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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?


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    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
    • 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.
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        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.
        • 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.
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        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.
        • 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.

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