I.B.M. researchers in this laboratory nestled next to theMassachusetts Institute of Technology have been forced lately to confront a limit on computing power: the human brain just isn’t processing data any faster.
It’s a shame, too, because the brain has never had more material to make sense of: more friendships, that come with more frequent updates, more bosses to report to, more news, more entertainment choices. And who knows when the next million-page WikiLeaks release may come along?
Overwhelmed by all the noise, some have simply chosen to block it out — to opt out, say, of social networks and microblog platforms like Twitter. Alternatively, others have hewn close to these social networks, counting on them to sort through all the information coming at us.
But to be informed in the distributed world we live in, opting out isn’t really an option. For better or worse, we are watching a C-Span version of our lives trying to fast-forward to the good parts.
That is the task being squarely addressed last week at I.B.M.’s Center for Social Software — a roughly 30-member lab that addresses “the modern-day challenges of collaborating across distributed, global enterprises.” The lab tries to use increasingly sophisticated computers to act as information advisers.
“I do think of computers as augmenting people, not replacing them,” said Irene Greif, the director of the research center. “We need help with the limits of the brain, but there are some things that our brains can do that computers can’t do.”
The researchers essentially create programs that find patterns (and outliers) in the “fire hose” of information. Once patterns are revealed, it becomes easier to decide who or what is worth our undivided attention.