Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Two major news providers, Thomson and Reuters, merged in 2008 to create a dual-listed company that offers financial market data, health-care information, legal research, tax and accounting updates, scientific information and general-interest news. Thomson Reuters summarizes all of these services as “intelligent information for businesses and professionals.”

One should certainly hope all information is inherently “intelligent.” After all, intelligence entails the collection of information in a general sense to create intellect, reasoning, wisdom and understanding. It does not discriminate between different types of information.

Yet, “intelligent” is often trotted out as a buzzword these days, as though to suggest greater abilities for whatever it describes.

In the information technology (IT) field, for example, Apple filed a patent application in 2007 for what it calls “intelligent universal rechargeable batteries for battery charging system for mobile and accessory devices.” The batteries don’t contain any information; they can just be swapped more easily than previous models.

In the security field, companies like Genex Technologies sell “intelligent surveillance” products and services—the idea being that the effectiveness of video cameras can be improved by using software to control them and to detect certain types of activity. While this may help human staff decide where to focus attention, however, it is no more intelligent than, say, word processing software.

‘Intelligent’ refers simply to information, but in a so-called information age, it may well become a redundant adjective—or perhaps it is time to become much, much pickier when judging what or who is truly intelligent.

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