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All Your Data Are More Free to Us

Information doesn’t want to be free. Information never wanted to be free. Free is worthless.

I have for quite some time found the expectation of free to be immoral. Anyone who expects free is actually expecting someone else (or something else) to be enslaved. Slavery and sweatshop labor is supposed to be free (at zero marginal cost). Such expectations are wrong, in my humble opinion. Likewise, pollution of so-called “freely available” resources is also wrong.

Yet even without such moral arguments, let me return to the fact of the matter: Information simply isn’t free. It’s not even simply “too cheap to meter”.

My hunch is that some people have simply confused “information” with “data”. Indeed, the price of data processing did indeed sort of “fall off a cliff” in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Esther Dyson’s analysis of the situation decades ago was pretty much spot on.

Why is it so important to distinguish between information and data? What is the difference?

On its own, data is / are pretty much meaningless. It’s only when we consider what the significance of the data is, that we create — by means of intellectually interpreting data — meaningful information.

One example I return to time and again is the notion of pattern recognition. There cannot be any pattern to recognize without a pattern first being identified — and such patterns basically boil down to natural intelligence defining the significance of patterns. Machines can only “recognize” (e.g. cats vs. dogs) when intelligent beings first define (i.e., “cognize” what we refer to as “cats” vs. “dogs”) … and even also not until intelligent beings codify machine-readable algorithms to recognize … stuff which intelligent beings had previously detected in the first place. This is also why the most basic information technology will always be the stuff we commonly refer to as “natural language“.

So What?

Natural language was a very significant step forward, and it remains fundamental. Its significance is even attested in the Bible, which states (in English translation) something like: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God.”

As a sort of variation-on-a-theme version of the importance of natural language, I now present you with Socio.BIZ Rule #3:

Meaningful is valuable, meaningless is worthless.

Socio.BIZ Rule #3

This is the key that unlocks the supposed paradox described by Stewart Brand at that “hacker’s conference” decades ago, which is so often quoted, especially the concept “information wants to be free”.

He was wrong. His naïve view of information blinded him. He didn’t realize he was mistaking raw data for meaningful information. Similar mistakes have been repeated time and again — even by well-known academics. Take Hal Varian, for example: he thought that by counting up bits he might arrive at a number that might describe the amount of information in the world today [1]. This is, of course, ridiculous, ludicrous and simply stated: utter nonsense which is completely laughable. Nonetheless, in some circles his opinion remains revered, carte-blanche (by Google, for example).

Speaking of which, as irrational media (like Google) are meaningless, they are worthless. Even though since time immemorial, this has not been widely known (or recognized 😉 ) [2], it is now on the advent of becoming as clear as day. As literacy becomes more and more widespread, intelligent people will increasingly shun irrational media, and they will also increasingly prefer rational media.

[1] (at the time) I can’t remember when I read that press release — maybe over a decade ago? It certainly made me much less proud of the fact that I had previously studied Hal Varian’s work in information economics

[2] it may actually be even more appropriate to say “technologically feasible” (compare the seminal article describing the technology which has in the meantime become the “World-Wide Web”, Vannevar Bush’s “As we may think”)

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By New Media Works

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