Russell Hoffman ("Host"), High Tech Today
Clifford Stoll ("CS"), Author, The Cuckoo's Egg, Silicon Snake Oil.
Host: ...Ponder this, that I've wondered about for a long time, if you will: It's the problem of not doing original research. If a thousand people convey a piece of information, or a collection of information from one to another, at a 99.9% [error-free] rate, which sounds like a pretty good, error-free rate, but if a thousand people transmit that information--what have you got at the end? And I think this is something that, in a way, you're addressing because you don't know the sources of the information you get on the Internet a lot of times.
CS: People think that because there [are] documents available online, that almost automatically all they have to do is copy from an online document and paste it into something else. To get the inside scoop, that all they have to do is peruse a fact that's been posted to the Internet, or to the Usenet, and they'll--right off, see the facts of the situation.
It seems to me, however, that most of what we call knowledge is not information--the kind of thing you can get from an encyclopedia or you get from an online service--most of what knowledge is is experience and judgment, and having done something before or having an interest in something. What the information highway promises is a lot of knowledge. We'll be smart if we use it. In fact, it delivers mostly just data. And data is just bits and bytes; and words and paragraphs, without context or content.
Knowledge and information are a long way from "data". Unfortunately, people think: "Oh, all I have to do is get online. All I have to do is get a modem, and somehow, I'll be endowed with the good stuff and I'll be smart or I'll be better able to handle my job." Well, it seems to me that this is a falsehood implied in the information highway.
But the reality is: there is much less online than we really--than, than is being advertised.
Host: Less is more, people are drowning in a sea of knowledge?
CS: Oh yeah. I mean, how many people go around every day, cup in hand, saying "I need more information! I gotta have more information! I don't have enough information!"? Nope, most people walk around saying "You know, I've got plenty. If anything I've got more than enough information. What I need is --perhaps--better quality information; a filter to block out most of the stuff" or, "less information and better tools to handle it with" or, "I need, or I want, richer experiences."
It seems to me that the information highway is delivering the very thing that people are not demanding, namely lots more, faster data. It--It's strange. Much of what comes across the Internet is a solution, a terrifically good solution, desperately in search of a problem."
Host: My guest today is Dr. Clifford Stoll. He's the author of Silicon Snake Oil...
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Last modified March 27th, 1997.
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