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July 07, 2008



I should first admit my vested interest: I'm a fully-paid up physicist by trade.

One issue I always have with these arguments is their mechanisms for refuting current scientific practice. Yes - the LHC is expensive and doesn't generate much for the market place; yes - genome research is expensive and doesn't generate much either (my guess). But there's huge tranches of research that do - semiconductor research gives the theory and the recipes for faster CPUs for your laptops, blue LEDs for every electronic device in your car/home/office, GMR storage for every iPod out there. I expect a similar situation could be painted for drug research. You cannot 'rip and replace' these classic research activities and try and correlate the best nanometre-thick insulator for silicon (hafnium-based - how would that get correlated?). You still need theory in order to develop the insight.


The quintessential Chris Anderson phrase in the Wired piece is, 'The Petabyte age is different, because more is different.' Only he does it without the comma, as if it emphasise its utter meaninglessness.Then again, he thinks that computers are good at translating languages; so who needs meaning anyway?

Will Davies

Quite. But as I say - if somebody makes an argument that stupid is the new smart, it's hardly all that surprising when they linger in stupidity.


Interesting article. On your last para

"Finally, markets and Google both suffer from one severe defect: they are highly effective at identifying two separate things as the same, but very bad at specifying the difference between them."

You give the example of distinguishing price and experience (markets) & matching and meaning (Google). The market will never be able to do the former (or at least only to the degree that people value the experience differently), but Google are getting better at the latter. E.g. search for 'Turkey', and ten months of the year in the US and UK, you'll get results back about the country. But for two months of the year, you'll get recipes for cooking poultry. The matching is the same, but the meaning is different. Similarly with spelling mistakes - it ignores the matching, and tries to find the meaning. Their system is hardly perfect, but it is getting better.


"...people are incapable of becoming as stupid...as these strategies require."


Are you sure? Have you been out in the world recently?

Will Davies

Pete - how do imagine post-theoretical, post-political humanity? I can't imagine it at all. In my view, Anderson et al are just further examples of our inability to relinquish theory and politics.

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