law famously declared
that the processing power of microchips will grow exponentially. What today's keyboard warriors will find is that human brainpower and waking hours do not. As computers replace calculators, our tools become more capable, yet from society to software, can our very physical forms possibly keep up?
The dawn of the new millennium saw a generation raised by spreadsheets and solitaire. These millennials largely feel more comfortable in front of a notebook than a notepad, favoring keyboards over pens to produce their words. But millennials may be destined to become both the first and last computer-literate generation. With the rapid pace of progress, obsolescence is taking its toll. Touchscreens are increasingly replacing keyboards. Our online actions and information are streamlined by software at a rapid pace. There is a new 1% -- the generation that sees the binary behind the scenes, developing the software that now supports us all.
But where do the rest of us fit in all this? Stare into the formless void of our virtual selves, our technicolor social media accounts. Sharing with friends and updating a diary has been replaced by sharing on Instagram and updating a Facebook status. Yet as books, movies and endless editorials will keep reminding us, computers are not people. Our machines are mindless and heartless, but they're becoming smarter and swiftly revealing an ability to read people.
We will discuss, debate and disagree about AI until we program AI to do it for us. Such a prospect sounds like a science fiction movie come to life. Knowingly and unknowingly, we embrace AI daily. We use these technologies to make our lives easier, simpler, more effective, more productive. From Echo to Siri, Facebook tags to Google cookies, online shopping to self-driving cars, we are ready and willing to find ways to replace the governance of our most tedious tasks with AI.
After all, what do we need to keep in our heads that we can't find in our hands? Airplanes can now autopilot. Costs can be optimized. Cars can be commanded. Doctors replace an encyclopedic knowledge with a knowledgeable encyclopedia. We can spend less and less thought doing more and more. But what if too little thinking happens a little too much?
Suddenly, when software supplants skill, mistakes will become a bit more heartless. We must tiptoe through a potentially rough transition into our life 2.0. The threat of so-called de-skilling is constant: From a study
(paywall) of 78 primary care physicians, University at Albany professor Timothy Hoff found that software diminished doctors' "ability to make informed decisions around diagnosis and treatment." Or in the case of Tesla's vaunted autopilot feature, the carmaker had to "[change] its driver monitoring strategy to promote driver attention to the driving environment," according to an investigation
performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following a deadly crash.
Surely these are issues that can be worked around. Software simply augments our abilities, right? It seems that is not necessarily the case. It is oft-documented that a general reliance upon the various appliances within our lives can cause a reduction in capability.
A 2014 study from Fairfield University showed that taking pictures seemed to supplant the memory mechanism that would otherwise hold the image in the mind of a participant: "If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects' locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them." One can easily make the connections to our contemporary insta-snap-chatting culture of today.
From technology to technique, a study (download required) out of Utrecht University tested subjects to try tasks using two sets of software: a simple version, and a more intelligent one. It found that those who were forced to rely less on software understood "relevant task and rule knowledge better and were not affected by a severe interruption in the workflow" compared to their intelligently aided counterparts. The participants who operated more independently were concluded to be "more plan-based, are more proactive and ready to make inferences. This in turn results in more focus, more direct and economical solutions, better strategies and better imprinting of knowledge."
While AI promises society so much, we must be quite mindful of the quiet cost of it all.
Today's AI signifies a brave new world of concentration and consternation. Our society, which originally wrought technology to help serve people, increasingly finds itself being subservient. We are one nation under big data. Dear Siri has replaced "Dear Abby," and there's no looking back. Our lives are lazier, our attentions fade swifter and learning, at least when it comes to certain tasks, is completely unnecessary. "The medium is the message," a phrase coined by media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Just as it was true in the 1960s, it is true today. Our lives have been reduced to a five-and-a-half-inch screen. Certainly, it's possible to think outside the pale, glowing box -- but first, let me check my notifications.