Civilization as Experiment

Boyden, E. S. (2009) "Civilization as Experiment." Ed Boyden's Blog. Technology Review. 1/19/09. (

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From birth, parents raise us in different ways, teachers teach us in different styles, and doctors treat us with different medicines and give us different advice. These experiences set us upon our paths in life, sculpting how we learn and how we stay healthy. We can think of each interaction between a teacher and a student, or between a doctor and a patient, as a little miniexperiment, with an outcome that can be evaluated: Did the student learn and become able to use the information to do creative and useful things throughout life? Did the patient improve in health and develop proactive health-related behaviors? With almost one million physicians, and about four million educators of children, in the U.S. alone, we are as a society conducting millions of perturbations of behavior every day. However, we do not take advantage of the enormous amount of empirical data that, in principle, could be collected and analyzed in the process. A tool for generating and mining such a data set could not only reveal general empirical facts and principles about how best to teach, or to prevent and treat disease, but also allow individuals to monitor their own personal parameters that govern how they best operate, empowering them to better themselves. …