Fabio Gandour is a self-described provocateur. The chief scientist for IBM Research – Brazil was a pediatric surgeon before becoming a hospital CIO and then coming to IBM as a senior health specialist and eventually migrating into research. His thinking is just as unusual as his career path. So I wasn’t surprised when I visited him in the lab in Sao Paulo recently and he told me that we humans are suffering from information indigestion. “We became informivores. We eat information all the time,” he said. Which can produce some unfortunate side effects: “If you eat too much information your brain can’t digest it.”
In other words, Big Data can be bad for you if you don’t watch out.
Technology gurus have been warning about the ill-effects of information overload for decades, but things are worse today then they were in, say, the early ’90s. These days, the volume of digital information is overwhelming, the quality of much of the information on the Internet is lousy and its coming at us all the time. There’s no escape. “We get brain congestion,” Gandour said. ” The intake of information is bigger than we can handle to the point where we can’t select what’s important and what’s not important.”
Surprisingly for a guy who works for a technology firm, Gandour suggests a couple of seemingly radical solutions: less technology should be used in schools, and parents should limit their children’s use of computers and smartphones.
Technology also has an important role to play in the solution, according to Gandour. He called for the development of information analysis technologies that will help us identify information that’s of higher quality in terms of its accuracy and precision. Says Gandour: “The information technology industry created the problem. Now let’s use information technology to help solve the problem.”