Computing, it’s everywhere in our lives, isn’t it? Terms such as analogue and offline evoke a sense of unease, illustrating the degree to which we’re connected. Could this fervent push to make everything around us intelligent be inadvertently dimming our own wits? Frankly, I cannot say for certain. However, I am keen on exploring this idea, which is why we find ourselves delving into this article today. It seems that machines have permeated our existence in ways we don’t fully comprehend. Google Docs attempts to finish 3/10 of my sentences, but the real issue is that it’s accurate 8/10 times. It begs the question: am I so predictable that even a machine can suss me out?
What has become of the claim, “We’re the smartest species in the known universe?”
Indeed, we can boast that we created computers and authored programmes so remarkable and proficient that no one could possibly contest their efficacy. However, not all of humanity is included in this “we.” Our world is riddled with inequality and division. Not everyone has access to or comprehends the realm of modern computing. You may be tempted to point to smartphone penetration rates or argue that the average Indian consumes more data than those in more technologically advanced regions, and I wouldn’t fault you for trusting those figures.
Nevertheless, in our fast-paced world where algorithms can generate 1000-word articles in mere minutes, the scope for nuanced discussion is dwindling. I urge you to step back and consider these numbers in greater detail.
What is the average Indian using their data for?
Entertainment or education?
There’s no need for wild guesses; simply visit YouTube and examine the top trending videos in the country. Multiply 70% of each video’s length by the number of views, and you’ll grasp the vast amount of time being consumed (or wasted) online in pursuit of what, exactly?
But let’s not stop there. Let’s also scrutinise the types of videos that top our nation’s trending lists.
More often than not, you’ll find the top 10 in one of these categories:
- Film trailers
- Music videos
- Comedy skits
- Crude and suggestive commentary
An entire nation is so engrossed in these subjects that they’re dedicating more than four hours of their waking time to this affliction.
This activity is not entirely fruitless, however. Some parties benefit from our thoughtless indulgence.
You’ve guessed it.
Three broad category winners:
- Google profits from ad revenue.
- Corporations gain customers by placing ads.
- Content creators mint too.
And the losers? Those who watch simply to fill their time.
Enormous data harvesting machines operate behind the scenes, making these endless scrolls as gratifying as imaginable.
Now, let’s shift our attention to those who believe they’re outwitting the world by employing tools like ChatGPT on their behalf. At this juncture, I must clarify my stance on technology. I am an advocate. I believe that science and technology are forces for good. Simultaneously, I am aware that neglecting our mental faculties may lead to a decline in intelligence or, worse, complete incapacitation.
To keep our minds sharp, we must engage them in the activities they were designed for. We need to devise methods to maintain their activity and functionality – stimulating them, if you will.
Allow me to provide a few examples to illustrate my point.
Before smartphones became our trusty sidekicks, most of us had the ability to:
- Recall phone numbers, particularly crucial ones. Do we remember any today? We know we don’t.
- Perform everyday maths in our heads, like addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Now, we resort to our phones and calculators. We may have become faster, but are we genuinely more intelligent? The answer is no.
- When we used to consult a dictionary to decipher an unfamiliar word, we would inevitably encounter 4-10 new words during our search, learning something new in the process. Nowadays, we simply Google the word! While we have become more efficient, has our convenience not limited our learning?
Before hailing taxis via apps became commonplace, we would walk shorter distances. Today, we tend not to. Are we truly better off for it?
Before refrigeration became a household staple, we consumed fresher food.
The latest human innovation is Large Language Models (LLMs), and Generative AI, which is taking the world by storm. You no longer need to write; just prompt the machine, and it will do the work for you.
Do you comprehend the consequences of completely relinquishing our writing abilities to the likes of modern ChatGPTs? The skill of writing will soon become as obsolete as remembering phone numbers.
As a society, we would lose our capacity to construct sentences and formulate arguments, depriving us of the very ability that has propelled the human race forward.
This subject is so delicate that I feel compelled to repeatedly emphasise that technology is beneficial and advantageous. What I am contesting is our dependence on such technologies to the extent that we lose the ability to perform some tasks altogether.
Some of us feel disoriented in our own cities when mobile data networks fail, and Google Maps can no longer guide us. It is advantageous to use tools, but perhaps it is unwise to completely forsake our ability to function without them.
It is fantastic to use a calculator for quick arithmetic, but it is arguably better to understand how to solve equations with a pen and paper or, even better, in our heads. I recall reading somewhere that a sufficiently advanced piece of technology is indistinguishable from magic.
We can utilise this statement to understand that anything magical can potentially strip us of essential human capabilities.
I believe my point about the risks has been well made.
Let’s now devote a few moments to discussing how we can guard against losing the agency of the human mind.
Here are some straightforward steps:
- Solve small mathematical problems daily, such as BODMAS exercises.
- Engage in puzzles and reasoning tasks.
- Write at least 1,000 words every day.
- Edit your writing carefully.
- Allow yourself time to become bored.
- Envision abstract concepts and situations.
Keep in mind that our minds are all we have. If we lose them, we’ll be left with nothing.
Let’s continue to utilise the most cutting-edge technology available while also concentrating on retaining and preserving our cognitive abilities to solve problems, imagine, and articulate.