Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What do I know? What do you know? What do we know?

So, what do I know? Literally. Or what do you know? And what do we collectively know? Even if we sincerely wanted to represent everything that we know and are very diligent about going about the task, it is still virtually impossible for us to adequately convey to anyone, person or computer or simply in written word, all knowledge that we possess, either individually or collectively. At best, we can approximate what we know.

One of the biggest problems is dealing with tacit knowledge where we are clearly able to perform various tasks but are literally unable to express in natural language exactly how we are able to perform those tasks.

Another big problem is that most people do not have photographic memories and are frequently unable to recall knowledge on demand even though in some other situation or simply after the passage of time or if prompted their recall may come much more readily or with more fidelity.

There are many other difficulties with any of us being able to fully express the totality of our knowledge.

The real problem is that even if we could express everything that we know, there is no reliable way for any of the rest of us to read or view or listen to those expressions and have a 100% certainty that we understood what the other person intended that they expressed.

So, we have these distinct, although overlapping collections of knowledge:

  • What do you or I know by ourselves
  • What personal knowledge can we consciously contemplate
  • What personal knowledge can we adequately express in natural language or any other knowledge artifact
  • What personal knowledge do we choose and intend to express
  • What did we actually express relative to what we intended to express
  • What portion of our expressed personal knowledge can be reliably deciphered by others
  • How others interpret what they read or hear that we have expressed
  • How much of what they have interpreted can be remembered and recalled and with what reliability and accuracy
  • How reliably and accurately can others relate our knowledge that they have acquired to a third party
  • How much acquired knowledge of another (or others) and our own personal knowledge are coalesced into shared knowledge
  • How much shared knowledge can be reliably and accurately shared with other parties
  • Our ability to distinguish which portions of knowledge came from whom or among whom it is shared

And that is just between two real people. Add more people, many more people. And add the many combinations of two or more people, the groupings of people we find in the real world. Layer onto that the huge issue of how to represent human knowledge in a form that artificial entities can adequately process. Obviously that is what we want to try to do in a full-blown knowledge web.

And even after we have done all of that, we must acknowledge and cope with the fact that our knowledge is a living thing, subject to constant and continual change.

-- Jack Krupansky