Bleeding Edge

by Mike Masnick

Brains That Work Smarter, Not Harder

from the how-it-all-works dept

More data isn't always a good thing. As has been pointed out plenty of times, efforts for things like data retention often have the opposite of the intended effect (catching criminals) because it hides the good data with all the bad data. Is it any surprise that our brains feel the same way? Clive Thompson is talking about some research that took people by surprise, noting that smarter people tend to be better at ignoring useless data, rather than storing more data. Traditionally, it's been assumed that the brain is sort of like a big hard drive -- and people who can remember more tend to be smarter. However, this research suggests that it's not the ability to remember more, but to remember the right things. In some ways this isn't that surprising. After all, intelligence often seems to come from the ability to do better pattern matching than others -- and having the right data, rather than too much data can often help make those patterns clearer. It would be interesting to see what sort of impact this would have on artificial intelligence research. Many AI projects seem to have worked on the basis of cramming the system with more and more and more data in the hopes that some sort of intelligence would eventually emerge. Perhaps the focus should be more on teaching it how to ignore data.

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  1. identicon
    The Stalwart, 29 Nov 2005 @ 7:45pm

    More Data

    Furthermore, more data can lead to false confidence. The Square-Root Law states that an x-fold increase in the amount of data collected will only lead to a result that is more informed by √x.
    Misunderstanding this will lead the human brain to make mistakes in judgment and will, as you state, cause tech-folks to give data storage and mining an undeservedly high priority.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Andrew Strasser, 29 Nov 2005 @ 8:42pm

    Our brains...

    Think of it like a computer it's very simple really. The less data stored the less the search engine needs to do. Also you can take into note, by the cluster format of our memories, the more you have raises the chances of you remembering them if needed. There have to be many people who do tasks without paying any attention to what they are doing just doing it. That is the same type of philosophy relating to AI.

    Speed readers actually look at the lines or even paragraphs directly rather than going word for word. Many people are taught to read word for word. There is lost data though by many speed readers as compared to those who would read slower in comprehension tests.

    There are pros and cons to everything...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Brent, 29 Nov 2005 @ 9:47pm

    Ignoring an important part of perception

    There's a considerable amount of research in cognitive science on the importance of being able to inhibit/ignore/suppress uninteresting perceptual information. The ability to listen to one talker out of a crowd of talkers is not a process of listening to everything and parsing, but being able to ignore/inhibit talkers that you do not want to listen to.
    As we grow older, this ability deteriorates. Difficulty understanding your companion at a noisy restaurant is as much a matter of not being able to ignore/suppress everyone else in the retaurant as it is a result of possible hearing loss (in fact, impaired perception may impair cognitive function).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Flamsmark, 29 Nov 2005 @ 11:44pm

    Re: Our brains...

    and because we just chronologically build up clusters of memory, our brains need fretty frequent defragmenting. in fact, a well-ordered brain may spend even as much as 30% of its time [that's eight hours per night] defragmenting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Three Men In A Boat, 30 Nov 2005 @ 7:34am

    Re: Brains that work smarter

    Conan Doyle in A Study In Scarlet has Sherlock Holmes say:
    "You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Dravidian, 30 Nov 2005 @ 9:53am

    Re: Brains that work smarter

    I think of the brain like the internet. A large amount of useless information (analagous to porn on the Net), is hanging around there. Once in a while this useless info pops up in your brain and steals the attention of your thought process, or worse yet, subliminally affects your brain power. The less useless info you store, the less distractions you are likely to have. Like a good search engine your brain needs to know to filter out the spam from the info when it needs to get to it- but when you have too much spam in there it eventually starts appearing in search results.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2005 @ 10:14am


    This is response to a recent Nature article that specifically implicates working memory in its conclusions. This is not "smartness" or "intelligence" This isn't even necessarily "memory"
    Be more careful when you make generalizations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    JR, 30 Nov 2005 @ 11:03am

    more vs. less data

    Charlie Munger has said a lot on this subject, at least as it may apply to investing. He and Warren Buffett reportedly spend much of their time reading (absorbing more data). Munger has pointed out how important it is to read books on many varied subjects so as to build a 'latticework' of mental models with which to better evaluate situations that may arise. (Hagstrom wrote a book on precisely this subject called 'Investing The Last Liberal Art'). Munger and Buffett would seem to have done a pretty admirable job (!) at absorbing more data rather than less, but at the same time filtering out what is significant and what is not.
    There has been a fair bit of behavioral finance research into how poorly the average person deals with probabilities and in deciding the relative importance of different data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Sohrab, 30 Nov 2005 @ 11:48am

    No Subject Given

    but isnt one way if we are talking about AI, to think that if we dont cram it with "all data" and cram it with a certian date, then it will be limited to answering some of the problems it faces because it will be limited in the amount if knowledge it knows?

    I dont really know, just wondering because I found this article fairly facinating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Yaqui, 30 Nov 2005 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Ignoring an important part of perception

    To further explain your comment, there is a condition called "Low latent Inhibition". Latent Inhibition refers to the ability of the human brain to isolate or supress the things that it doesn't deem important. Now, if you suffer of Low Latent Inhibition you can either be mentally ill -if you have a low IQ- or creative genius -if you have a high IQ. This is because processing, parsing and discerning regarding what to do with these big chunks of information is proportional to your brain's ability to get the best out of this plethora of data; so, if you lack this 'processing' quality, you'd go nuts.
    This is LLI in a nutcase, I tried to explain it as simple as possible. I just find it quite interesting and pertinent to the subject in question. Hope it helps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    ricardo niederberger cabral, 30 Nov 2005 @ 3:03pm

    good book suggestion

    It's all somehow explained on a book called "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee. Really recommended for those interested on this subject.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Noam Samuel, 30 Nov 2005 @ 3:21pm

    Reminds we of a joke

    One day someone went into a pet store and asks to buy a parrot, claiming he wants to teach it to talk. A few weeks later, the storeowner called and asked "How is the teaching going?", to which the person answered "I'm teaching it its first words". After another few weeks, the clerk called again to ask about the parrot, and the person replied "It's learning to speak fluently". Yet a few weeks more afterwards, the clerk called for the third time and asked about the parrot, the person, in return, answered "I finished teaching it to talk, now I am teaching it to shut up."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    miscblogger, 30 Nov 2005 @ 4:59pm

    No Subject Given

    is there any way to apply this new information to humans? how can we be more "intelligent?" just learn to ignore?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2005 @ 8:51am

    Re: Ignoring an important part of perception

    Nutcase...I think you meant nutshell. That was either a Freudian slip or a pun.
    LLI in a nutcase, I suppose would be that in the low IQ people :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Vic Verghese, 22 Apr 2006 @ 11:34pm

    Focus is the Secret of Genius

    This article reminds me of what I read about geniuses a while ago. While it is true that they can think differently fromthe rest of the population, the key point to note is that most geniuses think differently in their sphere of activity. There have been few - if any - all round geniuses, perhaps Richard Feynman, da Vinci, Ben Franklin are exceptions... What I feel is, most geniuses have a wonderful method of eliminating junk info in their spheres of activity...if one were to look at the human mind as an asset, the efficiency of such an asset is defined by the ratio of the amount of output to the amount of input. Considered this way, it is kind of apparent that those who use minimal data to achieve maximum useful inferences are the best thinkers... Also, if one thinks about the success of Google, while it probably was because of the fact they were a better search engine, I'd like to think that it was mainly because of their focus on search - remember they having ( & still do) just a single search box on their first page while the rest of world had hundreds of pieces of info on their first page...and google today is larger than almost every one of them Just some thoughts Vic, BPO

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    fairuse (profile), 20 Jan 2010 @ 12:21pm

    The 'ol pattern matching & useless data exclusion trick

    Started at this story
    and I must say rejecting useless data makes sense. I am by nature a very good pattern matcher too. Thought it was a skill refined by years of reading debug screens (hexdumps). Maybe I was good at it because it was a natural ability.

    When people tell me the tricks they use to remember, say a pin number, I don't see how they do it. An example: I recall such things as the sequence of digits, not a set of button locations on the keypad. Interesting article by the way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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