Smart technology demands sound philosophy

Smart technology demands sound philosophy

As Lucy Kellaway says in the Financial Times “Smart technology is making us dumber”.

She’s not quite right, though, is she? We are getting smarter about smart technology – it’s that or die. She is right when she means that we are thinking less for ourselves and relying more on others, including smart technology, to think for us. This problem is much more serious than most people realise. It reflects in how well people remember, in how they apply their experience to solving problems and in how imaginatively they deal with life.

Ask yourself these questions:

[1] Do I remember less well than I did ten years ago? If ‘yes’, ask yourself why?
[2] When I look for a solution to a problem on the internet or in a series of checklists, do I apply the solution I find more or less exactly as it says or do I think through how the proposed solution fits the situation I have and adapt accordingly?
[3] When solving problems do I try first to see the solution myself, before resorting to sources of problem solving that have been compiled by other people?

You will know the significance of your answers, I am sure. They do not spell laziness, or lack of brainpower. They are not an indictment of your hard working life. They are nothing to be ashamed of. But they are something to be feared. Why? It is unlikely that you will find yourself lost in the middle of a jungle without internet connection. You probably won’t be separated from your book of checklists. There will always be people around to help you.
But if you don’t exercise your brain, it will stop working. I see it happening every day.

What is real brain exercise? Trying to tackle problems beyond your reach. Making real efforts to keep up with the technological changes happening daily. Explaining to yourself, and maybe others, too, why the world’s politics are moving the way they are. Seeing if you can make sense of your life so far and of what it looks like it is going to be in the future.

This last is especially important. The emotional compass that guides us is continuity. We can adapt to change – it is what human beings do that no other species can. The pace of our need to adapt has been relatively slow until recently. In less than a present lifetime it has accelerated exponentially and it is doing so at an ever increasing rate right now.

We know that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. So is knowledge. Discovery gives rise to inventions. Inventions have been ways of reducing heavy lifting, increasing lifespan and providing more comfort and less pain. Muscles and self-discipline are increasingly less challenged. They are the very things that made us who we are. We may substitute with sports and competitive behaviour but these have largely personal objectives. Our societal objectives have got lost – witness the world’s big human migration disaster.

Lucy has a good point. The smarter we get individually the dumber we may become collectively.

It’s a challenge each of us must accept because it is going to take all of us to resolve it.