Monday, 29 July 2013

The Era of Knowledge Harvesters

In this present day and age, intellectual capital
 has increasingly taken centre stage
in the global economic theatre
(Commons, University of Erfut)
There was a time when progress in the world was measured by how much output countries could produce, be it cotton, cars, raw minerals, gross domestic output, et cetera. I think this philosophy was most pronounced immediately after the industrial revolution took off in Great Britain in the 19th century. So much that it really didn't matter whether you're a communist or an uncaring capitalist, if you didn’t make your quota then someone suffered the consequences (be it dismissal or worse).

Countries strived for better production in larger quantities for commerce and trade while seeking means to control as much of the natural resources as possible through sheer military and political might. But while all this was happening something else was occurring in the background. An exponential increase in the rate of discovery was taking place. It would have been impossible to power the industrial revolution without a knowledge base in steam engines and thermodynamics. The same goes for all the engines that came afterwards. Similarly, material sciences gave birth to new forms of metal alloys including steel which was used to make bigger and stronger structures like bridges and skyscrapers. A combination of the two and improved understanding of timekeeping allowed the creation of the railway and steam-powered ships which revolutionised commerce and trade throughout the world.

Other discoveries like the telegraph and, eventually, the telephone gave rise to the still powerful modern north Atlantic trading bloc. The practical advantages of instantaneous communications continue to be seen today with the internet, satellite and telecom industries. The knowledge market is born. Knowledge is being created every day, bought, sold, transmitted, gathered and organised every second. New methods of recalling, organising and manipulating data for whatever means and purposes are required every day by individuals and institutions and this is exactly what powers Silicon valley and the like. Our brains are designed to comprehend things in the now with a limited number of variables. But unfortunately for us, the world is composed by thousands of variables that act in a non-linear manner. It’s a complex system we’re dealing with here and our heads are simply unable to take it all in without making serious asinine acts like the 2008 global financial meltdown. And even with the assistance of humongous computing power, we are about as graceful as a bull in a china shop. Wisdom is required to navigate this complex world of ours.

Wisdom and knowledge in its many forms can be found in the most unlikely of places. Most assuredly our ancestors were as smart as we are today. They could observe, formulate hypotheses and test them for predicted outcomes. The only difference is that with time, we have made the process into an art. Whatever our forefathers could do, we can now do better. A perfection of thought and acts that has allowed our race to prosper and grow at rates never before experienced.

It has also brought forth a paradigm shift. As I said in the beginning of this essay, progress was once measured by the output of heavy industries. Now, however, heavy industries do not necessarily imply progress (to the delight of green activists I’m sure!). What we now have today is a knowledge economy that now measures progress primarily by how much intellectual capital you have. The rest can be outsourced thanks to a highly networked economy. Such a system has allowed even small countries like Israel, Rwanda and Switzerland to become highly developed (or fast growing) economies. With limited resources, they as well as many other institutions including companies are left sinking their money into people’s education. The knowledge that grows from such investments is harvested and used again for more growth. This time and era clearly belongs to the harvesters of knowledge.