People are often quite intelligent before they learn enough to be a dumb
Couple of years back, a student asked in the class, “Sir, why study when everything is available on Google?”
This is what I told him — Why don’t you search on Google how to make another search engine as good as Google? I am sure you will find an answer!
He fell silent, not because he got his answer, but probably because he didn’t understand the monstrous profoundness of my words. So I had to take a simpler route. I said, “Buddy, you over-estimate the power of Google. It knows nothing. It’s only extremely good at searching what people like you and me choose to upload.” The student seemed to survive that line. So I continued with some exaggeration (it’s risky, but when you are a prof, you do it anyway). I said, “When you know nothing, you can’t even search. When you know something, you search to know more. And when you know very well, you are searched for.”
The class nodded in a temporary appreciation. But I knew this lesson would soon be forgotten and most assignments would be promptly copied from the Internet, sometimes run through freely-available software to fool official plagiarism-checkers. And student assignments would degenerate to a race between computers rather than humans (some of my colleagues insist that the explosive combination of Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V is probably the worst invention since the atom bomb, and few have even started insisting on taking hand-written assignments).
I often fear an increasingly scary reality. Where does this tremendous influence of computers and codes on our lives take us?
Are you Tech-Savvy?
Are you tech-savvy, I ask my students. All hands go up. But isn’t it true that the smarter the technology, the lesser the need to exercise our brains?
Remember how our grandparents (or even parents) never understood a computer? It had many moving parts — a keyboard, a mouse, installers and exe files that came on CD/DVDs, a UPS, multiple wires, cryptic BIOS options, registry entries, Control Panel, drivers, too many file types and extensions, wired networking, dial-up modems and so much more. Compare that to an Android mobile phone today, devoid of all such complications. Want something new? Just go to the Play Store and hit ‘install’.
Does that make us more tech-savvy? I am not too sure.
So it’s not entirely funny or incredible that on a recent trip to the Silicon Valley, a friend from India got stranded on the road for more than an hour only because his cellphone died on him. He said he was lucky that he could get back to the house he was staying at. Do you find that strange in the Information Technology age?
Is seeking comfort at all costs the same as being smarter? Does comfort always give you a richer life?
I think our inherent desire to find convenience (which we have started to confuse with smartness) will increasingly be exploited by brands in the name of improving the ‘quality of life’.
I worry what would be left of life once computers take over most cognitive functions. For example, what’s the fun in a car that drives itself, or at worst, parks itself? Whether you like or not, one day most people will own one. If you love photography, an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered device fitted to DSLR camera can choose the perfect settings for you. Why then break your head understanding the nuances of Aperture, ISO or Shutter Speed? A compass on the Google map tells you the direction instead of the poor sun! An AI Android app identifies plants and flowers better than a horticulturist. We have already stopped using most of the charms of language (and completely stopped appreciating spellings) in the supreme convenience of spell-checkers, short-hands, emoticons and disappearing verbal communications. We have stopped calculating. We have long outsourced remembering to our mobiles. While birthday alerts still come from calendar entries, it won’t be required tomorrow. Google would know. Today we still add a friend. Tomorrow we won’t have to. Facebook will simply know whom to add, and when.
A few smart people and the rest mostly dumb?
Slowly, but surely, we will have a slew of ‘smart’ products made by only a few extremely brilliant people, to which a majority will outsource much of their brain functions. While the peddlers will make truckloads of money, the rest of will revel in the fact that they are getting ‘smarter’ through the use of technology.
Alas! There was a time when technology solved real problems. The wheel, the telephone, the ship, the weather forecast or the medical devices. Today Technology, especially the Information Technology kind, is quickly becoming an overkill, exploited by those whose primary intention is to increase the demand for their products or services. In the past, the industrial economies colonized the poorer countries in the quest for newer markets. Today what we see is some sort of ‘information colonialism’ where to create more demand, one needs to ‘colonize’ the minds. It’s happening both openly and surreptitiously.
A Google pins you down via Chrome browser, Chromecast, Google Home, Android Phones, Google Apps and Drives, App Cloud, Tez Payments and much more. An Amazon through Amazon app, AmazonPay, Prime video, Prime music, Alexa, the AWS and a few more. Where will you hide? How will you fight for your independence?
A lot of technology fans will tell you that there is no reason to panic yet because AI won’t impact job creation. Even if AI takes over much of our lives, new kinds of jobs would be created which machines can’t do or simply aren’t good at.
And what could these jobs be? Some say art, literature, travel, design, construction, architecture, care-giving and the like. Okay, I agree somewhat. But I also think that much of these jobs would have a narrow spread, primarily around serving the hedonistic cravings of richer people, which — and we can still argue about it — machines aren’t particularly good at, yet. Why? Because we would have eliminated most physical-labour-based, and low-thinking jobs from the face of the earth.
All Rights Reserved for Ashutosh Kar