Tidbits of knowledge from Mike Newman

Knowledge Transfer Theory

What we should seek is knowledge and wisdom, not pure information.

We are currently living in a period that many people call the “Information Age”. This new age has been spawned by the microchip revolution and the Internet. It is important to understand what “information” actually is, and how it is lower in importance than knowledge and wisdom:

  1. Data is a collection of observations, measurements, and facts. Data itself has no context, and thus has little meaning.
  2. Information is data that has been given a context, and thus meaning.
  3. Knowledge is the act of understanding information.
  4. Wisdom is the accumulation and the resulting useful, moral application of knowledge.

It is important to understand that the Internet is chock full of data, and to a lesser extent has a quantity of information. The quality of the information (whether it is true of false) is questionable. Always be skeptical of the source! Until artificial intelligence is realized, people are the only storage place of knowledge. Ultimately, we hope to attain wisdom. In essence, engineering itself is technical wisdom!

I argue American schools are doing a disservice by filling young minds with too much information, rather than encouraging their ability to understand information (gain knowledge) and apply it wisely in totality (wisdom). Masters of trivia and memorization will serve our world poorly.

Technology is created with knowledge, but is generally used in ignorance.

Ask someone today what “technology” is, and most people will probably not be able to define it. They will however be able to give you examples of it, with the prime example being computers. The vagueness of the idea of technology underlies its current state of use in society: in ignorance. To understand technology, I argue there are 3 levels of handling knowledge:

  1. Scientist - acquires knowledge [pure research]
  2. Engineer - applies knowledge to solve a problem [designs technology]
  3. Technologist - utilizes technology made via engineering - [can be ignorant on how thing works]

Of course, there are also Outsiders to this system, including:

  • Obsoletist - doesn’t know how to use a particular technology - [can refuse to use it, or is simple unable to use in ability]
  • Luddite - refuses to use technology all together
  • Refuse-nik - refuses to use a particular technology
  • Receptor - affected by technology used by others

Thus, technology is a process (way of doing something) or a product (physical object) that is created with scientific knowledge to solve a problem (which includes meeting a need - figuring out how to meet a need is a problem in itself).

For example, computers were created in order to calculate numbers rapidly and efficiently (meeting a need, such as that of the U.S. Census Bureau - an avid first user of computers). But technology also includes numerous other things such as light switches, buildings, and cars. As mentioned above, you are a technologist when you use technology, but you don’t need to know how the technology specifically works.

The ignorance involved is a double-edged sword: a wide range of technology can be utilized without understanding how it works, thus saving you time and freeing yourself to do other things. However, since you don’t know how the technology works, and you especially don’t know how to make it, you risk losing the technology if engineers disappear from society. Many science fiction stories have played on such a dreadful scenario. In Jack McDevitt’s Eternity Road, a post-apocalyptic world stands in awe of the remnants of old city ruins and especially of highway ruins that crisscross the world. Left-over combustion engines are just magic, unable to be reproduced in new products. Such a future is possible if the knowledge of production is left only in the hands of technical elite. For the few are easy to disappear in times of trouble.

Engineers, Managers, and Leaders are of the same breed.

With such morbid thoughts aside, let us retain the idea of the three levels. (Levels will be abbreviated here on as #1, #2, and so on.) Scientific knowledge is acquired (#1), applied (#2), and utilized (3). The beauty of this system is that reaches far beyond just science, but into any other field that solves problems or meets needs: business, health care, politics, ethics, and more. The general 3 levels in knowledge transfer theory are:

  1. Ponderers / Analysts / Fundamental Researchers - job is to get knowledge
  2. Designers / Problem Solvers / Controllers - WHERE THE POWER LIES :-)
  3. Followers / Executors / The Ignorant - where the majority of people lie

The previous discussion has dealt with the field Science, or “Problems dealing with the physical world”. Let us see how these 3 levels apply to other fields:

Business: Problems dealing with acquiring money.

  1. Economist / Analyst - acquisition of knowledge of how to make money
  2. Manager / Consultant - application of knowledge to make money [designs strategies, solves problems] - “applied economics”
  3. Worker - follows orders of manager or consultant [can be ignorant] [caries out strategies/orders]

Health Care: Problems dealing with the maintaining/regaining good health.

  1. Research Doctors / Biologists - figure out health and recovery works.
  2. Clinical Trial Doctors / Experimental Doctors / Biomedical and Biochemical Engineers - design health care practices, surgery, and medicine
  3. Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists [only know what works, don’t have to know how it works] - simply carry out what has already been figured out

Politics: Problems dealing with the gaining/retaining power (control over others).

  1. Political Scientists / Sociologists / Psychologists / Think Tanks / Historians / Interest Groups / (Lobbyists?) / Political Advisers / Activists - figure out how people and nations/governments/organizations do act or should act.
  2. Politicians / Leaders / Administrators / (Lobbyists?) / Monarchs / Dictator - decide policy
  3. Bureaucracy / Military / Police [can be ignorant] - carry out policy

Ethics: Problems dealing with moral and ethical issues / what to believe.

  1. Philosophers / Theologians - figure out basis of what we believe. - investigates foundation and expansion of doctrine
  2. Pope / Religious Councils - execute, make decisions based on above. - turns doctrine into dogma
  3. Clergy / Followers - carry out, simply believe [can be ignorant of basis] - follows dogma

An interesting occurrence in each field is a “bi-product” of the problem solving:

  • Science: technology
  • Business: strategies
  • Health Care: practices
  • Politics: policy
  • Ethics: religious doctrine

Understanding the World through the 3 Levels

If Level #2 is where the power is, then there is likely to be fighting among the levels:

  • Anarchy - group #3 does not follow group #2. Can use all benefits up to one point and time and use the benefits ignorantly for rest of time. Note this is a dissociation, not take over.
  • Stagnation in Progress - group #2 does not listen to #1 anymore, dissociation. Uses all knowledge gained up to that point only.
  • Coup - group #1 tries to take over group #2’s power. Especially in government situation. [I think I have this wrong, might be #3 vs #2]
  • Riot - group #3 tries to take over group #2’s power. Group #3 has no clue on how to do what group #2 did, so its a mess. Similar to anarchy. But more effort involved.
  • Censorship - one group tries to silence the other.
    • Example: #2 tries to silence #1. Although this generally doesn’t happen. Usually “Stagnation in Progress” happens instead. Group #2 usually likes more info from Group #1.
    • Group #3 may also not like #1 or #2’s ideas. Example, #1 may be study/believe in evolution, #3 may not like it. Example, #2 may use genetic engineering, #3 may not like it.
    • The groups get confusing when you cross science and government situations in the different fields/areas below.
    • Group #2 generally doesn’t silence group #3 because if group #3 speaks up, it generally turns into another section of group #1. Then again group #2 may silence group #3 if #3 speaks out of ignorance.
  • Standard Politics - group #2 listens to group #1 (hopefully active citizens or accurate experts / policy advisers)
  • Bureaucratic Politics - group #2 listens to group #3 (ignoring or in opposition of group #1)
    • Example: President enacts policy encouraged by FBI, but opposed by active citizens or interest groups (#1) - like encryption standards.
    • Example: President enacts policy encouraged by military (#3) - like missile defense shield. Bureaucratic politics need not be in conflict with group #1, since some think tanks support missile defense shield.
    • Not always bad, since group #3 deals with practicalities of real world while group #1 is theory about real world.
  • Populist Politics - group #2 follows whims of Outsiders, ignoring or opposing info from #1, or experience knowledge of #3. A cause for “Stagnation in Progress” (see above).
  • “George W. Bush” Politics - group #2 decides without any input of any other group in governmental field. Decides based on what he feels is right, so he borrows from other fields in a non-governmental way. Effectively is “Stagnation in Progress” while also ignoring #3 and Outsiders. May be same as Dictator. :-)
  • Stability - roles #1 thru #3 stay in place.
  • Class Society - same people remain in roles #1 thru #3.
  • Aristocracy - same people remain in role #2.
  • Status Quo - “Stagnation in Progress” to the extreme. Even accidental discoveries are not utilized.

Don’t just sit there, be something!

It is important to consider: Are roles (the 3 levels) assigned arbitrarily ??? No effort to be Outsider. Lesser effort required to be in position #3. Seems you can also be in position #1 sometimes, but may have no influence on #2 or #3. Overall, #2 may be hardest position to obtain. Smart/good people in group #3 needed, but people willing to do this are rare.

There are consequences to being in Level #2: more responsibility, especially over other people.

The Beauty of Dilbert

The comic world of Dilbert exemplifies not only Knowledge Transfer Theory in one field, but the cross interaction of different fields.

One Field Interactions:

Business #3 (Dilbert, Secretary) vs Business #2 (Pointed Hair Boss, Catbert) Note that Dogbert is Business #1 (knows how businesses work)

Cross Field Interactions:

But Dilbert also plays on different fields fighting against one another: Engineering #2 (Dilbert) vs Business #2 (Pointed Hair Boss)

What the future holds.

Conflict Between the Bane of Intellectual Property and the Joy of Privacy

Intellectual property is the ownership of ideas (hence, information), effectively a cog into the acquisition, application, and utilization of knowledge.

Privacy, like IP, is also control over information, ultimately to protect oneself or others. IP used by businesses to protect their monetary interests. Privacy is used to protect one’s safety and reputation/respect.

Privacy does not equal IP. Not all info of privacy is IP, nor is it legally owned IP.

But why is privacy held to a “purer” standard than IP? Well, because privacy is used for safety and respect and IP for money.

Today, corporations have the philosophy that more money is to be gained by violating privacy (turning private info their IP), rather than money to be made by protecting privacy (see Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel).

Control over information leads to more money...

Corporations are artificial people who live on money, while regular people need food, shelter, etc. which is acquired also by money in today’s society. Thus, people need corporations, and corporations need people... until corporations can be completely run by machines. (Yikes!) Imagine someday entire corporations run by AI and robots. Beware! :-P

The right to privacy of people is a fundamental reason why a completely open information transfer system is not right.

However, when information does not threaten the safety or reputation of a person, shouldn’t the information be open? Well, what about the reward of artists for making music for example? Is it right to share their “information”, i.e. music, without their permission? We as a society are struggling to re-address this issue today with a more open information transfer system: the Internet. Privacy is also becoming a more pertinent issue.

But all this transferring of information is trivial in important to the transfer of knowledge. What knowledge we posses is more valuable than any information we hold. Knowledge transfer systems will always deal with people (until A.I. is made). The future should be interesting...

Page Created: 2001-08-11

Page Last Updated: 2012-09-17

Keywords / Key phrases: “science”, “engineering”, “technology”

Copyright 2001 Michael B. Newman