[iDC] Achieving (and living with) Perfect Knowledge

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten bomega at gmail.com
Sun Sep 21 20:46:52 UTC 2008

Hi there,

My name is Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten. I have been following this  
list since two years but have never properly introduced myself. I'm a  
Dutch serial Internet Entrepreneur, blogger and I regularly speak at  
conferences and companies about innovation, technology and  

Below is a draft for a post I'm writing for two of my blogs and part  
of a presentation I'm doing regularly for conferences and interested  
companies. The title of the presentation is "How entrepreneurship,  
serendipity, the image of God and interactivity all come together in  
one vision of the future of technology and humankind". The story I  
have written is titled "Achieving (and living with) Perfect Knowledge"  
and is currently in draft form. I would be delighted with any feedback  
from the list here. Hope you don't mind the typos and grammatical  

Big title: Achieving (and living with) Perfect Knowledge
Subtitle: No Excuse for Ignorance

Today I was relaxing in the sun with Tessa and Loïs. I was drinking  
Tonic water which is flavored with quinine which gives it a  
distinctively bitter taste. Loïs wanted to taste it and Tessa wondered  
out loud 'do you think quinine could be bad for children?'.

I thought "Well, maybe it is. Quinine is a fever-reducing chemical and  
the first effective treatment for malaria".

But I didn't know if it was bad for children so I simply said: 'Look  
it up'.

We both own an iPhone so within seconds Tessa could tell me that non- 
medical Tonic water contains a medically insignificant amount of  
quinine and was perfectly safe for Loïs. A few minutes later Tessa  
said "This is probably one of the last hot days before autumn starts".  
So I asked her "When does autumn start?". She simply replied: "Look it  

So I did. It starts tomorrow.

When Loïs was 4 she demanded cookies on a Sunday. I told her we were  
out of cookies. She told me to make new ones. I told her I didn't know  
how. She became irritated and exclaimed "Sure you do, just look it up  
on The Internet!".

She was right and I was wrong. I do know how to make cookies and I  
also know how a battery works and even how to build a nuclear bomb. I  
just have to look it up. I have no excuse for ignorance.

As technology advances, internet becomes ubiquitous and portable  
devices like the iPhone are distributed to billions of people we all  
get access to more information then ever before.

Sometimes you hear people complain about 'Information Overload'. What  
they will say is that there is too much information too handle. What  
they mean is that they have too little time to handle the tasks that  
get thrown at them in the form of email. There can never be 'too much'  

If you pick up a dictionary you won't complain that it is too complete  
will you? Do you think Google indexes too many pages? No, the only  
thing you might complain about it that you can't find the information  
you need. Once you do, there can never be TOO much information too  
choose from.

Achieving Perfect knowledge

If you look up "Perfect" in a dictionary it will say something like  

     "Lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature  
or kind."

One day, we will have Perfect Knowledge. Although we won't know  
everything there is to know our knowledge of the world will approach a  
perfect state. It will be 'lacking nothing essential to the whole'.

Will scientist know everything there is to know? No, certainly not.
Will be know everything about the past up to and beyond the origins of  
the universe? No, certainly not.

What we will know is everything we could possible want to know in the  
course of a lifetime as will be practical for a normal human being. We  
will be able to answer 99.999% of all questions we can expect to ask  
ourselves. All we will need is a second of two to formulate the  
question and look it up. This will present us with new issues to deal  
with. Right now our lives and societies are focused on the pursuit of  
knowledge. Our schools, universities and companies all work on finding  
our more, about more. We want to 'Know' it all.

What happens if one day we do? What if technology makes knowledge  
accessible everywhere for, almost, everyone? What if we reach  
Knowledge Nirvana? How would we deal with an abundance of knowledge  
and the responsibility to deal with it.

A girl in a candy store

In an interview a famous candy store owner was asked if he ever had  
trouble with employees stealing candy. His reply: "We tell our new  
employees to eat as much candy as they want when they start. They all  
eat a lot of candy the first day or two and then become so fed up with  
candy that they never eat, and steal, again."

Could the same be applied to information and knowledge? If suddenly  
you would be able to know everything there was to know, would you  
become bored with the whole thing after a few days? Would you start  
concentrating on other things than the pursuit of knowledge and just  
focus on being happy? But happy with what? How does it feel to know  

The Horn of Plenty

Of course you can't contain, freeze or finish knowledge. Information  
tends to multiply if combined and shared. If I know something and tell  
you about it I don't get poorer but we both get richer. I know what I  
know and I know that you know what I know and I know part of what you  
know. Information increases in mass as more is gained. Information  
grows as magically as Van Helmont's tree:

     "A 17th-century scientist by the name of Van Helmont planted a  
willow sapling in a container that held 200 pounds of soil and, for  
five years, gave it nothing but water. At the end of that time, the  
tree was found to weigh 169 pounds, and the soil 199 pounds, 14 ounces— 
from just two ounces of soil had come 169 pounds of tree."

Add information to information and you will get more information back  
than you have put in.

Absolute & Perfect Knowledge and the End of War

People who hate foreigners are often very friendly with their foreign  
neighbors, or foreign evening shop manager or security guard at their  
company. They will say "yeah, they ALL have to get the hell out of MY  
country. Well, except my neighbors because those are really  
hardworking decent people. The rest, gotta go!"

The truth, of course, is that ALL foreigners are really hardworking  
decent people once you get to know them. The whole basis of that  
problem is a lack of knowledge. Nobody would kill anybody if they  
really know them, and their mothers. Lack of knowledge starts wars and  
ends marriages: 'we never really talk anymore' and 'my wife doesn't  
understand me'.

It seems highly unlikely that Navy Captain William S. Parsons ("Deak")  
would have dropped "Little Boy" if he would have known any of the  
people of the ground and the devastation they were about to cause. In  
fact, he said "I knew the Japs were in for it, but I felt no  
particular emotion about it". You need a large amount of ignorance to  
kill another person.

Unfortunately there is more media attention for people killing each  
other over MySpace profiles than there is for the positive effects of  
everybody being connected to everyone via Social Networks right now.  
I'm sure that will change as soon as the first bomber returns from its  
mission because they checked out the Facebook pages of the people in  
the city they were about to bomb.

Living with Perfect Knowledge

Not long from now you will carry a little machine with you that will  
be able to answer any question to throw at it. There will be no  
excuses for ignorance for any and all of us. You will know where you  
are, what the rules are for the place you are in, what happened there  
5 minutes ago to whom and what happened there 5, 50, 500 and 5.000  
years ago. Oh, and what the weather will be like tomorrow. You will  
look at something or someone and instantly be presented with  
everything ever documented about that thing, event or person.

What if that moment, that little machine, was here tomorrow. Isn't the  
iPhone that machine? How does that influence us as human beings?

I think we have an obligation to start thinking about this state of  
Perfect Knowledge so we will know what to do when we realize that it  
is here.


Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
boris at thenextweb.org

The Next Web Conference & Blog

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