Does anyone still remember Mnemosyne?

I finished my summer reading project on the way to the Intel Developer Forum 2011. This was Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker. It's the background story of how IBM decided to create the Watson Q-A machine and have it compete against champion players on the game show Jeopardy! I found it a good read that reminded me of The Soul of a New Machine in many respects.

One of the questions raised in the book was the nature of memory vs. looking up information, and whether the memorization of facts, figures, and other trivia, which is a paramount skill for Jeopardy! contestants, might soon become a lost art. Columbia University researcher Betsy Sparrow’s recent paper in Science is titled, “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.” It found that humans tend to not remember facts if they know that they will be able to look them up when needed.

Yesterday morning, while eating my breakfast, I saw a commercial on the Game Show Network for their new audience participation game entitled "A Google a Day." Participants are practically berated to look up the answer to a trivia question rather than knowing the answer. This is just sad.

I grew up watching Jeopardy! with host Art Fleming. I like trivia-based question-and-answer game shows. You can play along to test your own knowledge before the answer is revealed. Will the next breed of game shows have three contestants, each armed with their own smart-phone, vying to see who can look up the answer to a question before the others? How do I play along at home with that? Should I just record the show and pause it after the question is posed to give my slower Internet connection time to bring me back possible solutions?

The slide into total reliance on technology for recall of facts may not be stoppable. The Columbia study points to changes in how we now relate to our collected bodies of knowledge. Watson is a technical marvel that will redefine how we navigate a myriad of information and data in search of solutions to questions beyond the simple regurgitation of facts. Charles Stross postulates a near future where we record everything we see and experience into personal data storage units (Accelerando, Halting State) and we really don't need to actively remember anything (except how to access our external memory units).

The need for new and bigger memory packages and the processing power to run, populate, index, and search them will be good for companies like Intel. Personally, I'm going to miss demonstrating that I know the first US president born in a hospital, Doc Savage's assistants and their specialties, and the more common name for a dactylogram, in lieu of having faster fingers to query an electronic repository.