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Matt Holland

Writer (In Training)

The Information Advantage – A Mental Model To Get Ahead (Part 1)

Read time: 5 minutes. Click here to watch my video on the topic.

If I were to try and simplify my worldview I’d probably settle on looking at it from two perspectives: information and energy. Humans are chemically powered biological processing machines that use information every day. This has been highlighted even more through the invention of the information superhighway: the internet.

Having better, faster, newer, and more accurate information gives the receiver an advantage. As a competitive species we’re all looking for an edge. It’s the selfish nature of our genes that drives this competition to survive and thrive. When we are able to look at information objectively I think we discover knowledge. Information turns into knowledge and knowledge creates power. Power is having a relative advantage.

The following sections overview my current understanding of information and how I use my perspective of it as a mental model. I consider information different than knowledge, especially in a world full of misinformation. Information is neither right or wrong in my view, it just is. Our interpretation of it (subjective perspectives) is what makes it meaningful. In this first part of a two part post series I’ll be exploring information inputs, quality, storage, distribution, processing, and computation.

Inputs & Quality

Information is created in our brain through our senses which act as inputs. Without our senses we’d have no information to process. It is our senses that provide the window into reality. The volume of information coming in through our senses can be overwhelming. The human brain’s ability to process that sensory stimulus is also limited. This means that there is a biological upper bound to our capacity to take in information and process it.

Computers are similar to humans in that they’re able to take in information through inputs. They also have their limits on how much input they can process. However, the distinct advantage of computers is that their capabilities can continue to increase through hardware upgrades until we reach a fundamental law of physics. The same may be said for humans in the future with a computer-brain interface but we’re not quite there yet.

Our sensory inputs don’t filter out information. This is why quality control is critical. An awareness of what information is being input allows you to filter out, like a firewall, what enters into your mind. This is the job of your brain. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is generally intended to purposefully deceive. There is a lot of misinformation out there that can be a huge time suck. Ideally your brain filters out that information.

I believe that education is one of the most important aspects of human society. It usually happens in institutions such as schools but can also happen informally or though self-learning. In education, information is communicated to input into impressionable minds. This information is then encoded with meaning and generally learners trust that the quality they’re receiving is good. Our education systems need to be of utmost quality as a primary source of information input.

In a world full of easily accessible minds over the internet misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction, let alone distraction. The misinformation may be false but if enough people believe it to be true then it may as well be “true”. Misinformation is an information disadvantage to those it is used against.

Storage & Distribution

The storage and distribution of information is the best it’s ever been. Spoken language was historically the primary way of distribution with storage occurring in our brains. Naturally, this has its issues. It doesn’t scale well beyond your immediate social circle and memories tend to be unreliable over the long term.

Then along came the usage of art on cave walls as storage and eventually we had ink on primitive paper. From there we had the creation of books, which has been one of the most reliable mediums for information storage and distribution. I believe written language became a massive advantage for humans because of it’s reliability. Then the invention of the printing press further propelled our abilities to distribute stored information. And now the internet has become the greatest information medium yet.

I believe part of what made humans so dominate in the animal kingdom is our management of information. By being able to communicate through language and symbols we were able to build upon and test the knowledge of others. The human brain power of one was now able to be distributed to the brains of many to further develop our knowledge. Before that there were information silos which limited distribution between a small group human brains. Once we were able to better store and distribute information, we were able to better think and cooperate.

The internet has lead to a field called “big data”, which systematically extracts and analyzes information from extremely large data sets. There can be better certainty with more information. Hence why data is so coveted these days. We’re all looking for that information advantage.

Processing & Computing

Information can eventually become knowledge after processing. Generally information is processed in the search of knowledge. This is sometimes called searching for “signal”. All other information can be called “noise” which are sources of distraction and misinformation. We are looking for more signal and less noise.

Living beings process the information received by their senses constantly. Some of this happens consciously and the rest unconsciously. In fact, part of the brain’s job is to help us decide what we should be focusing our attention on for conscious processing. The senses are overloaded with information every day and without deciding where attention is needed our mind would be too overwhelmed.

This is where computers come into play and form an advantage. If you can make something an information problem you can solve it with Information Technology. A computer’s processing power of information is far greater than our own brains. But where computers still fall short is on the intelligence piece. This is slowly changing through advances in Artificial Intelligence. General processing power of computers is potentially going to get greater with breakthroughs in Quantum Computing as well.

The obvious end objective of processing information is to make it useful and turn it into knowledge. Part of this usefulness can come from computation. When we manipulate, combine, or change the informational data through a computer we can find new knowledge. Computers, when used correctly, provide a massive information advantage.

Final Thoughts

Information is the subject matter of our thoughts. It’s our thinking that determines its meaning and in an effort to think better we need better information. One of the limiting factors of better thoughts is information availability. If you are fortunate enough (I know I am) to have internet then you have a fantastic base of information to draw from.

Once you have information available to you it’s important that it’s good quality. Just as the saying goes “you are what you eat” the same holds true for “you are what information you consume”. This is why it’s critical to examine your sources of information, which lead to your thoughts and who you are. These sources could be from mass media, social media, friends, family, libraries, or anywhere else. Take the time to consider these sources.

Stay tuned for my next post about how information becomes knowledge, the process of unlearning, and the application of useful information. Whether we know it or not, I believe we’re all searching for that information advantage.

I appreciate you.

M

References:

My thoughts are subject to change and I will get some things wrong. I promise to keep learning and strive to keep doing better. I'm by no means an expert on any topic I may write or make videos about so always do your own research as well. I try to keep an open mind. If I can teach you something and also learn something from you then I'm doing what I set out to do. Thanks for reading. These are just some thoughts.


“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

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