Have you ever wondered about the difference between data, information and knowledge?
Back in school, my IT textbook described these as separate, progressively more useful/valuable categories. I don't recall the exact definitions now but basically, data was defined as standalone facts, information - as useful data, and I completely can't remember how that textbook defined knowledge.
Luckily, we have Wikipedia, which has a helpful article called DIKW pyramid (DIKW, respectively, stands for data, information, knowledge, and wisdom). Turns out, there are many theories about the hierarchy (or lack thereof) of the information space, including other categories, such as understanding, signals, wisdom and whatnot. (This is not an exact science.)
The reason I am bringing this up is because Avogadro One aims to help users to move up this pyramid. We believe we're at a critical time for this.
At the end of the 20th century, the Internet was emerging as a blessing, providing people with access to information and data they could not otherwise find. TV, radio and newspapers were still the main sources of information, and phones were used mostly to call people. Who would remember this now, right? The Internet was supposed to liberate us from censorship, state-sponsored propaganda, mind control and biased reporting. At last, the climb up the DIKW pyramid was going to be a breeze - just open the browser and you'll get to the Knowledge/Wisdom in your domain in the blink of an eye! Or so we thought.
Fast-forward 20 years, and instead we're increasingly finding ourselves swamped by a deluge of data and even information. Unfortunately, more information does not always mean better outcome. Time is a limited resource, and processing incoming information takes more and more time. Add to this such distractions as fake news, mainstream media's obsession with sensations and crime, echo chambers and filter bubbles, and you'll see that the signal-to-noise ratio is plummeting.
As a result, what once would have been considered valuable information (i.e. data that is meaningful to us in a certain context) is becoming unusable simply because there's so much of it that making use of it is becoming difficult. Even 10 years ago, finding an interesting article online using a search engine was pretty straightforward. Today you'll get the "most popular" or the most SEO-ed (search engine-optimized) stuff first, with many repeats from several sources. If you're lucky, what you're looking for will be on the third search results page. As a result, extracting knowledge from this information torrent is becoming harder. Eventually this information will turn back into data - high-volume signals with no particular value. In other words, our climb up the DIKW pyramid is becoming more "slippery," as we slide back to the low-value tiers more and more frequently, with the summit becoming ever more elusive. (Sisyphus would appreciate the metaphor ?)
This situation is unfortunate for us - individuals, small and medium businesses, NGOs and other "simple folk." On the other hand, it's a boon for governments and big corporations. They have the resources and the technology to process these huge volumes of data and to selectively "feed" the populace with what they think is "best for us." Thus the filter bubbles, censorship, fake news and other phenomena we thought the Internet would free us from are making a comeback, with a vengeance.
Luckily, technology tools are emerging that can help deal with these things, at least to some degree. These are the new machine learning and natural language processing algorithms, which have seen an explosion in recent years, helped by increases in computing capacity of new CPUs and GPUs. Ironically, the Googles and Facebooks of the world are at the forefront of this technology wave, wielding the largest data centers, the biggest data collections, and the cash to hire the smartest researchers and engineers. But we have one other thing going in our favor: research article are usually freely available and open source mantra rules the space. We'll fight them with their own weapons.
Avogadro One's aim is to help our users to cut through the noise, get to the really important information and generate knowledge without being buried in constantly arriving data. We want to give people back the ability to decide what is important to them. It will not be easy as we don't have a big budget, but we know what we want and believe our users will appreciate our effort.
In the meantime, to help us, we invite you to answer our anonymous questionnaire.