Information Pollution & Doomsday Consequence

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“Information pollution is the odorless, invisible sewerage of human intelligence, somebody has to clean it up.”

The Maya calendar and ties to information pollution
If you go to the Wikipedia page for pollution, you will see several forms of pollution from air varieties to water bound forms, but you will not find information pollution there. This is an excellent example, and a reference point to indicate where our current awareness stands on this issue.

Information pollution, not only should it be in that list with capital letters, but it should also be considered as a prime candidate for some doomsday scenarios. Let me emphasize DOOMSDAY by typing it one more time in caps. Let me be crystal clear and blunt here;

“If unchecked, information pollution will bring the end of human civilizations on earth.”

Now that I have your attention, let me begin some explanation. If you want to come up with the worst kind of pollution problem, just start listing the following characteristics:

  1. Intangible – people cannot touch, smell, hear, or visualize its collective volume of effect
  2. Addictive – worse than smoking, pollutant satisfies our natural hunger with strong addiction
  3. Invisible Cost – chips away world’s resources (power usage) at such small increments per the dose of the pollutant, so that people cannot be made aware easily, and they would not feel guilty in any manner.
  4. Widespread – applies to all human beings until we train our pets to use mobile devices next.
  5. Destructive –worse than power blackout, networks clogged with this pollutant can bring down financial systems, disable security systems, trigger wars, and cause many more severe sudden death scenarios.
  6. Long Term Effects – pollutant makes new generations more exposed but less educated progressively, contributes to the decay of cultural and social values.
  7. Encouraged by law – storage of the pollutant is required by law and its elimination is illegal.
  8. Elusive – hard to recognize the pollutants
  9. Irreversible – once it is out and spreads, it’s impossible to eliminate

Now here’s the clincher: “The list above is information pollution.” No other pollution problem satisfies such a broad list of disastrous characteristics.

Now you may ask: “What is wrong with the old-school thinking of more information is better?” The answer is actually fairly easy to understand. INFORMATION and KNOWLEDGE are two different things.

Knowledge is the processed information for the use of mankind for some purpose. More knowledge is a good thing, but knowledge can only be created at the rate of a human brain’s processing capacity. We are, you and I, the biological bottle necks of knowledge creation.

The exponential increase of information (we are subjected to) makes the linear pace of knowledge creation more difficult and less precise. As a result, KNOWLEDGE creation in the future will grossly suffer from quality (woes) as information pollution continues to grow exponentially. Understand please, even now this pollution will dilute the average content quality at the same pace as exponential information growth. The catastrophic mid term result of this will make younger generations more exposed, but less educated.

When exposed for the first time to the term ”information pollution”, many people will immediately associate it with SPAM and say “oh I know, I have a spam filter anyway.” But, SPAM is actually a minute fraction of the information pollution problem, and in many cases harmless because it readily advertises itself to be SPAM, hence it is very easy to be deleted. Non SPAM (labeled) information pollution is the main problem, and far more difficult to combat.

Each item in the list of characteristics tabulated above is itself a subject for another blog post. For example, let’s take the cost of information pollution. Not many people realize that each time they type a word on their computer, there is a tiny cost (power cost) that depletes world resources. Perhaps each word is no more valuable than a single leaf on a tree, but if we are talking about 500 billion Web pages, nearly 1 billion people posting on Facebook, double that sending text messages, then you can see it all adds up quickly.

All that information entered into this giant ecosystem has to be stored for legal purposes, because the FBI (or other similar agencies) wants to track down potential future crime and lawyers want data as potential evidence, and a multitude of other reasonings. Storing all that information is additional, on-going cost, almost in perpetuity. Imagine all the billions of pages of useless data tasking the system.

Information pollution sinks knowledg

So, how do we tackle this sneaky problem? Here are the first potential steps:

  • Increase awareness as the first and most difficult step
  • Educate people that information pollution is not different than any other environmental problem
  • Encourage new technologies to delete obsolete, inconsequential, and junk information
  • Regulate information capacity, if not by penalties, at least by cost

My main interest among those possible actions is the new technologies that can delete information intelligently. These will require semantic processing of information at levels much higher than what is available today. Unfortunately, there has been no DELETE technology ever invented, or even mentioned anywhere, except for SPAM filters.

Perhaps our first real taste of information pollution emerged post 9/11 when FBI and HS agencies were overwhelmed by the number of tips they received. The US Government is hard pressed for declassifying documents and some special emphasis had been given to new redaction technologies. However, most of the work is still done manually. The problem actually creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs are wide open for those who can foresee the upcoming demand.  I have started a Facebook page on this matter for people who are interested in this particular pollution issue.

If the Mayan calendar suggesting a doomsday scenario next month could capture the imagination of millions, which is a byproduct of information pollution, what would it take to attract peoples’ attention to an actual doomsday scenario in which they are contributing to its inception daily? Is it possible to alert people without the help of the fictitious marketing power of information pollution itself? Only time will tell. As for the quest for knowledge amid such information pollution, I am reminded of an age old adage:

“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.” ― Confucius

Photo credit: Mayan image – courtesy © Tim Aßmann –, Pollution – courtesy © ognjen –

Riza Berkan
A nuclear physicist by training, Dr. Berkan worked on artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, and semantics over the past two decades with emphasis on search and... Read Full Bio
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  • glenn gutierrez

    Riza. That’s an interesting thought. An information pollution checker, so-to-speak… the thing I would worry about would be a 1984 like scenario. I mean, today people make a fuss about how google ranks search pages. If there was a technology that filtered information pollution, I’m sure it would run into heavy resistance and speculation when it reached a certain level of scale and main stream notoriety.

    I’m not sure how the UI on such a technology would be implemented, especially since there are ‘social’ filters already in execution, but the truth is, the biggest worry I would have would be whether people stop thinking because they start taking the filter for actual gospel. Whenever something becomes that powerful, you can sure as hell bet, with Las Vegas backing, that ‘someone’ will hack it or misuse it.

    As they say, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    • Riza Berkan

      Yes, interesting thought. It would be quite a challenge to come up with some sort of a measurement system, like how we measure air pollution, to determine where we stand. This may actually be another article all by itself.

  • matthew

    I agree that there is a hidden environmental cost to the storage and distribution of data, but there are also some companies doing something about it, notably Google, with their efforts in renewable energy ( While it is a drop in the bucket, at least it’s a start.

    The question of us being the information bottleneck could be alleviated, I think, by working collectively to parse the data that’s out there. One person by them self would, indeed, be overwhelmed by the abundance of data available on a given subject or question. But if a team broke it up into manageable chunks, digested the info they found, applied their own knowledge of the problem, and then used the data to synthesize their portion, bringing it back to the group for discussion and implementation, I think the firehose of info could actually be a useful thing.

    • Riza Berkan

      My hats off to any company that acknowledges Information pollution. Google is of course right in the middle of it, they know what that means pretty well. Firehose of information is a scary thought, because each individual generates information no matter what, without generating knowledge.

  • 5555555

    ….now I have to agree with this. There is far too much information that is nothing but nonsense. Though I would disagree that the likes of information of TV shows and games as trash, as I like them and, in a sense, entertainment has its place, the doomsday and conspiracy theory trash is the most repugnant.
    While the world has its corruption, these two things have the most negative effect. When people actually believe there are shape shifting reptile aliens that are not really aliens as they are descended from dinosaurs, then there is a problem.

    Though the greatest problem we would face is the regulation of this information. thing do corrupt over time, both food and good intentions alike. one of the reasons why I think america works is that it was not totally clean to begin with. each founding father had their own agenda and, in retrospect, were not the best of people. yet they worked together to make this country and set up self regulation to keep themselves in check.
    however, if we begin to delete this so called data trash we would have to compromise the self regulation of our government and risk people of higher corruption of causing trouble to using it for their own ends. as the wise say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. we may face peole attempting to censor negative criticisms of high profile characters and distort the media that way.

    then again, that might not be so bad in some ways. i have seen what is said by the far right and left, and to be honest, they really have no right to speak. they are deceptive and try to justify their own burning hatred by exaggerating and demonizing others. you especially see this with conservatives. instead of giving just reason for their dislike of the other party or the president, instead of simply saying they believe he is not good enough for us, they spout everything from Obama huesain to far, far worse.

    Either way, the information pollution is still very troubling. it toxifies not the environment, but the mind.

    • Riza Berkan

      Well put. The forms and layers of information pollution is too broad to discuss in one article. You may consider the entire politics as an information pollution game. That’s the content skewness followed by volume creation. If I have an agenda, to discredit Obama for example, I could create skewed content (step-1 of Information pollution) then blast it in the media (step-2). Although I listed regulation as one of the means to battle it, I also agree it becomes a political weapon. Legally, we have to store all that information too. So are we doomed or what?

  • Deniz

    Point well taken, so how does all this information get sorted, and who is to do it? Can an internet system such as google be trusted to handle the sifting in a non-judgmental way? And how to guarantee that impartiality?

    • Riza Berkan

      Prevention must come from individuals using the DELETE button first, or not to generate information if it is inconsequential. That is education! Controlling information pollution by an agency or group is not feasible, it will become a political weapon. More feasible way would be economic control, where you make people pay for disseminating information. If I am serious about the information I put out there, then I should agree to pay something small.

  • liquidsouljah

    for all the 2012 survivors out there!! :))