Let's Make Robots!

What do you think: do search engines do only good or do they limit, too?


I'm putting this before you because if you're reading this, chances are you're brilliant and well-qualified to add insight to my thinking about this matter.  For reasons that will become apparent shortly, I was going to request that only older LMR members contribute to this thread-but as CtC recently pointed out we have some very intelligent and able younger contributors, so it be behooves me to ask for everyone to mull this one over and put it out there.


Before the advent of hypertext and search engines (let’s say pre-1998, though http and the www were born more than a half decade before that) the main method of self-directed learning was through libraries.  I assume this is more or less true despite geography (though I might be romanticizing the European experience in that I imagine they had better, older and cooler than the ones we had stateside, but I digress.)  When you had a question about how to do something, you’d go to the library, look up a subject in the card catalog (and later on a database, but the next step was still the same) then you’d make a hard copy of what you found in that index and hit the stacks or microfilm to find the books or articles that were listed.


Once you had that media, you’d look in the tables of contents or the indexes to try to guide you to the answers you wanted.  Along the way, you had to take in a lot of information you weren’t looking for-sometimes full chapters-in order to find what you were looking for.  Along the way, you were sort of forced to learn all sorts of ancillary facts.


For example, as a kid I was obsessed with Lasers.  There were about three books at the local public library that covered the subject.  One was way too technical for a 10 year old, but it had information about their construction that the other two books just couldn’t touch-things about half-silvered mirrors, crystal doping, gas mixtures, frequency generators and what were at the time nascent LED Laser systems.  All I was trying to do was figure out how to make one (and at the time it was impossible-now it would be second nature, even to a 10-year old with rudimentary knowledge of soldering guns and flash lights.)  The thing is, these secondary facts became useful eventually in other realms-like when I worked as a private investigator for example, knowing how to read a beam bounced off a window or what was really going on with “one-way” mirrors.


Today, if you wanted to do the same thing, search engines would focus in like a laser (play on words intentional) to the information that you’re looking for.  Type in “how do I make a laser” and you’ll get an instructable complete with pictures of the breadboard and catalog numbers for the driver and diode.  You wouldn’t however learn that there were such things as helium-neon or ruby crystal lasers.  You wouldn’t know that “doping” referred to two different types of construction processes in unrelated laser families.  You wouldn’t learn the history of the Laser or the Maser.  In short, you wouldn’t get the benefits of the knowledge you gained but weren’t looking for.


So while search engines have undeniably moved us forward, I wonder: have they also limited us?  Has the ability to focus on the information you want right now and get only the question at hand answered robbed us of lateral solutions to as of yet un-posed questions or remembered knowledge that eventually would, if not answer questions, point you down the right path?  And worse, is the instant access to information robbing us of our appreciation for knowledge?  When we have a site like LMGTFY.com as a joke, have we become so jaded that our collective experience is worthless to us unless someone has blogged about it?


Personally, I think there has to be a balance somewhere.  We should find mechanisms to widen our searches and encourage others to do so too.  We should respect the opinions of those we owe our knowledge too-on this site, for example, we have several professional engineers on whose shoulders we can stand to benefit from years of experience.  But “just Google it” is a very unsatisfying and dangerous answer when it’s applied to everything, or for the wrong reasons.




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even with the advent of search engines, my brain at the very least retains useful info. :)

PS: Thanks for the compliment.

please everyone. :D

I used to ask these questions till I realized the limitations we all exist within.

Today my limitation is this 12 oz barley pop!

We just had a discussion recently. We, you and all the people using the internet more than average are dangerous close to loosing the ability to remember things.

Just imagine. (My own experience) You are always using an electronic calculator and after a while you can't do simple math in your brain anymore. 

Using google means you dont even to remember which website you found that "thing" last time, just googlke it again...

I am a bad example too. I am not saving the datasheets I found on my localcomputer, i just open them from the webbsite again, after typing L293 in the search field. That's really a dangerous development but can't we call it "Evolution"?

I would like to call it evolution since we are developing too. We might loose our capability to remember things but for that we might develop sme better skills somewhere else...maybe we can type faster or we are getting smarter in creating search strings like "L293 +DIP -nude -viagra + cheap"

Are we using google as a scapegoat for just getting old? I know I've realised in the last couple years my memory is not as good as it use to be.
That could be explained by some pretty serious substance abuse in my past but I think in the end I can see the degradation happening at the same rate as my parents who were always good sober people.
perhaps accelerated by information overload? see above

See I know of this button called bookmark xD, although that also means I don't need to remember the name of the site. I am also notoriously bad at mental maths. My calculator of choice is the python interpreter though when I'm on a PC 

I do find that on advanced topics google may pull up some real rubbish, however a Wikipedia search and thorough page read nearly always pulls enough information to come up with better google search terms for more relevant information. The references section on Wikipedia is also very useful. On the other hand my local library is awful. No public catalogue leads to good old shelf trawling. There is nothing related to robotics or electronics that I've found other than a few gcse and a level physics books. The computer books are all "iPad for dummies". Plenty of local history text books, great selection of childrens books. Nothing else, not even the classic harry potter. many of the questions I've seen here though fall within the top 5 results on google and even Bing (I've never really found much relevant data on Bing, I have tried it and tried to prove that the bad rep it gets is undeserved but now I have given it a go I can say it sucks)