Kevin Drum is skeptical of my brain mounted computer prognostication. His general point is that the “perfect memory” that computer brains would provide would only get you so far, and that there is non-trivial factual knowledge that critical and would not be storable in the sense that mere facts would be. This I can agree with. A perfect computerized memory may mean you know longer have to memorize proofs, but you still have to understand them. Still, the existence of perfect memory changes what we must work at in learning proofs and would drastically change the emphasis of education. It essentially makes every test an open book test.
He also argues that access to information is not useful without knowledge of how to use it, specifically he disagrees with my claim that “All fields will be trained more like librarians are today”.
…the fact is that librarians don’t know how to do accounting. Nor do they know how to perform brain surgery, calculate an IS-LM curve, or write a blog post.1 There are lots of kids whose computer retrieval skills are vastly superior to mine, but it does them no good if they’re trying to figure out anything more complicated than the showtime for Jackass 3D. That’s because aside from trivia, fact retrieval isn’t very useful unless you know what facts to look for in the first place, how to evaluate those facts, whether they’re reliable, how to put them into context, what’s missing, and what it all means. My retrieval skills are better than virtually any teenager’s not because of my technical prowess, but because I have some idea of what to search for in the first place, how to follow those results to other results, and how to figure out if the stuff I find is meaningful in any but the most frivolous way.
I would argue that having “some idea of what to search for in the first place, how to follow those results to other results, and how to figure out if the stuff I find is meaningful in any but the most frivolous way” is exactly what a librarian is trained to do. This does not mean one will only need to learn the material as deeply as a librarian would, but that retrieval skills will become much more important and factual knowledge will become less important. However, I take Kevin’s broad point that deeper knowledge and understanding of materials will not become less important, and are in fact an important component of retrieval skills.
My friend and sometimes illustrator Thad Pasierb also pointed out in an email that my list of the criteria by which intelligence will be measured was missing some things. Here is what I wrote:
Once perfect memory is universal, logic, reason, and analytical thinking will be the sole dimension by which intelligence is measured.
He suggests the addition of creativity, and I agree. To put things in economic terms, the price of memory has gone to zero. Those with large endowments of memory will see their relative human capital decrease, and those with large endowments of other skills, like analytical thinking or creativity, will see theirs increase. How much of an increase in human capital you get depends on the extent to which memory is a complimentary to your skills.