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Corner as Parallel Computer


I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time, although parallel computer may not be the right phrase. As most readers must have noticed, many Cornerites post queries of readers. Rich and I ask you folks for info, insights etc on all sorts of subjects every time we have a syndicated column to write. It is consistently astounding how much knowledge and wisdom — not just data and opinion — our readers have. If I could I would ask you people questions about everything under the sun. And that’s the problem. Asking readers to explain something always has a downside. Often, it’s like trying to take a sip from a garden hose. If I ask anything from “Was Star Trek a Cold War morality tale?” to “Did Leo Strauss believe in God?” I will get scores or hundreds of responses. Many of them are terrible or just silly jokes. But quite a few of them will be brilliant beyond all expectations. If I ask a factual question, like “how much wood is in a cord?” I will get the same answer five hundred times or I will get emails from people offering wild guesses. Sometimes Rich or I will say “If you can’t answer by noon, please don’t bother” because if we don’t do that, we’ll get emails for weeks after we’ve filed. That’s all fine, this is something of a community and I’m not really complaining about that.

But what I’ve been trying to figure out is, How can I tap into the collective knowledge of Corner readers without getting so many gratuitous responses? Because in a sense, I have a database of expertise and knowledge not available to kings, presidents or CEOs. Is there a system we could come up with where I might say something like “This is a level 7 question: Does OPEC exist because oil is cheap?” and that would mean that people without specialized knowledge should ignore it?

I don’t know if this makes sense, but we’ve got what amounts to a giant organic computer out there. And, when you think about it, there should be a way to discipline the spontaneous order behind it.


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