This free Information Age Education Newsletter
is written by David Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken
Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education
project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
"Consider a future device for individual use, which
is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and,
to coin one at random, 'memex' will do. A memex is a device in which an
individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which
is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and
flexibility. It is an enlarged
intimate supplement to his memory." (Vannevar Bush, As We May
Think, The Atlantic, July
1945.) [Bold added for emphasis.]
Recent issues of this newsletter have addressed some ideas about
human intelligence versus computer intelligence and human creativity
versus computer creativity. In both cases, we stressed major
differences between human and computer capabilities, but that computer
capabilities are useful to humans and they continue to grow.
The previous issue and this current issue of the newsletter address the
topic of human and computer memory.
Vannevar Bush and Tim Berners-Lee
Vannevar Bush (1890–1974) served as Director of the
Office of Scientific Research and Development in the United Stated
during World War II. He coordinated research efforts of some 6,000
scientists who were working on war-related projects.
The Vannevar Bush quote given above addresses the challenge of how to
make effective use of the rapidly growing totality of science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics information. His
article—written about 65 years ago—is often cited as the first step in
the eventual development of the Web.
Tim Berners-Lee (1955–) is considered to be the inventor of the Web.
The Web first became functional in 1990 and it is now the world’s
largest library. One way to think about the Web is that it is an
auxiliary brain designed to supplements one’s memory storage and
cognitive processing capabilities.
Computer Storage and Processing
A human brain has neurons that are both storage and
processing units. In contrast, electronic digital computer storage and
processing are handled by two different types of devices. Computer
memory is typically designed to effectively deal with the storage and
retrieval of bits or bytes (8-bit chunks) of data. For less than $150, we can now purchase an
easily portable disk drive
that can store a trillion bytes of
data. That is enough memory to store about a million medium-length
Today’s electronic digital computers contain one or more central
processing units (CPUs). A CPU is designed to rapidly and accurately
carry out a detailed list of instructions stored in computer memory.
These instructions may involve arithmetic calculations, but also
process collections of bytes of data, such as occurs when a person is
using a word processor or doing computer graphics.
A computer brain
containing one or more CPUs and various forms of memory, is quite
different from a human brain. Human and computer brains each have
important capabilities that the other does not have. In many
problem-solving and task-accomplishing situations, the two types of
brains working together can far surpass the capabilities of either one
working alone. See http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One
As a simple example, suppose that your authors are interested in
finding Web-based materials that mention both of their names. A Google
search of "David OR Dave Moursund
"Robert OR Bob Sylwester
takes about .4 seconds to identify somewhat over 60 hits.
Increasing a Brain’s Capabilities
A healthy human infant’s brain has some built-in
capabilities (for example to run the autonomic systems that keep heart
and lungs functioning) as well as a considerable capacity to learn.
This brain changes substantially as it grows toward maturity—which
usually occurs by age 25 of so. Growth and learning lead to substantial
increases in a human brain’s capabilities. Some growth of new neurons
continues even after a brain reaches full maturity. And, of course, a
brain changes substantially over the years through informal and formal
education and life experiences. See the 23-minute video at http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html
The brains of computer systems have been substantially improved over
the years, and a rapid rate of improvement will continue far into the
future. Here are four key ideas. The capabilities of a computer brain
is improved by:
- Making it run faster or by appropriately combining several CPUs.
By the year 2020, people may well be building supercomputers that
contain a million CPUs.
- Adding more very fast, internal memory and adding a large amount
of less fast memory such as magnetic disk, optical disk, and flash
- The development of more and better software. Search engines such
as Google are one very important example of this software.
- Improvements in computer networking.
If you own an Internet-connected computer, its capabilities are
steadily increasing even though you are not buying additional hardware
The US Library of Congress is the world’s largest library in terms of
storage of physical (hard copy) materials. However, the Web contains
many tens of thousands times the amount of content as the Library of
Congress. Note that the Library of Congress has considerable content
that cannot be accessed electronically. This is gradually changing as
the Library of Congress and others are working to digitize such
Auxiliary Memory For Humans
Vannevar Bush foresaw the need for auxiliary memory that was personal
and very convenient to access. (Interlibrary loan of hard copy books
and journals is a great idea—but it is very slow relative to accessing
a book via the Web.)
Over the years, digital storage has increased quite rapidly in capacity
and decreased quite rapidly in cost per byte of storage. Digital
storage allows one to make exact duplicates of a file and to quickly
move files around the world. It also makes possible search computer
search engines such as Google.
Here are two examples of futuristic-looking uses of computers. Gordon
Bell has had a very long and productive career as a computer designer
and engineer. In recent years, he has worn a body-mounted computerized
video and audio recorder to record his everyday life. See http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/110/head-for-detail.html
Bell makes use of his recording system both for research into the idea
of recording one’s life and to be able to review and share with others
past events from his life.
Ray Kurzweil is a very successful inventor and futurist. He hopes to
live long enough so that it is possible to download his brain into a
computer system. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Kurzweil
It seems quite likely that the storage and processing capabilities of a
computer’s brain will eventually exceed those of a human brain.
For other future forecasts, see http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us
Educational Implications and Recommendations
An intact human memory storage system has a huge capacity.
Information comes into our brain through our external sensors as well
as through internal sensors and subconscious or conscious processing of
memories we already have. Our brain has the ability to store data,
information, knowledge, and wisdom in a manner so that we can retrieve
and use it.
Unfortunately, our storage and retrieval system is not computer-like in
its speed, storage capacity, and ease and fidelity of retrieval. A
human cannot read a book, memorize it exactly word for word, and
thoroughly index it in a few seconds. For many different types of
manipulation of data, information, and knowledge, a human brain is both
very slow and inaccurate relative to the brain of a computer system.
It is clear that we want an education system that helps the brains of
students to increase their capabilities and helps them to input, store,
learn to retrieve, and learn to make use of a great deal of data,
information, knowledge, information, and wisdom. However, we also want
an educational system that prepares students to make effective use of
the very large and rapidly growing capabilities of computers.
One way to measure progress in two-brain education is to measure the
extent to which students are assessed in an open computer, open
connectivity mode. Many students now do their homework in this
environment. However, we have barely scratched the surface in terms of
assessing students in this environment.
The authors of this Information Age Education Newsletter are prolific
writers. In some sense, each views his writings as a type of auxiliary
memory. David Moursund uses the metaphor “electronic filing cabinet.”
He views his Wiki as his professional/academic auxiliary memory. For
details, see http://iae-pedia.org/Digital_Filing_Cabinet/Overview
With the use of various search engines, he can quickly retrieve from
his Websites and personal computers almost everything he has written
and much of what he has read in recent years. Similarly, both of your
authors routinely use the Web to draw on a significant part of the
accumulated knowledge of the human race.
About Information Age Education, Inc.
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to
improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE
is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki
with address http://IAE-pedia.org,
a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter
you are now reading.
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