Trade Secrets

The nature of knowledge has become an interesting question lately. Knowledge used to take up space in the form of printed books. Now, a simple thumb drive can hold an entire library inside its RAM chips. MIT now posts course notes online for free, whereas before students would have to pay thousands just for the privilege of taking such notes. Many of the world’s websites are powered by Linux, an operating system that is free to download and completely open to anyone brave enough take a look inside its inner workings. If you want to be a knowledge worker, it’s not enough to have specialized knowledge. You must demonstrate that knowledge through blogs or collaborative websites like github.

If you ask me, I think that trade secrets are about to become obsolete. The idea that information can be controlled by legislation or ill-conceived software protection will soon be considered nonsense. Fortunately, this will not put an end to knowledge workers. While the human brain can never store as much data as a computer can, the ability to combine that data and use it to solve a problem is still the sole province of the good old wet noodle. It doesn’t matter that any knowledge, be it legal, medical, or mechanical, can be accessed from any computer anywhere in the world. It still takes time to learn the information well enough for it to be useful. Humans can also categorize and prioritize all the right observations that correlate to the right kind of knowledge. Computers can only work with the data they are given. Even as computers get more complex, humans are still necessary to make sure the computer is solving the right kinds of problems. If or when human-like AI is invented, hopefully we’ll have a whole different set of problems to work with, like the coming robot revolution.