Information, Knowledge, and Technology
by David M. Schwartz, CEO, ImaginOn, Inc.  2 October 1998

As many predicted, one of the dominant characteristics of the latter half of the twentieth century is the vast quantity of data generated and recorded each year.  This deluge is caused by many factors, including an increase in authors, new publication channels, the growth of higher education, government sponsored research, automated data gathering, etc., etc.  Each year, there is more new data about more things than anybody can process or catalog in any one place. Of course, data is not information.  Indeed, data may conceal information, especially when the methods of gathering the data are inappropriate to the subjects.

Finding, qualifying, analyzing and reducing data into useful information is now a major job in and of itself, independent of any useful application of the formatted information. What is now called Information Science is the rapidly growing academic area that encompasses all the formal aspects of turning data into information, and then keeping track of it.  Even after data has been processed in some rational way, no substantial reduction on the quantity of materials occurs, but, in general, at least the quality of the material is increased.

Today's seemingly endless pool of information is the raw material of a new business: the knowledge industry.  Books, magazines, websites, research reports and newsletters that provide condensed, digested summaries of information that enable businesses and consumers to shop intelligently for goods and services are one popular product line of the knowledge industry.  Educational and instructional materials that assist and aid teaching and learning are the second big product line of the knowledge industry.  Since the knowledge industry also generates new information as it processes the old, updating and republishing previous output is yet another component of the business.  Then there is the archiving of finished knowledge products; in libraries or electronic storage sites.

While information grows exponentially and the knowledge industry produces more and more packaged information goods of ever more diverse types, every human being remains limited by the 24-hour day.  This fundamental conflict, between time available and quantity of information to cope with, is a problem in the workplace, the home and schools. In the workplace, the challenge is to obtain relevant information in a compact form that is easy to comprehend in the minimum time possible, so that correct decisions can be made expeditiously.  When the available information is impossible to understand, and no other simpler source is immediately available, a quick refresher course or training session is required prior to studying the information.

In the home or leisure setting, the information required may pertain to recreational options, but the cost/benefit equation is similar to the business case.  In education, the information explosion is compounded by the fact that new, original data is also created as part of the educational research process.  Faced with this dilemma, schools have become more specialized; reducing the quantity of information that must be processed within a specific curriculum.  Students and teachers have adopted computer technology to assist all aspects of academic life.  These changes in education have helped, but in the most rapidly changing fields, such as medicine and engineering, it is not uncommon for the materials presented in the freshman year to be obsolete by the date of graduation.

Software technology has an important role to play, facilitating solutions to all aspects of the quality and timeliness of information, including information overload and obsolescence.  Software to address these issues takes many forms.  In the field of information acquisition, Internet browsing software coupled with search engine websites is the most widely used software tool set.  Within specific professions, proprietary information search and retrieval software does much of the work; Lexus/Nexus in law and Bloomberg in finance, are two of many such systems.

In education, numerous software applications are available for teachers and students.  Software is available that assists teachers in creating lesson plans.  Teachers can use complete all-in-one "courseware" applications that are themselves entire lesson sets.  Students use training software to learn everything from typing to advanced math.  Education in the corporate setting extends from internal systems training to business policy dissemination.

While the software applications and systems mentioned above are useful, they are far from optimal, and should be considered "first generation" tools for solving information glut problems.  Among the deficiencies of the first generation tools are piecemeal topical coverage, limited depth, inconsistent and/or difficult user interfaces, lack of interoperability, and non-periodic, slow or nonexistent updates.

These problems are so widespread and taken for granted that in many cases they go unnoticed.  For example, most Internet users don't realize that they are using three different, inconsistent, pieces of software every time they search the Web: an operating system, a browser and a search engine.  Then to package the end product of searching and downloading into something others can use, two more software applications are needed: a word processor and a graphics editor.

Ideally, desired information should be searched, formatted and delivered in a useable package within seconds of a spoken request.  Say to some future device, "Report on coffee production in Brazil, 1997", and the result will be either a printed report with graphs, pictures and text, or a documentary-style videotape or CD ROM.  This is not as farfetched as it seems.  In fact, automated, timely, formatted information retrieval is the subject of ImaginOn's Transformational Database Processing and Playback (TDPP) technology.  This technology is discussed in detail in the white paper on this website.  The tools that have been created to embody TDPP are discussed on the  CMS page of this website. TDPP technology will enable second generation software systems capable of performing the example given above.  Most of the hardware and software pieces of the puzzle have already been built, separately.  Some of these components are available from ImaginOn, some from other developers. Voice recognition software, by IBM or Dragon Systems can parse spoken action requests.  Internet and/or intranet database searches can be performed by ImaginOn's WebZinger, retrieving text, pictures, graphs, audio and video.  Output formatting for video screen or printer can be performed by WebZinger.  Automated production of the print job, CD ROM or videotape from computer files is possible, and will likely be accomplished before the end of 1999.

A second generation software system that will be useful to the knowledge industry is automated creation of curriculum materials, such as courseware, lesson plans or in-service training seminars.  Where today's "authorware" is labor intensive and has a steep learning curve, future authorware applications based on TDPP technology will be usable by anybody.  Say, "Prepare a four-session post-graduate seminar about Environmental Compliance Law", and the output will be the materials required to lead a seminar series on the topic; an outline, slides, graphs, short history of the topic, key issues analysis and references.  WebZinger School Edition and ImaginAuthor are early examples of this sort of product, though they are not comprehensive or fully automatic, yet.

At this time, personal computers and the networks connecting them have the horsepower to handle all the required second generation software, albeit more slowly than desired.  Today, a request for a comprehensive report on coffee production in Brazil will take hours, not seconds.  Over the next few years, as networks and PCs get faster, and TDPP technology is developed further, the information explosion will become something easier to live with.