Friday, July 13, 2018

A universal knowledge set in which no one is interested

Saw this tweet:

Tomasz raises an issue that I have been mulling to no satisfactory resolution for some years now.

Tomasz is observing that a quality lecture from the world's leading researcher on forecasting has only been watched 14,000 times in three years. Just under 5,000 times a year. Tiny when you consider that there are some 4 million people graduating university each year in the US. How could this only be watched 5,000 times in a year?

Five or ten years ago, I had a similar epiphany. Since the advent of the internet in 2000 and the smartphone in 2007, access to data, information, knowledge, books has ballooned. The capacity for self-education is huge. Are we taking advantage of that potential.

One of the wonderful little corners of the internet is Project Gutenberg. 57,000 digitized classics freely available in multiple formats. Books ranging from Novum Organum by Frances Bacon to Homer's Iliad to just about anything you might imagine as being useful that is out of copyright.

So the opportunity for cheap and easy knowledge acquisition is there. Are we using it? Apparently not. Take Homer's Iliad as an example. The digital rendering was loaded in 2006. Since then, some 8,000 people have downloaded it. In 12 years. Across the globe. 8,000? That's almost inconceivably small number of people downloading one of the West's ur-texts.

Tomasz is gentle - he finds it a pity not more people are interested in Tetlock's work. I find it almost inconceivable that the numbers (Homer, Tetlock, etc.) are so small.

I experience this phenomenon repeatedly. I'll read a contemporary book that advances a new insight which I find fascinating and consequential. And then I discover that only 10,000 people in this nation of 310,000,000 have purchased a copy.

It is a good reminder that the world is larger and stranger than we know and that people are more different from one another than we easily acknowledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment