With the growth of video and digital images, society now generates as much data every two days as was generated from the beginning of time up until 2003. And from these gigantic data sets, we can extrapolate interesting, useful things about society and the world.
Google Flu Trends, for instance, was a project that analyzed Google searches to help track and potentially predict the spread of the flu on a global level. By comparing current search terms to search data from past flu outbreaks, the project sought to predict which areas of the world might be likely to experience a flu outbreak at a particular time.
Through harnessing the power of big data, this type of digital research could potentially be more efficient in predicting disease outbreaks than simply counting people with flu symptoms once they visit a doctor.
Supercomputers with extraordinary computing power can even perform increasingly human-like tasks. IBM built a computer, called Watson that can play the television trivia game Jeopardy.
To play Jeopardy requires a wide range of general knowledge, as well as an understanding of human speech. In a live TV game against the two best candidates in Jeopardy’s history, Watson won by a landslide!
Now Watson helps diagnose cancer and develops treatment plans, partly by comparing a patient’s symptoms to a database of over 10 million patient health records.
Watson also helps conduct research, as it can read and process information much faster than can any human. Considering that the medical field publishes a new professional paper every 41 seconds, no doctor can possibly keep up with such a mass of information – but Watson can.
You don’t lose what you know when you share your knowledge with someone else. Unlike physical goods, knowledge is nonrival, meaning its value doesn’t decrease when it’s shared.
In fact, the opposite occurs. Knowledge actually grows when it’s shared.
A teacher, for instance, improves with each school year. The more a teacher practices sharing her knowledge and engaging her students, the better she gets at conveying information and making it stick.
After teaching for several years, a teacher might even distill the insight she’s gained into a book about pedagogy and the psychology of learning, passing her knowledge along even further.
Knowledge is also non-excludable, meaning it’s not possible to prevent someone from using it. When a doctor advises a patient on how to deal with an illness, the patient can then pass that knowledge on to whomever they choose.
The shift from a print-based to internet-based information society has also further facilitated the creation, access and spread of knowledge.
Information from any field of expertise can now be digitized and stored on a computer. In 2000, only 20 percent of the world’s information was stored digitally. Today, that figure is around 98 percent.
Technology also shapes the way we create and share knowledge. With the internet and using social media platforms, a single person can send a message to thousands of people with just a few clicks. Thus professionals in turn can get their work into the world much more easily, if they choose to do so.
As technology progresses, more and more tasks will be performed by non-specialists with the assistance of digitized processes and systems.
Computer-aided design (CAD) software, for instance, enables hobby architects to design more detailed, complex projects. Resulting designs can be more easily shared and reused than can traditional hand-drawn plans. Digitization also helps to cut costs.
Standardization helps to prevent errors and encourages the reuse of templates and information, by establishing and utilizing norms and protocols, thus making the process more efficient each time.
Standardization is also important because the more information we accumulate, the more challenging it becomes for a professional to stay on top of it all. It’s here where standardized routines come into play, as they ensure certain processes are carried out correctly, allowing a professional to focus on more intellectually straining or unique tasks.
Such tools will become more versatile as they’re shared more frequently online. New users can and will improve on them, making tools more valuable and widely applicable.
Yet the advent of expert knowledge becoming a common online good raises questions about the kind of society we are building and want to be part of.
If we distill the knowledge of hundreds of specialists into a single system and make that system readily available to anyone, who is liable if the system fails? Who is responsible for maintaining it and building new software? Who owns the intellectual property rights to it?
Making more expertise available online could potentially solve a lot of problems. Our decisions on how accessible that information should be will shape our future society.
The traditional role of a professional as gatekeeper to exclusive information in a certain field is long over. So what does the future hold?
We should first remember that as a society, we shouldn’t be afraid of new technology. Instead focusing on the potential of technology should be our common goal.
Many people are afraid that technology will “dehumanize” society, damaging personal interactions. While this is theoretically possible, the opposite is equally possible. The social media platform Twitter, for instance, actually brought journalists and their readers closer together.
When professionals feel threatened by technology, they are in essence misunderstanding their role. Their reason for being shouldn’t be to maintain their privileged status, but to help solve society’s problems by providing even more access to their expert knowledge.
Contrary to the fears of many professionals, technology won’t lead to a decrease in the number of professional jobs.
Economists once falsely thought that a society offers a fixed quantity of reasonably paid work. If that were the case, machines would be harmful to our jobs and well-being. The opposite is true, however.
While technology has partly automated traditional ways of working, it has also given rise to completely new forms of employment. Process analysts, for instance, are important in allocating tasks between humans and machines.
Professionals need to be flexible, adapting to new technology as it becomes available. Technology can dissolve the boundaries between professions, bringing people together. Thus professionals need to be prepared to go with the flow to ensure they stay relevant in our modern world. Technology is a tool to make knowledge more accessible; it helps us all.
Society is on the brink of a major change when it comes to the concept of professionalism. Thanks to technology, expert knowledge, now digitized and disseminated online, is far more readily available to the layperson. That doesn’t render professionals obsolete, it just means their roles are changing. Professional expertise will always be important, as today’s mass of knowledge cannot be mastered by a single individual alone; technology is the tool that will help us all get ahead.
Check out my related post: How has wearables improved the medical field?