Ming the Mechanic:
Categorize or Search

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Categorize or Search2003-01-22 23:59
20 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

So, do I want to categorize things when I store them, or do I just want flexible ways of searching for things later on? I'm talking about the filing system(s) in my life. My e-mail archive, my personal databases of things I need to remember. Until now my vision has been that a sufficiently multi-dimensional system could be devised where I could easily assign a piece of information to a number of different categories while I'm in the process of saving it, even being able to make up new classifications on the fly. And then, later, when I need to find the information again, it is already classified in a number of different useful ways, as many ways as I feel like, and chances are that one of them is what I need. By date, by location, by people involved, by subjects, by reference to other items, etc.

But the first problem is that no matter how easy the user interface is, I will quickly become tired of categorizing things. I'm already getting way too much e-mail, and even the job of going through it and deleting it, or filing it in even one folder is beginning to be too much work for me. So, would I really want to have to select from dozens of different pulldown lists whenever I file an e-mail? Probably not.

The second problem is that I don't know what my main categories of interest will be next year. I change often, and next year I mostly likely will have a list of new ways of categorizing things, which I couldn't think of now. But am I then going to go back and apply those categories to all my old information? No, I won't have time for that.

So, I must admit that what I really want is that when I need something, I will get it, in an organized, complete and sensible fashion. I want to say "Computer, give me a list of all the people I have sent e-mail last year!". And when I get the list, I want to say "Sort them in order of volume of mail", and then "Correlate the top 10% with the list of people who've called me on the phone". I want the freedom to make it up on the spot. And I don't want to have had to predict that query a year earlier. I don't want to have had to select a dozen pulldown menus on a screen whenever I get a phonecall. I just want to, at best, answer my phonecall.

What I need is apparently an AI that records everything that happens to me, and that is smart enough to be able to give me a complete list of relevant, cross-indexed information, whenever I desire it. Please.


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20 comments

23 Jan 2003 @ 13:42 by paquetse : Thoughts
I'm afraid AI isn't going to advance fast enough for this to happen before a few years, Ming. I (and surely many others) have the same problem. Here are a few current thoughts.

1. The effort to categorize should be distributed as much as possible among people who have overlapping category schemes (though these schemes don't have to coincide). The rewards should be reaped by as many people as possible, so that participants get a lot for investing a little. This has been a guiding idea behind our TopicExchange effort http://topicexchange.com.

2. Maybe only things that are fairly stable and reused often are worth categorizing. (I always think of math, patterns, programming constructs)

3. Advanced classification (as in your example) might only come about after simple classification becomes a widespread cultural habit.  



23 Jan 2003 @ 14:19 by ming : AI
Yeah, I must admit I don't have very much hope in AI. 20 years ago it seemed like huge advances were just around the corner, and AI people today seem to think the same, but I haven't seen any results. I don't think they really know what intelligence is.

It is a good point that different kinds of information have different needs, of course. Certain things are worth the extra categorizing effort. Indeed, if I really want an item to be easily accessible, I don't mind spending a minute or two categorizing it. But I'd hate doing it with hundreds of daily messages.

Maybe there's a collaborative scheme that might become painless. If hundreds of people look at an article, among them it should certainly be possible to piece together sufficient categorization. Doesn't have to be all up to the author.  



25 Jan 2003 @ 07:25 by jazzolog : Organize Your Data? Being Done For You!
"Unrelenting in its search for Osama bin Laden and the roots of all the world's evil, the Defense Department some months ago established an Information Awareness Office that took for its letterhead emblem the all-seeing eye of God. Although still in the early stages of development and for the moment funded with an annual budget of only $200 million, the new medium of mass investigation seeks to 'detect and classify' every prospective terrorist (foreign, hybrid, mutant, or native born) setting foot on American soil.
"...the government apparently means to recruit a synod of high-speed computers capable of sifting through 'ultra-large' data warehouses stocked with every electronic proof of human movement in the wilderness of cyberspace---bank, medical, and divorce records, credit card transactions, emails (interoffice and extraterritorial), college transcripts, surveillance photographs (from cameras in hospitals and shopping malls as well as from those in airports and hotel bars), driver's licenses and passport applications, bookstore purchases, website visits, and traffic violations. Connect all the names and places to all the dates and times, and once the systems become fully operational, in four years or maybe ten, the protectors of the public health and safety hope to reach beyond 'truth maintenance' and 'biologically inspired algorithms for agent control' to the construction of 'FutureMap'---i.e., a set of indices programmed into the fiberoptic equivalent of a crystal ball that modifies 'market-based techniques for avoiding surprise' in such a way that next week's nuclear explosion can be seen as clearly as last week's pornographic movie."
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Good morning, Mr. Yakimoto.  



25 Jan 2003 @ 15:57 by ming : Organizing my Data
Gee, so if they would just let all of us look at that data, and draw our own conclusions, I might actually like it. But it is a scary thought if a secretive government group knows more about my data than I do.  


29 Jan 2003 @ 07:21 by dharmicmel : re: categorize or search
mr. funch:

re: your comments on categorize or search
my sentiments EXACTLY
there is not a day that goes by that I do not ponder the very same things you are thinking about; I now have so many references to things, that I really can no longer keep track of them, and still, more references keep coming; I am working to construct my own knowledgebase, which also includes my own thoughts and writings about an endless numberof topics
it seems that the more mind focuses on information management, the more there is to deal with, almost as though it were a magnet, bringing in endless references and suggestions; not that I am complaining ...
I too could use the AI, or something equivalent to it; I differ in the opinions of others about AI; I read somewhere that there is something like 50,000 scientists, or so, that are working on AI, in one way or another; and that does not include cross-disciplinary studies or applications, especially in view of the fact that not everyone -- especially scientists -- define AI the same
way, or think about it in a uniform manner, which is great, because it is a very broad-based subject matter; I think AI, as well as nanotech and virtual reality, will really take off, and in just a matter of perhaps a decade or two, because I think the proliferation of new knowledge and information is increasingly accelerating and will continue to do so to such a degree that
only an AI could handle it and/or make sense of it
I am collecting your posts on this matter, as I find your thinking to be most interesting and informing; the comments thus far have been quite interesting and informative, as well; thanks for sharing
I wish I could reciprocate, but I have nothing to offer that would satisfy you; you are far more knowledgeable than I am in these areas; I think there is a great potential that will be coming down the road, sooner or later, and I can't wait
I am always interested in your thoughts on knowledge management

high thoughts

dharmicmel
wednesday. 29 january 2003 ce  



30 Jan 2003 @ 15:00 by ming : Thanks
I'm glad it is of some use. Yes, it is sort of a moving target, when we try to organize our information. There will just be more to organize, and it will be coming in faster and faster. So, rather than ourselves just moving faster and working harder, we need a quantum jump of some sort. We need to deal with information in a drastically different way, rather than just more of the same.  


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