Terminology Discussions as Probes

September 21st, 2011 by andresmh

I typically avoid terminology discussions because they tend to lead nowhere, however, sometimes they are a useful way of knowing how different disciplines approach similar phenomena. We had two separate discussions about terminology at the fellows hour. One of them was about the distinction between cooperation and collaboration. The second was about data, information and knowledge.

Cooperation vs Collaboration

Seems like the positions were that despite being used interchangeably in everyday discussions, in most social sciences the understanding is that cooperation refers to the underlying basic human behavior consisting of doing things for others. In computer science terms, I guess this would be a the “low-level” behavior that is closer to hardware (or wetware in the case of humans). Collaboration on the other hand is a more explicit and intentional form of cooperation that requires coordination, communication. So in a way, collaboration and coordination are instances of collaboration.Probably cooperation is of interest to people studying basic human behavior such as cognitive scientists, behavioral economists, development psychologists, biologists, etc. Collaboration might be of interest to sociologists, anthropologists and computer scientists working on social software.

Information vs Knowledge

Parallel to the previous discussion, some people brought up the distinction between information and knowledge. Someone wondered if information was the same as data, in the sense that data is “neutral” and yet to be interpreted. Someone else argued that data itself is not neutral as it was the result of a data collection process designed to collect some variables and not others. Finally, Vivek Kundra mentioned a funny thing that happened when he became the CIO of the United States Government. He said that several people thought he was going to be in charge of the relationship between the White House and the press, which was not the case.

Suitcase Words

Marvin Minsky often talked  about “suitcase-words”. He wrote that “consciousness” is a suitcase words because it “does not refer to any single idea or thing, but that we use it as a suitcase-word for a great many different activities”. Minsky’s approach was to unpack these word in at least three different things. I am sure there must be a lot of more formal discussions unpacking the terms above, it would be good to compare those discussions within and across different fields.

4 Responses to “Terminology Discussions as Probes”

  1. Francisco Jose Cordoba Says:

    interesting article,
    however i have a question,
    If some people Asked Vivek Kundra, about the communication between the press and the Whitehouse (forgetting Jay Carney work)
    maybe there is a big gap between what the Whitehouse produces in terms of Data and content, and the questions of the press to get in deep information about the usage and importance of that statistics and systems employed by the government to be more transparent to all the people.
    What is your opinion?

  2. Alex Says:

    The intelligence community has long recognized a three-tiered hierarchy of data, information, and knowledge. Data are observations. Information is aggregated data in a unifying context. Knowledge is information and trustworthy predictive analysis in a tactical and strategic context. It is true that bias exists at every level, including data collection. Therefore bias is not a distinguishing characteristic.

  3. Alex Says:

    Those interested in a Federal CTO’s perspective and the nature of the communication between a CTO and the Whitehouse (and Congress) would benefit from researching the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) and the Federal Segment Architecture Methodology (FSAM). There is a wealth of official documentation in the public domain.

  4. andresmh Says:

    Thanks for all your comments.