September 20, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

From ape to 'Homo digitas'?

This is part two of a three-part series on intelligence and computing. Click here for part one.

Jonathan Zittrain has seen a new species emerging in recent years. He calls it "Homo digitas."

"The vision (is) of someone glued to a chair, focused on a screen, interacting as an object, a person whose main identification is as a digital creature, who doesn't know what to do without a signal," said Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

But for all the knowledge available on the Internet, it's not so clear that the modern, computer-using Homo digitas is any more intelligent than the good, old-fashioned Homo sapien.

News.context

What's new:
Will vast amounts of readily available information and tantalizing possibilities for collective learning make for a smarter populace?

Bottom line:
All the knowledge on the Internet doesn't mean people in the age of technology are any more intelligent than the good, old-fashioned Homo sapien. People must cultivate the ability to navigate dynamic, virtual environments for information, then be able to evaluate and analyze that information critically.

More stories on this topic

Still, there are tantalizing signs of what could be. Communities of software developers, connected through the Internet, for example, have managed to create in a matter of months and at little cost what used to take big companies years and billions of dollars to develop. That collective intelligence of open-source projects shows how the world could get a lot smarter, thanks to the Net.

"Collectively and collaboratively, this is the most promising potential for really developing our collective ability to learn and think," said Doug Engelbart, a pioneer of personal-computing technology in the 1960s who conceived of the computer mouse.

But it's not so easy to say how or whether individuals are getting any smarter. Truth is, getting along in this world as a Homo digitas isn't easy. People must cultivate the ability to navigate dynamic, virtual environments for information, then be able to evaluate and analyze that information critically. On the Internet, it isn't always easy ferreting out fantasy from reality and truth from fabrication.

Just 10 years ago, if you wanted specific information you'd go to the library to check out a book. The fact that the book was in the library's collection meant that someone had vetted the work for credibility or value to society. The Web, on the other hand, holds few rules of selectivity or standards. Anyone can publish books, blogs, zines, videos or podcasts.

"The skill is moving around in a knowledge repository to...find out and learn things," Engelbart said. "It's one thing to ask a search engine a question. But it's another thing to go through and evaluate things that are relevant and tie them together."

Being able to organize all that data is also an important survival skill. No self-respecting Net denizen can get along without knowing all the advanced settings on at least three major search engines. And the ability to categorize e-mails in nifty folders while simultaneously tracking the windows of several instant-messaging sessions on the fly is pretty helpful too.

Shopping for ideas or products on the Net means people must process, compare and analyze much more information. Buying a pair of shoes off-line, a consumer might visit one or two stores. Online, people have the ability to compare product attributes in large numbers. The resulting glut of information puts a higher demand on them to put the information in their working memory--and process it, psychologists say.

Children must also become more skeptical judges of information, and in a sense, they must grow out of the sandbox more quickly. Years ago, kids were expected to tune into an authoritative voice in the classroom or elsewhere and paraphrase it to get an "A." Now children must apply critical thinking skills to sort through the vast amounts of junk on the Web.

"There is a shift that happens: If you start to lose attachment to facts in your head, if you always have to reach outside, then putting ideas together in novel ways will become impossible," said Brewster Kahle, executive director of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that is keeping a record of the changes of the Net. "And that's the essence of thinking. We have to train and expect critical thinking--not just Web surfing."

Lost in a world of GPS
As a result, what kids do all day in school--indeed, how adults educate themselves, as well--may have to change. Until it does, many believe it'll be a long time before society becomes more intelligent as a result of the Net.

"Educating our kids and having them learn to educate themselves is completely changing, and I don't think we're ready for that in our schools," Zittrain said.

That's not to say people aren't getting a little smarter. A New Zealand researcher named Jim Flynn discovered in the 1980s that the average IQ test scores were ticking up by three points--a full standard deviation--every decade since the beginning of the 1900s. It's known as the Flynn Effect.

People are advancing in the ability to process information or problems, but they're not improving in verbal or critical thinking skills, according to several professors tracking intelligence. No one knows exactly why the average mean is trending up, but researchers suspect any number of things, including nutrition, experience with test-taking, and cultural attitudes.

On an individual level, however, it's much easier for people reliant on their computers to feel dumber when they're not online. Without a

CONTINUED:
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18 comments

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From ape to 'Homo digitas'?
It is shades of the calculator revolution. Most people today do not know understand problem solving. There is no creativity any longer. No one does design for the beauty of it. Today its:
1. Rapid Prototype;
2. When can you get something up an running;
3. Design on the fly;
4. let the computer design it;

Next we will be counting on our fingers
Posted by (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
From ape to 'Homo digitas'?
It is shades of the calculator revolution. Most people today do not know understand problem solving. There is no creativity any longer. No one does design for the beauty of it. Today its:
1. Rapid Prototype;
2. When can you get something up an running;
3. Design on the fly;
4. let the computer design it;

Next we will be counting on our fingers
Posted by (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
From ape to 'Homo digitas'?
It is shades of the calculator revolution. Most people today do not know understand problem solving. There is no creativity any longer. No one does design for the beauty of it. Today its:
1. Rapid Prototype;
2. When can you get something up an running;
3. Design on the fly;
4. let the computer design it;

Next we will be counting on our fingers
Posted by (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unfortunately
Contrary to what some want to believe all species are constantly evolving. Within a given population there can be substantial diversity, but for real change to occur, there must be some sort of pressure applied to the system.

We can have people with eye color ranging from very light blue to almost black. Blow a hole in the ozone, increased UV causes the lighter eye color to cataract and go blind. No hunting, no food, goodbye blue eyes. A giraffe can stretch his neck all day reaching for food and not change his DNA. For the long necks to thrive the short necks must die off, AKA biological pressure.

That pressure does not exist in modern society so as comforting as it may sound we are not changing as a species to any appreciable extent. Baring some unforeseen catastrophe that is.

Worst of all, high intelligence may not be a guarantor of biological success. It seems that stupid fruit flies stand a better chance of breading success than those that learn more quickly. Intelligence may be more of a fluke then a necessity when it comes to survival.

Now that's reassuring isn't it?
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
oops!
That is breeding success not breading success. oops!
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
In point of fact...
...amongst humans intelligence tends to be selected against. Particularly in our society the athletic and ignorant are highly preferred as breeding stock while the intelligent specimens are labeled nerds or geeks. How often do you see someone take pride in the fact they are ignorant of math, science or other intellectual pursuits while proudly displaying their knowledge of trivia concerning sports or celebrities?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Fortunately not fly
Intelligence may not work for a species that is limited to feeding itself by sipping a coctail of regurgetated digestive juices and partially digested food throuh mouthparts so specifically evolved to this process that all other mandibular possibilities are precluded.

Possibilities...thats what intelligence is about. Given that a flies' food source is stable . Man and his food sources have been anything but stable i.e. Climatic change , extinctions , or mans' predilection for exploration/expansion .
A very sucsesfull/specialized species faces extinction when sucsesfull mutations don't keep pace with relatively minor environmental shifts, contrast this with mans' adaptation to nearly every habitat on the planet. An achievement not based on physical mutation taking multiple generations but rather upon vitual mutations (changes in behaviour affected by intelligent choices which changed our physical sucsess as a species) taking much much less time. If the idea is powerfull enough , such as throwing spears, keeping fire , or symboligy in speech , our course was changed radically and rapidly.
Secondly to say that human evolution is not taking place , consider the demographics relating to intelligence and birth rate. If the studies are to be believed the epsilon- population is reproducing at a rate 4x the alpha+ population is squirting out rugrats.
I am a firm believer in itelligent behaviour . We are charged with the care and feeding of our techno-economic society which is in dire need of intelligent input. Unfortunately this does not exert evolutionary pressure on us .
So... what i say is "We must go to the mattreses , in the offices , or in the petri dishes, alpha+s' unite..unite like crazy ! Breed like super rabbits" Oh yes there's the not so little detail, besides spawning all these genuses (geni?) take the time required to:
install the basic tools of thought
instill decent morals
provide proper home environment which
is coducive to leraning
protects them from harmfull people
protects them from inapropriate issues(age appropriate developmental filter system)
is supportive of independent thinking
is emotionally sound as role models
is financially adequate and stable to provide for there physical and academic needs as well as recreation/sporting activities.
is a good role model privately and publicly.etc..etc...etc....oh yea have a challenging rewarding carrer on all levels before attempting any of this!

It seems in writing this I realize that there
considerable environmental pressure to not reproduce if you stop to consider the ramifications and responsibilities, so don't.
If your IQ is over 140 Breed with wild abandon as early as possible you have a duty , a calling to save humanity , irresponsibly is your ally, organize mensa mating orgies thinly diguised as think tanks.
Operate online mating services where only alphas' get hooked up , tell the rest that there test results indicate a personality so warped it should be forwarded to
Homeland Security ,FBI ,and posibly the phone police but if they agree to therapy (provided by alphas')they can in time rejoin the mating dance . Secretly fill there minds with self loathing and suicide. In reality their graduation ceremony and first Mating Dance is a thickly disguised Jim Jones style Kool-aid party in an isolated (privately owned ) third world island country.
Or alternately, since it is hard to discern normal from not early on. Just shoot all the alphas' in the head on their way to pre-shool
just to make sure you get the ones like me....
Posted by exitwound (3 comments )
Link Flag
Unfortunately
Contrary to what some want to believe all species are constantly evolving. Within a given population there can be substantial diversity, but for real change to occur, there must be some sort of pressure applied to the system.

We can have people with eye color ranging from very light blue to almost black. Blow a hole in the ozone, increased UV causes the lighter eye color to cataract and go blind. No hunting, no food, goodbye blue eyes. A giraffe can stretch his neck all day reaching for food and not change his DNA. For the long necks to thrive the short necks must die off, AKA biological pressure.

That pressure does not exist in modern society so as comforting as it may sound we are not changing as a species to any appreciable extent. Baring some unforeseen catastrophe that is.

Worst of all, high intelligence may not be a guarantor of biological success. It seems that stupid fruit flies stand a better chance of breading success than those that learn more quickly. Intelligence may be more of a fluke then a necessity when it comes to survival.

Now that's reassuring isn't it?
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
oops!
That is breeding success not breading success. oops!
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
In point of fact...
...amongst humans intelligence tends to be selected against. Particularly in our society the athletic and ignorant are highly preferred as breeding stock while the intelligent specimens are labeled nerds or geeks. How often do you see someone take pride in the fact they are ignorant of math, science or other intellectual pursuits while proudly displaying their knowledge of trivia concerning sports or celebrities?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Fortunately not fly
Intelligence may not work for a species that is limited to feeding itself by sipping a coctail of regurgetated digestive juices and partially digested food throuh mouthparts so specifically evolved to this process that all other mandibular possibilities are precluded.

Possibilities...thats what intelligence is about. Given that a flies' food source is stable . Man and his food sources have been anything but stable i.e. Climatic change , extinctions , or mans' predilection for exploration/expansion .
A very sucsesfull/specialized species faces extinction when sucsesfull mutations don't keep pace with relatively minor environmental shifts, contrast this with mans' adaptation to nearly every habitat on the planet. An achievement not based on physical mutation taking multiple generations but rather upon vitual mutations (changes in behaviour affected by intelligent choices which changed our physical sucsess as a species) taking much much less time. If the idea is powerfull enough , such as throwing spears, keeping fire , or symboligy in speech , our course was changed radically and rapidly.
Secondly to say that human evolution is not taking place , consider the demographics relating to intelligence and birth rate. If the studies are to be believed the epsilon- population is reproducing at a rate 4x the alpha+ population is squirting out rugrats.
I am a firm believer in itelligent behaviour . We are charged with the care and feeding of our techno-economic society which is in dire need of intelligent input. Unfortunately this does not exert evolutionary pressure on us .
So... what i say is "We must go to the mattreses , in the offices , or in the petri dishes, alpha+s' unite..unite like crazy ! Breed like super rabbits" Oh yes there's the not so little detail, besides spawning all these genuses (geni?) take the time required to:
install the basic tools of thought
instill decent morals
provide proper home environment which
is coducive to leraning
protects them from harmfull people
protects them from inapropriate issues(age appropriate developmental filter system)
is supportive of independent thinking
is emotionally sound as role models
is financially adequate and stable to provide for there physical and academic needs as well as recreation/sporting activities.
is a good role model privately and publicly.etc..etc...etc....oh yea have a challenging rewarding carrer on all levels before attempting any of this!

It seems in writing this I realize that there
considerable environmental pressure to not reproduce if you stop to consider the ramifications and responsibilities, so don't.
If your IQ is over 140 Breed with wild abandon as early as possible you have a duty , a calling to save humanity , irresponsibly is your ally, organize mensa mating orgies thinly diguised as think tanks.
Operate online mating services where only alphas' get hooked up , tell the rest that there test results indicate a personality so warped it should be forwarded to
Homeland Security ,FBI ,and posibly the phone police but if they agree to therapy (provided by alphas')they can in time rejoin the mating dance . Secretly fill there minds with self loathing and suicide. In reality their graduation ceremony and first Mating Dance is a thickly disguised Jim Jones style Kool-aid party in an isolated (privately owned ) third world island country.
Or alternately, since it is hard to discern normal from not early on. Just shoot all the alphas' in the head on their way to pre-shool
just to make sure you get the ones like me....
Posted by exitwound (3 comments )
Link Flag
Unfortunately
Contrary to what some want to believe all species are constantly evolving. Within a given population there can be substantial diversity, but for real change to occur, there must be some sort of pressure applied to the system.

We can have people with eye color ranging from very light blue to almost black. Blow a hole in the ozone, increased UV causes the lighter eye color to cataract and go blind. No hunting, no food, goodbye blue eyes. A giraffe can stretch his neck all day reaching for food and not change his DNA. For the long necks to thrive the short necks must die off, AKA biological pressure.

That pressure does not exist in modern society so as comforting as it may sound we are not changing as a species to any appreciable extent. Baring some unforeseen catastrophe that is.

Worst of all, high intelligence may not be a guarantor of biological success. It seems that stupid fruit flies stand a better chance of breading success than those that learn more quickly. Intelligence may be more of a fluke then a necessity when it comes to survival.

Now that's reassuring isn't it?
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
oops!
That is breeding success not breading success. oops!
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
In point of fact...
...amongst humans intelligence tends to be selected against. Particularly in our society the athletic and ignorant are highly preferred as breeding stock while the intelligent specimens are labeled nerds or geeks. How often do you see someone take pride in the fact they are ignorant of math, science or other intellectual pursuits while proudly displaying their knowledge of trivia concerning sports or celebrities?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Fortunately not fly
Intelligence may not work for a species that is limited to feeding itself by sipping a coctail of regurgetated digestive juices and partially digested food throuh mouthparts so specifically evolved to this process that all other mandibular possibilities are precluded.

Possibilities...thats what intelligence is about. Given that a flies' food source is stable . Man and his food sources have been anything but stable i.e. Climatic change , extinctions , or mans' predilection for exploration/expansion .
A very sucsesfull/specialized species faces extinction when sucsesfull mutations don't keep pace with relatively minor environmental shifts, contrast this with mans' adaptation to nearly every habitat on the planet. An achievement not based on physical mutation taking multiple generations but rather upon vitual mutations (changes in behaviour affected by intelligent choices which changed our physical sucsess as a species) taking much much less time. If the idea is powerfull enough , such as throwing spears, keeping fire , or symboligy in speech , our course was changed radically and rapidly.
Secondly to say that human evolution is not taking place , consider the demographics relating to intelligence and birth rate. If the studies are to be believed the epsilon- population is reproducing at a rate 4x the alpha+ population is squirting out rugrats.
I am a firm believer in itelligent behaviour . We are charged with the care and feeding of our techno-economic society which is in dire need of intelligent input. Unfortunately this does not exert evolutionary pressure on us .
So... what i say is "We must go to the mattreses , in the offices , or in the petri dishes, alpha+s' unite..unite like crazy ! Breed like super rabbits" Oh yes there's the not so little detail, besides spawning all these genuses (geni?) take the time required to:
install the basic tools of thought
instill decent morals
provide proper home environment which
is coducive to leraning
protects them from harmfull people
protects them from inapropriate issues(age appropriate developmental filter system)
is supportive of independent thinking
is emotionally sound as role models
is financially adequate and stable to provide for there physical and academic needs as well as recreation/sporting activities.
is a good role model privately and publicly.etc..etc...etc....oh yea have a challenging rewarding carrer on all levels before attempting any of this!

It seems in writing this I realize that there
considerable environmental pressure to not reproduce if you stop to consider the ramifications and responsibilities, so don't.
If your IQ is over 140 Breed with wild abandon as early as possible you have a duty , a calling to save humanity , irresponsibly is your ally, organize mensa mating orgies thinly diguised as think tanks.
Operate online mating services where only alphas' get hooked up , tell the rest that there test results indicate a personality so warped it should be forwarded to
Homeland Security ,FBI ,and posibly the phone police but if they agree to therapy (provided by alphas')they can in time rejoin the mating dance . Secretly fill there minds with self loathing and suicide. In reality their graduation ceremony and first Mating Dance is a thickly disguised Jim Jones style Kool-aid party in an isolated (privately owned ) third world island country.
Or alternately, since it is hard to discern normal from not early on. Just shoot all the alphas' in the head on their way to pre-shool
just to make sure you get the ones like me....
Posted by exitwound (3 comments )
Link Flag
Well... Duh... What's that again?
We just happen to be the more informed generation. But it doesn't stop us from thinking, inventing and making the better out of what we know.

Just like not everyone's a genius in the past, not everyone can be a genius today or tomorrow. But the advantage now is that most people can be informed of the latest information at the same time as in the other side of the globe.

Convenience is what we get from these technologies and we are simply enjoying it.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well... Duh... What's that again?
We just happen to be the more informed generation. But it doesn't stop us from thinking, inventing and making the better out of what we know.

Just like not everyone's a genius in the past, not everyone can be a genius today or tomorrow. But the advantage now is that most people can be informed of the latest information at the same time as in the other side of the globe.

Convenience is what we get from these technologies and we are simply enjoying it.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well... Duh... What's that again?
We just happen to be the more informed generation. But it doesn't stop us from thinking, inventing and making the better out of what we know.

Just like not everyone's a genius in the past, not everyone can be a genius today or tomorrow. But the advantage now is that most people can be informed of the latest information at the same time as in the other side of the globe.

Convenience is what we get from these technologies and we are simply enjoying it.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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