Somewhere between reading Jason Wilson’s post on “Exploded Data, the Legal Web and What We’re Missing” and Toby’s post on “KM 3.0 = Analysis“, my brain started to smolder from all the ‘future of data’ discussion. Jason takes an example of a 33 word sentence and how 66 individual pieces of “exploded data” (which looks a lot like XML structured data) were extrapolated, and the ‘explosion of data’ could probably have easily continued on for at least another 66 categories. Toby had talked about the predictions that the amount of information stored in the world today surpassed the zettabyte threshold and is continuing to grow as we get “better-faster-cheaper search and retrieval systems.” Wilson ends his post with these two sentences:

The question is whether we will step up to organize this sea of data, or wait until a program can do it for us. If the latter, what does it say about the future of legal research and the practice of law?

I don’t think that the problem is a “man vs. machine” issue, but rather a how can man make machine better, and vice-versa. Regardless of the amount of crowdsourcing you throw at legal information, there is just no possible way for humans, alone, to explode the information. Add to this the fact that there is no way for a computer algorithm (at least at this point in history) to do this either. Right now, it has to be a combination of efforts of humans working to ask the right questions, set the right conditions, and bring in the right experiences in order to help the computer algorithms or data structure establish methods of creating “smart information.” The overall process is for the human editors (curators) to get the information more quickly from “dumb” to “smart” through the use of technology, then work on tweaking the technology from time to time in order to keep make the smart information even smarter. Just as with many industries, the core functions of legal editing will become more and more commoditized, and the work will focus on establishing the next piece of smart information rather than focusing on uncovering the hidden data of existing information. Toby told me today at lunch that currently “humans ask the better questions when it comes to how to handle information.” He went on to say, however, that there will probably come a day when machines may actually start being better at asking the questions. What does that have to say about the future of information?