Ocean Knowledge in 2036
The way I learn from ocean data is vastly different from yesteryear.
It’s hard to believe that what he says is true.
There was a time, my father tells me, that being able to attain accurate and comprehensive information about our oceans was really hard. For people like me, in the information trade, we had to rely on a largely extinct legion of workers called “data scientists” who would painstakingly interpret ocean data according to their own specialized field of study. Parsing the salient nuggets of information using specialized training, software and algorithms, they would eventually share it with like-minded colleagues or document it in written reports that could potentially be discovered by people like me.
It’s 2036 and I am an Ocean Knowledge Advisor, a relatively new field, albeit a growing one considering the recent secrets that have been revealed from the 74% of our planet now covered in water. I provide my services to government, commercial and academic organizations seeking to understand the sudden acceleration and impact of sea level rising. Nine percent of the world’s population has already been displaced by coastal areas now under 25 feet or more of water.
Like many in Generation Alpha (post Gen Z), I’m a digital freelance knowledge worker. I research, aggregate and summarize content into information that helps others gain knowledge faster. I do this using machine-neural telepathy, the ability to interface cognitively with technology, an emerging method of brain-machine interface rooted in the fundamental behavior in which people relate. My approach to understanding processes about Earth’s ocean environment is based on centuries old human curiosity. Pose a question; receive an answer. I do this in the context of what it is I’m trying to understand or learn. For example, I would simply ask The Network,
“Where is the next major city that is going to be affected by sea level rise?”
“How much will the water rise over a 2 year period for that city?”
I have an education in ocean science, economic policy and human geography. In this example, I need not know how to process coastal or seafloor morphology data, nor do I need to completely understand the variables and data derived from seafloor bathymetry, ocean temperature, changing weather patterns or The Polar Melt. My job is to assess their impact on the populations that are affected by these physical forces. Being required to source, process and analyze all the supporting data that fuels my research would add an extraordinary encumbrance to my work.
I am aware that only a generation ago, this type of effort required scores of specially trained humans who were versed in an almost secretive tradecraft of ocean data processing. It only seems logical me that humans have removed themselves from the flow of data to information. Swarms of ocean drones are continuously gathering data that is automatically processed and analyzed by artificially intelligent algorithms.
My expectation of technology is that it can provide answers to my questions, period.
The fact that this information is derived from a myriad of data sources, formats, and post processed machinations is completely secondary and irrelevant. My approach enables me to quickly summarize research into content, and in turn, quickly facilitates other humans derive knowledge.
Before we had AIG (Autonomous Information Generation), there was resistance to such a movement. Humans were involved at every step of the data lifecycle. They would spend months at a time on ships, at tremendous cost, physically offloading data from hard drives and then manually processing it before archiving it in obscure data warehouses. Even if the data was discoverable, it was virtually impossible to interpret as it lacked appropriate metadata or was in formats that demanded an elusive pedigree. Fortunately, the AIG revolution that started in other fields such as medicine, finance, business and atmospheric studies eventually spread into the ocean science community. With the rise of Generation Alpha, who had expectations of immediacy, in a human context, not a data one, it was inevitable that those building technology and information frameworks related to ocean data started to shift from a human centricity to an automated and autonomous one.
I am grateful that they did. By minimizing the human element in how, when and where ocean data is collected, processed and disseminated has had a profound impact. Modern society’s visibility into the majority of our planet has dramatically increased; we have access to knowledge that is unprecedented and will shape the way future societies view their planet, their entire planet. As my father reminds me, less than a generation ago, our oceans were 95% unexplored.
This article is co-published in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration Forum 2015 Report