Monday, June 20, 2005

Computo Ergo Sum

Writing, or the ability to register knowledge using an standardized set of symbols, has been available to most human cultures for millenia. Yet if we look at its popularity a mere couple of hundred years ago, we will find its use restricted to very small fraction of the population frequently associated with powerful social groups such as the clergy, the nobility etc. This fact is not surprising when we consider the value of knowledge in any time or age. Writing, being the main form of registering, transmitting and manipulating knowledge, has always been an intrument of intelectual emancipation.

In primitive societites, the ability to read and write was a skill restricted, by law to very specific professions such as scribes. Later in history, this strict restriction was found not to be necessary since most people did not gravitate towards it despite the increased availability of opportunities to learn to read and write. Even today, when iliteracy is not that prevalent, only a relatively small fraction of the population is able to use literacy in a productive way, that is produce text that can and will be used by others as a source of information. In the 21st century, most of us still relegate the recording of collective knowledge and culture to a few scribes.

In 1637, the french Philosopher Descartes coined the phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) to summarize the most distinctive attribute of the human existence: the ability to think, that is, the ability to process information with our minds in a rational way. In the dark ages, that was not a popular skill, especially since people were thaught to trust all important information was to be revealed by god, and not derived from evidence. This situation has improved a little in present days, but we still find many people willing to take information at face value without reasoning about its plausibility.

In the information age in which we live today, information is available to us in ever growing ammounts that already exceed the processing capabilitites of our brain and biological senses and require computational tools to be fully processed and received.
A human who is not competent to efficiently process this surge of information by making use of available computational tools is not a full member of the information age and society. Thus the theme of this Blog: "Computo Ergo Sum", I compute, therefore I am.