Our Current Knowledge Society | Rumi Chunara | TEDxSugarLand


Translator: Imamali Dadashzada
Reviewer: Denise RQ In 2013, riding the wave
of Google Flu Trends, our research group found that Google search queries from Thailand
could actually be predictive of the number of cases
of malaria in Thailand. But what would happen
when we looked a little bit closer is we found that some of the key queries that were matching what happened
in terms of the number of cases, actually had to do with
microscopes and not malaria. People were searching about
the function of a microscope or about different components
of a microscope. So what is the moral of this story? Well, more data can be good,
predictive, real-time, but if we actually want
to understand what’s happening, we have to look a little closer. In this case, we had
laboratory technicians who were using microscopes to actually diagnose malaria
from blood smears or the ones who are doing
a lot of the googling and when there are more cases of malaria, we saw more Google searches
about microscopes. Is this something that’s only relevant to the world of global public health,
or research, and academia? Actually no. This concept is affecting us,
each one of us, every day. That’s because we’re
in this new knowledge society. So what does the knowledge
society even mean? We can look to technical definitions
which talk about when an economy is more driven
by knowledge than previously such as things by agriculture
or other industries. But actually, each one of us is facing
this giant change on everyday basis. This is what we’re seeing:
social media posts from our friends, 2477 breaking news on the television, emails from our mom
about bananas that can cure cancer, rankings about where we should potentially
send our children to school, TEDx talks from all around the world. So how do we manage to use
all of this information we’re being bombarded with? How do we make our journey
through the knowledge society? How do we turn data
into information, into knowledge? Previously, this was
a lot more straightforward when we had a more
hierarchical system of things; for example, if I wanted
to look up something, there was one encyclopedia I could go to; if I wanted to ask
a health related question, I would just wait
and talk to my doctor or nurse. But now, if I want to look up something,
I can go to Wikipedia, I can go to Google; if I have a health-related question, you or I can just,
right at home, access WebMD and learn about common symptoms
and treatments for different conditions. We actually made use of this
real-time and accessible features of the new knowledge society through our project “Go Viral” in which we were able to get
a more comprehensive sense of what’s happening in terms
of disease in the community, so by connecting individuals
through Internet and their mobile tools, we can actually understand who is sick
and also what types of viruses they have rather than just waiting for information
from doctors offices and hospitals, which might generally capture
only the most severe cases and those who are able to access
these in healthcare institutions. But alongside all of these benefits,
of course, there are challenges. It’s a two-sided coin, like many things. While we have real-time,
geo-location. high-resolution. The ability to capture
our daily footprints, we now also have challenges of privacy. Here we have access to diverse opinions, but that can also lead to what some dubbed
“the post-facts society,” where we have a lot of opinions
going around with no evidence. We can also have
major gaps in our knowledge by only being centered on certain sources. But this is not a new problem. Scientists have been looking
at and assessing information for centuries, if not longer, so there are a few themes
that we might be able to learn from how they accomplish this then we can incorporate
into our daily lives. One of them is critical thinking,
assessing content and being critical of it instead of getting satisfied with just a superficial snapshot
or a bit of information. Another is references and sources – actually looking at why something
is being said, from every source, instead of just accepting
or dismissing content based on the name or words from. Finally, data and research – looking towards evidence
for what is being said instead of simply accepting every opinion. These are all great things in theory, but it’s not an easy problem. There’s not a list of five websites
we can always go to and numbers and types of information
are always growing. How do we translate this into
our daily lives; some of this theory? One approach is that we can assess
what our values are and then let that guide what we do
and keep us centered just like these whirling dervishes
have to keep centered on something in order to keep going around. So for example, this can take
a lot of different approaches. One: do we really want
to accept diverse opinions? If so, do we assess what we have and actively search out information
that we might be missing? What do we want to do
with all this information? Do we want to achieve
monetary gain and sell things, or do we also want to be open
to helping people or other outcomes? Finally, do we want to take responsibility for what we share as part
of the knowledge society and take that time
to look through content that we’re actually sourcing instead of just passing the buck
and hitting ‘Send’ on the next email. So this is not a TEDx talk
with all the answers. It’s not sexy, I don’t have
three lessons, lifelong lessons for you. But hopefully, we showed
how you and I are actually part of this knowledge society
every minute of every day. We’re the ones that make it up. This talk will hopefully inspire you to think about how you want
to make that journey. Thank you. (Applause)

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