Words like “data”, “information” and “knowledge” are often used interchangeably. When it comes to thinking critically about technology, however, it pays to be more precise. Here is some raw data for you to consider:
8091, 8848, 8167, 8611, 8586, 8485, 8163, 8126, 8188, 8516.
Data like this consists of raw facts that haven’t yet been processed or organized. As a first step in processing this data, let’s arrange the numbers in some kind of order:
8848, 8611, 8586, 8516, 8485, 8188, 8167, 8163, 8126, 8091.
By itself, simply arranging numbers in ascending or descending order doesn’t make them useful or comprehensible. They could refer to anything. Now, however, let’s to provide a context:
The heights of the ten tallest mountains in the world in meters are: 8848, 8611, 8586, 8516, 8485, 8188, 8167, 8163, 8126, 8091.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Instead of a mere sequence of numbers, you are looking at some specific information: data that has been processed, arranged or structured within a context that makes it meaningful.
Information makes claims about the way things are, but it does not necessarily give us any reason to accept these claims as true. Knowledge, by contrast, is information that we have good reason to believe is true: a much rarer and more difficult thing to acquire.
Knowledge requires information, but it also requires something further: verification. Verification is the process of testing information against reality.
How might you set about verifying the heights I have supplied for the world’s ten tallest mountains? As in almost any contemporary scenario that doesn’t involve conducting an experiment, you would do this primarily through digital information systems: by going online, by searching websites and references, by sifting the world’s vast quantities of shared information.