A Historic Week

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This was a historic week!

No, I’m not talking about events in the Middle East, I’m talking about events affecting librarianship and information services. More precisely, I should say events that I believe will profoundly affect the handling of information in society in the decades to come.

The first of these was the three day IBM Jeopardy challenge, in which the IBM “Watson” computer beat the top 2 human contestants of all time in the Jeopardy television game show. This was a supreme natural language information retrieval test, and as the Watson technology (and knowledge base) become more widespread, the demand for humans to retrieve basic factual information can only recede. (See www.ibm.com/watson ).

The second, which I think will take much longer to have a practical impact, was the announcement this week of the world’s first programmable nanoprocessor. (See the press release at http://www.mitre.org/news/releases/11/nanoprocessor_02_10_2011.html .) The possibilities as this technology advances are unimaginable. Contrary to the speculations about when the rate of change described by Moore’s Law would slow down, I wonder if this will speed it up!

In a somewhat-related piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/hwBxFl ), Andy Kessler divides jobs into the “creators” and the “servers”. He predicts prosperity for the creators and disaster for the servers. While there’s much in the article that I find greatly oversimplified,  I do think there’s a germ of truth in this. So it’s our job as embedded librarians to be true “creators” and not just “servers”. That way, we’ll be positioned to develop and use “Watson’s” successors (I won’t say progeny) and the nano-information systems of the future — and not be threatened by them.

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4 Responses to “A Historic Week”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Amen! I am mostly reacting to the last item. Jim Collins said he keeps track of how much time he spends creating, teaching, and then everything else. I am fortunate to spend a lot of time doing both. I know there are differences of opinion on the “service” issue among librarians, but there should be no disagreement on the “creativity” charge: we have to innovate and remain agile. As Clay Shirky said in Cognitive Surplus, “Competence is a moving target.”

  2. Dunnell from CUA Says:

    hmmm … i wonder if Watson actually “understands” the questions and is not simply connecting data by running some fancy pants algorithm.

  3. AC Says:

    As long as there’s ways to access information, people will need other people to help them do that. Even in our Watson-enabled future – which at this point just seems like Google++. The trick for us embedded librarians is to stay ahead of the curve, isn’t it?

    • davidshumaker Says:

      Yes, I agree. The bar will continue to go up; what’s considered “value added” will continue to evolve, and it’s up to us to ratchet up what we do. I’d suggest that embedded librarians regard each innovation in knowledge and information management as a potential new tool that will allow them to do more.

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