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overlandsailor
Recently I saw the movie the Matrix again. In it the characters in the movie have the ability to "download" all available knowledge on any subject and then know it.

In many cyberpunk and sci-fi stories there is this idea that you could one day learn anything, instantaneously simply by having it downloaded into your brain.

I was really excited about this idea. I have always called myself lazy, especially when it comes to book learning or simply doing the work to learn a new thing. But I love it once I Know that new thing, the work is just the price paid to know it. So obviously, at first glance I really longed for the "download All" option.

However, I wonder what effects this would have on our society. Would no longer having to go through "the process of learning" to be knowledgable be a problem? Would your brain atrophy like any other unused muscle? What would happen to creativity? If you no longer had to work to learn, how would that effect your ability to create new knowledge? How would one innovate if you never had to struggle to learn anything?

Question for debate:

Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically? hmmm.gif
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Cube Jockey
Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically?

Hmm, very interesting question, I'm definitely a sci-fi, tech-head geek so I'll bite. Some thoughts on this:

It seems to me that this would really be useful for things that just required memorization rather than things that require synthesis and problem solving. I would think that it would still require work to take knowledge and apply it to various situations through critical thinking.

As an example, I'll take something I'm intimately familiar with, coding. Let's say that you want to learn to code in PHP (the web programming language powering this board). Something like this could likely instantly impart all kinds of knowledge about syntax, tips and tricks. However, the core skill for any kind of programming is problem solving, or put another way being able to do something useful with the constructs of a language. In my experience problem solving isn't something you can necessarily teach, it is simply the way your brain works and you have to get better at it through experience.

Conceivably someone could be imparted with the knowledge on the optimal way to solve all known problems, but the second this person was presented with a problem that didn't have a solution yet, they would have to be able to take what they know and come up with a solution.

So, to answer your question I think that yes, it would lead to stagnation of society from a technological standpoint. Most people achieve excellence in problem solving, engineering and scientific fields because the educational journey they have taken has prepared them to tackle the unknown.
logophage
There are a lot of technical issues involved with downloading learning directly into the brain. The main reason is that the brain simply doesn't have the instantaneous processing capacity to integrate the information any faster than it currently does. You would have to radically modify the brain with "helper" processors to achieve the download scenario you've presented. Something which may happen but there's still too many technological unknowns.

Alternatively....what about uploading?

It seems more conceivable to upload your mind. The first mind upload (simulation if you will) would probably run slower than normal brains. However, assuming Moore's Law is followed, it's perfectly reasonable to believe that we'll have on-par computational capacity sometime near 2040. At that point, we will be able to simulate human minds equal to normal "wetware" minds. If Moore's Law continues, then only 1.5 years after human mind equivalency, we will be able to simulate at 2x speed. And 1.5 years after that we get 4x speed.

By the 2050s, a "virtual" mind would run at a much faster time rate than conventional minds where, say, a college degree equivalent could be completed in seconds real-time. Of course, as noted above it would be difficult download this new mind back into its original wetware housing. And anyway why would you want to execute so slowly at that point? After a few minutes of simulation, the mind would probably know how to "expand" its processing needs. Meaning it might execute 2x slower but with 2x capacity. At that point, it might discover new ways in which to augment it's processing hardware which would then allow it to increase its capacity again.

Eventually, what you get is a "singularity" as it's known in science fiction (and computer science) circles. Meaning that run away intelligence would occur. Not sure what this means but there's alot of writing on it.

But back to the debate questions...I don't believe that society will stagnate technologically. I don't believe that hard work for knowledge is necessarily a boon to society. However, as noted above, I think downloads remain a difficult proposition while uploads seem more likely.
overlandsailor
QUOTE
It seems more conceivable to upload your mind. The first mind upload (simulation if you will) would probably run slower than normal brains. However, assuming Moore's Law is followed, it's perfectly reasonable to believe that we'll have on-par computational capacity sometime near 2040. At that point, we will be able to simulate human minds equal to normal "wetware" minds. If Moore's Law continues, then only 1.5 years after human mind equivalency, we will be able to simulate at 2x speed. And 1.5 years after that we get 4x speed.


Fascinating. Perhaps people would consider having a cyber brain installed to replace there own. Wow, I am sure there are those that would question the spirituality of that one. hmmm.gif

And talk about a high stress emergency service technician job, wow!

I don't pretend to understand the science of this stuff, it just makes me think (yes that is what you smell laugh.gif ).
TennesseeLeftWinger
Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically?

As Cube Jockey noted, download learning would be very useful for things which relied primarily on memorization. However, a computer can't teach problem solving other than problems which have already been solved; this knowledge would be useful for future problem solvers. I think that this sort of fast-paced learning would allow for innovation to flourish. If everyone had the knowledge base of 2,000+ years of learning already stored after a brief download, they would be able to view the problem and think up solutions that we'd never dream of. I somehow doubt that people would simply stop inventing and creating simply because they can download all the knowledge they desire. They way I see it, people would have sixteen or more years of their life freed up to develop new ideas. This sort of instantaneous learning would be able to provide people with the vast knowledge base to create new and better ideas; to ultimately meet problems with the combined expertise of all the great thinkers of the past. I doubt this would stifle creativity at all and may indeed help to foster it.
logophage
QUOTE(Cube Jockey @ Jul 7 2004, 02:17 PM)
Conceivably someone could be imparted with the knowledge on the optimal way to solve all known problems, but the second this person was presented with a problem that didn't have a solution yet, they would have to be able to take what they know and come up with a solution. 

So, to answer your question I think that yes, it would lead to stagnation of society from a technological standpoint.  Most people achieve excellence in problem solving, engineering and scientific fields because the educational journey they have taken has prepared them to tackle the unknown.

Assuming that one could imprint learning on a human brain, it seems reasonable to assume that "problem solving" imprints could be done just as well as "fact" imprints. I don't see how these are categorically different as far as how neural structures form. However, if we're talking about having something like a hard drive (or wireless internet connection) in the brain, then I suppose the stagnation scenario could occur. Yet, these same arguments were offered when the handheld calculator became available.

In fact, we could go right back to the transition from the oral to written tradition around 1700 years ago. So many educators and philosophers at the time discussed the eminent stagnation of human endeavor. And I suppose in some sense stagnation did occur in subsequent Medieval Europe but definitely did not occur in the subsequent Arab/Ottoman empires. (Of course, the roles reversed arguably because of other technological innovations such as mass media ala the printing press but that's another discussion).

What we have here is a variation of the age old arguments of technology v. tradition. Technological innovation threatens to overturn tradition and traditionalists see the effects in a negative light. The way I see it is: theoretically, stagnation could occur but I see no convincing reason why it should occur.

I believe that the Matrix-style download scenario is unrealistic. Neural connections can't really form any faster than they currently do. However, I suppose synthetic neural structures could be grafted/interfaced with the brain which one might use for auxiliary processing (thinking). I suppose speedy downloads could occur into those extra brain bits (and probably will). At the point where the synthetic brain bits exceed the processing capacity of the conventional human brain, you will get the scenario I outlined in a previous post. That is, why not just upload the remaining wetware bits into a synthetic structure entirely? And once at that point, why keep the human body around as the processing housing when anything would do?
Piper Plexed
He He, Sorry it took so long to contribute to this way cool thread though my primitive neuro pathways required an extend time period to process such a great deal of data as well as required an even greater period of time to conclude my response. mrsparkle.gif

And my answer is no I do not like this idea because, time is what would be lacking in such a learning process. It is in the time that it takes for me to grasp an idea that I am allowed to freely associate information already learned to newly presented information. I believe it is this ability to sense the level of importance of information (while learning) and to draw seemingly unrelated parallels between concepts to be the essence of the creative process. In the end I believe it is the actual process of learning that makes man so adaptable and has lead man to the technological ability that allows him to even fathom such a learning process in the first place. Would we not be allowing the programmer of such learning processes to make these choices for us as well as neatly categorize and install information in our brains. What would be our incentive to looks past established and accepted practices and beliefs, would we not become lazy and stagnant as a species.

edited for clarification, what I wrote made my brain hurt huh.gif
fugazzi007
I think it's a good idea. Taking the analogy of the Matrix a step further, it was apparent that Neo, while having available the same amount of information available to him as was available to everyone else, was able to use that information better than anyone.

This instant knowledge is similar to the internet. We are all able to reach the same amount of information in the same amount of time. What makes us unique is our own abilities to use that information.

QUOTE
Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically?


The concept of 'working for knowledge' wrt book knowledge may be atrophied, but certainly that would not affect the amount of technological advancements. How many people who never had formal higher education invented something great?
AuthorMusician
QUOTE
Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically?


One of the principles of life I've come to embrace is that the destination is not as important as the journey. All the fun is in the getting there, not the arrival. My take on being human is that we forever need challenge, else we get bored.

So say I could plug in the Mastery of Music memory stick and suddenly end up playing major venues (sounds a little like Robert Johnson's deal with the Devil).

What good is that? Besides, anybody can do it with the same amount of effort.

Would there be any feeling at all to the music? And could I possibly do my own -- or would it be like playing the boombox very well?

Regarding technology, it's no coincidence that musicians often end up in technical career paths. There's something similar with the two ways of thinking. You're taking fundamental building blocks and arranging them into creative new things, always building on what has been done before.

So maybe the building blocks could be downloaded but at some point the natural process of discovery has to take place before invention happens?

If so, then would our invention be accelerated? I can see where this might happen. But I don't see humans ever being satisfied with instant knowledge/skill. We will want more.
Doclotus
Would the sci-fi concept of "download learning" lead to decrease in technological advancements as the first several generations to learn exclusively through it's use, outlived those of us that had to work for knowledge? Would it eventually lead to the stagnation of our society technologically?
I think it would be quite the opposite. "Download learning" allows for base understanding of a topic that would serve as an enabler to spend less time on the "basics" and more on application. Learning would become more efficient in the early stages and allow for advanced application faster.

Using the Matrix example: "I know Kung-Fu." To which Morpheus replies "Show me." Mere knowledge of the forms in Kung-fu was not sufficient for Neo to learn how to fight. He had to apply the knowledge in order to expand the potential for application.

I had my own real life example on Wednesday visiting a client. Our company just purchased a food distributor and after 5+ years in the food service industry, I found myself a true nubian in the business model for distribution. How wonderful it would have been to download existing distrubution models, related technologies, and theories on new processes in order to engage the discussion at a higher level faster instead of having a "crash course" that left my head spinning.

The agility society could achieve would be nothing short of amazing imo.
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Christopher
Learning is like looking at a fractal. Up close it is a mass of confusion and chaos. start to pull back and the pattern and beauty and inteconnections al become more and more apparent.
Where we to download large amounts of knowledge it would quickly be assimilated and become just the way we do it. Instead of books and lectures ya plug in and BAMPH!
There would probably be an initial surge in overall learning, large amounts of discoveries and OMG Eurekas. but that would taper off and we would probably be at the same level of advancement as we are now.
The rare occurences that knowledge increases are brought about by those rare individuals who NEED to KNOW and tinker endlessly in search of some new frontier destination. the second is when faced with imminent disaster: war, plauge, etc.
Most people have no drive to learn any more than is enough to reach their personal level of comfort. Sadly MANY don't even try for that.

As for creativity. How does it start anyhow? There is no formula really for development of creativity. Inspiration is a shooting star. Nothing,nothing, then
Wham "Hey! How about "
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