DEEP[ER] LEARNING

Looking ahead to 2020 and the next decade, it would be great to see deeper learning at an individual level to protect us from the current devolution in society’s ability to identify and weed out misleading and biased mouthpieces. Each of us has the power and facility to learn more. We shouldn’t have to rely on governments or social media companies to deliver us from information pitfalls.

What I am about to say somewhat contradicts the fact that I am being a potentially biased mouthpiece myself. I can only hope I am not adding to ‘information confusion’.

These days, we get very excited about the concept of machine learning and deep learning (where software is fed a lot of information and it is expected to learn from the data). Let’s consider this:

How can we (humans) trust ourselves to judge whether a “machine” is learning the right things if we don’t possess a relevant depth of knowledge in the topics that the machine is asked to learn?

One of the greatest things that ever happened to human existence is the development of our ability to communicate deep concepts with each other. Over time, more and more people are able to live better lifestyles because more people know more. But we also discover and invent exponentially more as a collective over time and that means we all have to continue to learn even more to keep up. A few centuries ago, someone who could read a few passages from a religious text may have been considered “educated”. But today we can only consider someone to be educated at the most basic level if the person understands much more complex concepts in addition to possessing the same knowledge that people had back then.

I will get to my point. Here is a great article from the Economist summarizing how information consumption has changed. Although this piece focuses on Generation Z [born 1997 and later], we are all taking part in the same trends. I sometimes scroll through my LinkedIn feed for several minutes until I snap out of it and realize that all I gained is more marketing memories. It’s worth asking ourselves the hard question of where our knowledge trajectory is heading. Short video clips, memes, and clickbait can be fun, easy to consume, and irresistible. But can it really substitute deep knowledge transfer?

Personally, I don’t think so. Knowing the “what” is good for social conversations, but knowing the “why” and “how” is where the real learning starts. I worry that we are sliding back in our ability to communicate deep concepts. Until we get to Star Trek-style MindMeld, conveying detailed concepts in a few seconds is impossible. If we don’t take time and effort to create and consume vast amounts of information to let our brains process the data, how will our brains actually evolve? Learning only the “what” allows us to create a correlation model in our brain. Learning the “why”, “how”, and “when” allows us to create a causal model in our brain, which is so much more powerful.

As an example, we talk ad nauseam about who should lead our countries, states, and cities; but once they take office, we are disappointed that they might have fooled us into voting for them. Is it really the mouthpiece’s fault though? Maybe, we are setting ourselves up to be fooled by being lazy about how we consume information. If we knew the “why” and “how” of many more things, we are setting a higher threshold for all the mouthpieces in the world.

In 2020, it would be nice to see us all ask three simple questions before being a mouthpiece or following a mouthpiece:

What is the real purpose of sharing the information in front of me?

Do I truly believe in the accuracy and societal value of the information I am looking at?

Does it involve deep learning with “why”, “how” and historical context?