Civilization is being destroyed by misinformation and lies on the internet. A steady diet of phony facts is killing Lady Justice. She needs rules of evidence to survive, to weed out truth from lies. She needs help from those with knowledge and wisdom, not just those with money, greed and power. She also needs help from fair, unbiased artificial intelligence, for otherwise the volume of information is too vast to monitor. Rules of evidence for public discourse perhaps? Artificial intelligence cyberverse administrators with experts to monitor and judge? I don’t have the answers. Just a broad outline based on a life of experience with computers and online communities. Just a sense of foreboding about the dangers created during my early watch on the internet to today. To help make sense of the quandary we are now in, I draw upon the historical perspective of Information → Knowledge → Wisdom. This was articulated in my blogs in 2015 and 2016. I made predictions then on how the internet age of personal computers would turn out. Spoiler alert, I saw some dangers, but missed how fast they would approach, missed the severity of the threats.
Read on to hear my rant, which, much like the scientists in Don’t Look Up, scream about the dangers ahead. Mock me if you will, even worse, ignore these warnings. But, as frustrating as this may be, I have got to try. Mere information, often misinformation, without knowledge and wisdom, is a killer comet. It is a planet killer. These threats are real. It’s really happening. Look around you. Look up, but don’t give up.
Perspective from the “Information → Knowledge → Wisdom” Theory of Historical Progression of Society.
On April 5, 2015, I published: Information → Knowledge → Wisdom: Progression of Society in the Age of Computers. The blog started with a self-evident presumption: the personal computer revolution started by the Hacker elite in the 1970s, and the internet based digital age that followed, had completely transformed the world. I had high hopes this transformation was for the good. I have been an active participant, albeit minor, and an observer in this paradigm shift.
My use of the word “hacker” in the 2015 article referred to the original meaning of hands-on computer experts, like the two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak. I am not referring to bad guy computer thieves, which most people now think of when they hear hacker. My blog affirmed that these early computer pioneers, including the likes of Gates, Page, Brin, Bezos, Musk and Zuckerberg, were hackers that changed the world. They helped usher in a new Internet personal computer Age of Information. The blog asserted that:
The first generation of hackers born in the fifties … have quickly changed our world into an information based society. . . . The first step – Information – is just a stepping stone to a more mature, Knowledge-based culture.
After extolling the many opportunities of a technology based shift to an information age, I also warned of the dangers of this paradigm shift. I suggested that society in general would be doomed, and justice in particular, which is my career, unless we quickly moved past an Information based society, into one based on genuine Knowledge and pursuit of Wisdom, the final goal. Here are a few highlights:
The spike and distribution of online information is just a first major consequence of the New Age of Computation. It will not be the last. The focus on information alone will soon change, indeed, must soon change. The information explosion is nowhere near the final goal. Information alone is dangerous and superficial. Our very survival as a society depends on our quick transition to the next stage of a computer culture, one where Knowledge is the focus, not Information. We must now quickly evolve from shallow, merely informed people with short attention spans, and superficial, easily manipulated insights, to thoughtful, knowledgeable people. Then ultimately, some day, we must evolve to become truly wise people.
I wish now, seven years later, that the warnings had been even more strident. I did not realize how fragile society was to the influence of lies and propaganda. I did not foresee how quickly society could devolve and justice lost in clouds of confusion.
Benchmark Predictions to Test the Information → Knowledge → Wisdom Hypothesis
To provide a benchmark for the accuracy of this Information → Knowledge → Wisdom hypothesis, I made twelve fairly specific predictions in April 2015. My hedge is that these predictions are five to twenty years out, i.w. – from 2020 to 2035. Although I missed the intensity of the downside, overall I think the predictions have panned out pretty well. You be the judge. Here are summaries of the twelve predictions, see the original essay for full descriptions.
First Prediction. The Metaverse will be created, or as I put it then, the creation of many new types of cyber and physical interconnectivity environments . . . The new multidimensional, holographic, 3D, virtual realities will use wearables of all kinds . . .” This prediction is obviously coming true. Zuckerberg even renamed his company accordingly.
Second. “Some of the new types of social media sites will be environments where subject matter experts (SME) are featured, avatars and real, cyber and in-person, shifted and real-time.” Again, now obvious, although the “in-person”aspects have been slowed by Covid while the online accelerated.
Third. The new SME environment will include products and services, with both free and billed aspects. Again, obvious, with pandemic based slow-down on in-person aspects and overall, still a long way to go to counter all of the misinformation and outright lies.
Fourth. The knowledge nest environments will be both online and in-person. Again, same comment.
Fifth. The knowledge focused cyberspaces, both those with and without actual real-words SMEs, will look and feel something like a good social media site of today, but with multimedia of various kinds. This is coming true.
Sixth. “The admins, operators and other staff in these cyberspaces will be advanced AI, like cyber-robots. Humans will still be involved too, but will delegate where appropriate, which will be most of the time. This is one of my key predictions.” I quoted this sixth prediction in full. It is disappointing that this is still in an early stage of actualization. But I stand by the optimism that it will be realized by no later than 2035. If not, society and justice as a living ideal may be lost. Humans need the help of advanced and objective AI. We are obviously too immature and F’ed up to go it alone with all of this technology at our fingertips. Without AI’s help, we are likely to destroy ourselves before we become an interplanetary species with increased odds of survival.
Seventh. “The presence of AIs will spread and become ubiquitous.” Again, this prediction is a work in progress, there is AI of sorts everywhere, including your refrigerator as predicted, but it’s not that smart. Just try this and hear for yourself: Hey Google, how smart are you?
Eighth. The eighth prediction is kind of fun, so I will quote in full, but this is still in the early stages. By 2035 it will be full blown, that is, if we survive that long: “The knowledge products and services will come in a number of different forms, many of which do not exist in the present time (2015), but will be made possible by other new inventions, especially in the area of communications, medical implants, brain-mind research, wearables, and multidimensional video games and conferences.“
Ninth. The first part of the ninth prediction is, again, starting to come true for cyber learning, but is still a work in progress: “All subject areas will be covered, somewhat like Wikipedia, but with super-intelligent cyber robots to test, validate and edit each area.“
Tenth. The tenth prediction is really important and so I quote it here in full. The very survival of democracies and justice may well depend on this. “The AI admins will monitor, analyze, and screen out alleged SMEs who do not meet certain quality standards. The AI admins will thus serve as a truth screen and quality assurance. An SME’s continued participation in an AI certified site will be like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” This has not yet happened, although we have recently begun seeing early signs of it. The fix needs to happen now and FAST. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, others, are you listening? The internet has been broken by a web of lies with no rules of evidence. The best way out seems to be the use of objective, ethical AI. Stop wasting AI to sell us more stuff. Use it to help us save ourselves from propaganda, to help us to move into a knowledge and wisdom based society.
Eleventh. Same comment as to our hopes of survival applies to the eleventh prediction. “The AI admins will also monitor and police the SME services and opinions for fraud and other unacceptable use, and for general cybersecurity.“
Twelfth. The last 12th prediction is an optimistic vision of the AI guided cyber-knowledge-nests predicted to save us from misinformation and fraud, but I still have hopes for its realization by 2035. ” … They will provide a comforting alternative to information overload environments filled with conflicting information, including its lowest form, data. These alternative knowledge nests will become a refuge of music in a sea of noise. Some will become next generation Disney World vacation paradises.“
Examining the Twelve Predictions in 2016
I examined these twelve hypothesis-testing predictions a year after I made them in How The 12 Predictions Are Doing That We Made In “Information → Knowledge → Wisdom.” In this essay you can find more depth on this theory and twelve predictions. Although overall, in early 2016, I was still optimistic, as the next video shows, still, I warned that:
The transition from mere Information to Knowledge is seen as a necessary survival step for society, not an idealistic dream. … We remain hopeful that artificial intelligence will help usher in a Golden Age of Knowledge, then ultimately of Wisdom. This is not to deny the possibility of dark futures with human subjugation by robot overlords or all-too-human political despots, etc. In order to avoid these dystopias we need to know and understand the real dangers we are now facing, including, without limitation, AI, and act accordingly.
Unfortunately, the events since that last blog have underscored the danger, the very real terror, of misinformation and lack of knowledge. We have seen how quickly the information age can destroy society. The transition into a knowledge based age is now an urgent need of everyone. Back in 2016, my focus was more optimistic and education based.
To try to show the difference between the three levels, information – knowledge – wisdom, I illustrated with a down to earth example. I asked who you would rather talk to, an informed, knowledgeable or wise person? I hoped this would encourage people to move beyond information based culture into knowledge and wisdom.
Things have changed a lot since 2016 when I made that video. Then I had expected more wise women and men to emerge and take action on the world stage. Instead, we have seen the opposite; fewer wise people and many more fools than I had ever dreamed possible. The wisest I have seen lately is a Ukrainian law school graduate, turned comedian, turned statesman, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said:
Let’s build a country of opportunities, where everybody is equal before the law and where the rules of the game are honest and transparent, and the same for everyone.
People don’t really believe in words. Or rather, people believe in words only for a stretch of time. Then they start to look for action.
We will fight to the end. We will not give up and we will not lose.
My Other Blogs on ‘Information → Knowledge → Wisdom’
For more essays on the perspective of ‘Information → Knowledge → Wisdom’, see: What Chaos Theory Tell Us About e-Discovery and the Projected ‘Information → Knowledge → Wisdom’ Transition. In this May 2016 essay, primarily about the application of Chaos Theory of physics to electronic discovery, I noted:
The first Information stage of the post-computer society in which we live is obviously chaotic. It is like the disconnected numbers that lie completely outside of the Mandelbrot set. It is pure information with only haphazard meaning. It is often just misinformation. Just exponential. There is an overwhelming deluge of such raw information, raw data, that spirals off into an infinity of dead-ends. It leads no where and is disconnected. The information is useless. You may be informed, but to no end. That is modern life in the post-PC era.
In another blog of May 2016 on Information Theory and e-discovery, What Information Theory Tell Us About e-Discovery and the Projected ‘Information → Knowledge → Wisdom’ Transition, I concluded:
From trillions to a handful, from mere information to practical wisdom — that is the challenge of our culture today. On a recursive self-similar level, that is also the challenge of justice in the Information Age, the challenge of e-discovery. How to meet the challenges? How to self-organize from out of the chaos of too much information? The answer is iterative, cooperative, interactive, interdisciplinary team processes that employ advanced hybrid, multimodal technologies and sound human judgment. . . .
The challenge of Culture, including Law and Justice in our Information Age, is to never lose sight of this fundamental truth, this fundamental pattern: Information → Knowledge → Wisdom. If we do, we will get lost in the details. We will drown in a flood of meaningless information. Either that, or we will progress, but not far enough. We will become lost in knowledge and suffer paralysis by analysis. We will know too much, know everything, except what to do. Yes or No. Binary action. The tree may fall, but we never hear it, so neither does the judge or jury. The power of the truth is denied. . . .
Meaning is the whole point of Information. Justice is whole point of the Law.
Looking back on my writings, I stand by the usefulness of the Information → Knowledge → Wisdom construct as a tool for understanding the rapid changes in society. But, looking back seven years, I see my warnings of danger were too soft. In 2015, I could, like many, envision the dangers of an Information Age, but I did not realize the gravity of the situation. Nor did I foresee how quickly our society could degrade. I did not realize how fast misinformation and lies could spread to a gullible public and destroy the very fabric of civilization. Also, I thought AI would develop faster and be used for the common good to help push us into knowledge and wisdom.
We need better evidence tests of information, and quickly, to weed out the lies. Rules of evidence for public discourse perhaps? Better use of AI? I see what a terrible mess we are now in with democracies threatened everywhere. But I still have hope. Based on my hands-on work with AI in evidence since 2012, I sense that artificial intelligence can help us out of this mess.
We are now in a dangerous transition age. A time where our AI is still pretty stupid and focused on surveillance and sales. A time where anyone can claim to be an expert, to have knowledge and wisdom, when they have none. An age where there is no reasonable cross-examination and almost no polite society. An age where there are constant lies, rude confrontations, screaming and violence. Where is ethics? Morality? Shared values of common decency and fair dealing?
So now, much like the scientists heroes in Don’t Look Up, I am screaming about the dangers as loud as an old trial lawyer, blogger can. Misinformation, without knowledge and wisdom, is a killer comet that could destroy our civilization, and, by secondary environmental damage, could destroy all life on Earth. It is a planet killer. These threats are real. It’s really happening. Look around you. Look up, but don’t give up.
Justice has always been an elusive ideal, a quest based on evidence based truth, rules of admissibility and social values. In 2015, I was seeing progress in justice. I thought AI would advance more quickly than it has. Now, I am not sure how we can get through this. I see regression. I see democracies everywhere on edge, justice severely challenged and the rise of “strong-man” dictatorships. The threats are real. This is really happening.
In 2015, I had more hope for the future than I do today. But, to share the pep talk I give myself regularly, we must never give up. We must make that struggle for the sake of future generations, our children, grandchildren and beyond. To quote Zellensky again, “We will fight to the end. We will not give up and we will not lose.” We must continue to fight for truth, genuine knowledge and wisdom. We cannot go willingly into the dark night of misinformation and lies. These are not dreamy ideals, these are species survival imperatives. These threats are real. It’s really happening. We must not lose.