This conversation is closed.

In the future will cognitive augmentation and artificial intelligence broaden or narrow our consciousness?

We relinquish awareness when we allow a program to decide what's relevant information.

For example, car computer systems are rapidly decreasing our awareness of simple skills such as parking a car. In time, no one will know how to parallel park. If the computer system fails, a driver could be stranded for hours in their parked car, without the skill to pull out. In addition, future systems will monitor and send health information…and other personal information.

The lose of simple skill sets such as parking is minor but it points to the larger issue of losing cognitive skills. Our ability to reason would atrophy, and become dependent on imperfect, biased or worse corrupt systems that operate beyond our awareness. You may want to dismiss the idea as a cynical dystopian view point… but ask yourself why the general public is losing the ability to do simple math in their heads.

Is ease of living worth relinquishing independent consciousness?

  • thumb
    Apr 10 2013: I remember when computers first came out. We would have paperless offices, lots of leisure time, etc. Utopia was just around the corner. Today folks are tearing their hair out with crashes, reboots, passwords, & general frustration. I wasted 30mins last night not-watching a documentary. The start-stop on my car is a nuisance & will eventually cause problems, garages are struggling to extinguish warning lights, which will soon become illegal. Etc. etc. this tuff is all very well, but there is a magic ingredient missing.
    A couple of decades ago I was charged; among other things; with installing a computer system in an engineering works. At the time I was an enthusiastic programmer, but that wasn't my job. Alarm bells rang when the local computer company told me they could only supply Microsoft products. This in spite of an admission that it was not the best available system.
    Long story short, we had to hire two full time guys, plus frequent contract backup, to keep a dozen or so machines going. Constant expensive upgrading which supplied no material benefit, constant employee training. We had to keep the paper trails in place as the computers could not be trusted. Rant...rant...
    What is the missing ingredient ? Common sense!!!! We've lost it folks, we are choosing university qualifications over real experience; we need both, we have lost the plot. We need to value wisdom & experience, & demote hi-tech & political correctness. Only then can we get some sanity back.

  • thumb
    Apr 10 2013: Absolutely not.
    Technology traditionally meant interventions that brought about changes in our lives by achieving more work by spending less labor. It's first generation implements had been machines, with specific stress on mechanical energy. This had a tremendous bonus - it freed our time to be creative and more innovative. The next generation implementations had been automation, with specific stress on processes. This increased the bonus further, it freed our time even from engaging with the machines. However, there had been loss of jobs and skills. We didn't care much.
    We are now in a generation of technology that seeks to relieve us from decision making. We are now in the epoch of programming and computing and it's implementations are computers, robotics and genomics. The direction is clear. The new technologies will free us from all survival activities and the only thing our faculties will engage with is abstract thinking and philosophy.
    When you are concerned with consciousness, it may be interesting to note that it emerged as a brain function of higher order primates as a multitasking and parallel processing cognitive organ and not as something to solely think abstract. The huge brain mass in humans account for a myriad of functions with complex evolutionary history and abstraction is only a minor part of it.
    So when technologies relieve us of decision making for many simple engagements with life, it will dim our consciousness.
    This generation of technologies have already altered our minds and thereby consciousness by changing skill sets like writing, walking, feeding, computing or communicating. The average attention span of a young adolescent over a web page is about couple of seconds. I notice a new language of communication in mobile phone sms that spills over in formal writing. My psychologist friend tells me that he is having increasing number of young patients who suffer deep anxiety and insecurity to stay away from their smart phones or ipads
    • thumb

      Gord G

      • 0
      Apr 12 2013: Sorry Pabitra, I was distracted after the second paragraph. Can you sum the rest up in a pithy five sentence saying that will fit on an incongruent image that I can upload to Facebook. :-)

      But seriously, I wonder if relief from decision making will also relieve us from caring about making decisions.

      And as a side note: Though our multitasking and parallel processing cognitive organ is not solely to think abstractly...that ability is the primary reason for our success as a species. In someways I think abstract thinking is an expression of metacognition.
      • thumb
        Apr 12 2013: That depends on our idea of ‘success’, particularly outside of a purely biological evolution. I cannot ignore the fact that much of this success happened in last 300 odd years on a global scale whereas humans as a species have history of at least 60,000 years. It’s almost one night stand with success. :)

        I am deeply concerned about the exclusivity of human consciousness. Wikipedia says: Humans are characterized by having a large brain relative to body size, with a particularly well developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes, making them capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, problem solving and culture through social learning. This mental capability, combined with an adaptation to bipedal locomotion that frees the hands for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Humans are the only extant species known to build fires and cook their food, as well as the only known species to clothe themselves and create and use numerous other technologies and arts. So there is a reason to believe that all this might not have happened had humans not adopted bipedalism. As far as my research goes, bipedalism happened as an evolutionary fluke.

        Moreover, consciousness is a complex process that exhibits self awareness. It’s a fractal like feed back loop that creates an emergent quality that can make it ‘appear’ more profound than it actually is at the root. Consult Dan Dennett.

        For your facebook quote : The ‘ness’ in consciousness makes it hang out in the open beyond our physical reach. It is as much as our salvation as damnation.
        • thumb

          Gord G

          • 0
          Apr 12 2013: Thanks for the quote Pabitra. I'll Photoshop it over a cute cartoon brain walking a chimpanzee on a leash. :-)

          Yes it is a complex process. But I think to make the statement "it appears more profound than it actually is at the root" infers we know the root...and we don't. The word "appears" suggests the uncertainty.
      • thumb
        Apr 13 2013: Dear Gord,
        We have two options. We wait till such time before we know completely about something with absolutely nothing left unknown. I have a feeling that is nearly impossible. One who assumes that we do not know unless we know everything has to admit he/she will never know anything.
        The other option is to know something, albeit piecemeal, strive to know better and feel interested and intrigued by the process of learning itself. One who assumes that we know at least something to be in the learning curve one has to move on through the process.
        There is no denying about the 'uncertainty', in fact I believe that the basic nature of the physical realm has an element of chance and purposelessness in it. But even finding that out is a rewarding journey for me.
        I think there is substantial and interesting work about the root of the consciousness by scientists, psychologists and philosophers and I disagree with you in as much as saying we don't know about the roots.
        • thumb

          Gord G

          • 0
          Apr 13 2013: The universe of possibility invigorates my life. It sets me on the path of discovery. I embrace the unknown as a stimulus for change. I believe, if we deny uncertainty we blind ourselves to the possibilities.

          I think the power of the intellect resides in our ability to remain open to disparate ideas. We're finite beings in an infinite universe, uncertainty is humility.

          That said, I believe we're not that different. We both feel compelled to engage the mystery.
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2013: If I had a car that dictated to me how I should parallel park, I am sufficiently "Luddite" enough to switch the damn thing off as a conscious decision, or even go so far as to take that particular fuse out to disable it.

    I don't want technology telling me what to do, what not to do, and how to think. It runs counter to learning processes, it makes me lazy, and I suspect I would probably become addicted to it once I allow those mental processes to be substituted by endless apps.

    I wonder what would happen to the course of our own evolution over a long period, if such atrophy is allowed to continue? My guess is that we would lose vital skills to survive in a world without technology; we would lose the ability to communicate with each other on a personal level, the need to physically move around would be reduced (and would become more and more contrived, as in gym workouts etc), our essential connection with nature will no longer be necessary...

    The next question might be how long will technology last in its current form, and is that longevity related to finite resources? Should we therefore retain basic skills and independent consciousness as a contingency for such times when living, by necessity, becomes more basic?

    My answer is that our capacity to think and "do" is and will be significantly reduced with over-proliferation of technology.

    Technology should always serve, not dictate.
    • thumb

      Gord G

      • 0
      Apr 12 2013: Hey Allan...I hear you. I would like to have a say in what technology I adopt. Unfortunately, this technology operates beyond our awareness, so in many instances it negates our ability to make a conscious decision to reject it. Then there are the systems that we don't directly control. Systems embedded within the infrastructure of our cities.

      I don't want to sound like a doomsayer. I still feel technology has a positive impact on society. It provides many life enhancing advantages. It's just that I feel we've reached a point in our technological evolution where there is a potential for intellectual atrophy in the general population. Which of course in time will diminish all sectors of society.

      I suppose my biggest concern the past we've adapted to we're adapting to adapting and understanding the change will no longer be within our grasp.
  • Apr 10 2013: Gord, It is sure that due to disuse,we may lose track of some of our cognitive abilities,but at the same time,we should 'nt forget that the ability to put to use the right technology at the right place also needs our conscious effort....So I think a balance is the key....
    • thumb

      Gord G

      • 0
      Apr 12 2013: I agree. I think balance is key.

      To date intellectual momentum has been maintained by a natural progression of knowledge within an academic community (human to human). Machine learning has the potential to circumvent human nature by evolving a society that must adapt to machine logic to survive.

      The question is do we maintain a balance...when our primal nature seeks to maximize our control over our environment by optimizing our tools.

      It seems the quest for power has always been open ended.
  • Apr 10 2013: Both - Van Neuman and Morgenstern have told us that you can't maximize everything.
  • Apr 11 2013: how many of us have phone numbers memorized anymore?
  • thumb
    Apr 11 2013: .

    "Use it or lose it".
    We will bio-evolve foolish.
    We will go to self-extinction biologically.

    The "ease of living" is a kind of “invalid happiness” really.

    (For details, see the 1st article, points 1-3, 14, at
    • thumb
      Apr 11 2013: I consider the opposite: the access to ease that we now have allows many trivial activities to be overcome (if we choose so) in order to encourage a quicker pace in our lives, which if you are concerned about losing the ability to do math or losing brain power, this added time available can be spent thinking or developing consciousness.
      • thumb

        Gord G

        • 0
        Apr 12 2013: I'm going to stir the debate a bit more...

        Today we don't require the same level of physical activity to maintain a comfortable living environment. Many people spend their days sitting in chairs (whether at the office, in the car, or while watching the twentieth episode of Mad Men).

        With the decrease of our physical demand to survive and the increased availability of free time, you would think we would have time to improve our fitness. Yet there is an increased level of obesity in our society today.

        You would think with all that free time and extra energy people would spend it improving their physical health.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb

      Gord G

      • 0
      Apr 9 2013: Carolyn I appreciate your response. Though you've made some incorrect assumptions regarding my world view.

      To clarify...

      Machine learning and data mining are passive immersive technologies that supplant awareness. This technology does not have a historical context. Technologies today possess a microstructure which determines their macroscopic behaviour. That is to say, the microstructures are amplified through their application in macro environments. This means inconsistencies and potentially harmful memes are also amplified.

      In addition, the acceleration of change is accelerating. This creates a dependancy on these technologies so we can process the expansion of data.

      To be perfectly clear, I don't believe these technologies are intentionally subversive (though there is a potential). I see it as a natural development that is quickly outstripping our ability to consider the sociological, physiological and psychological impact.
      • Apr 11 2013: its like a beast of its own going forth regardless. as long as people are smart enough to do a job and buy a gadget to keep it going,thats what its dependant on.