【杞人忧天:可怕的信息极乐世界




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