Is Technology Making Humans Intellectually Lazy?

Once upon a time, memorizing multiplication tables, phone numbers and landmarks on travel routes was considered an essential life skill. Then calculators, smartphones, and Google Maps took over these traditional functions of the human brain. Today’s trend is very clear. If technology advances rapidly, more human tasks will be taken over by digital technology. Now, with the launch of ChatGPT, an OpenAI chatbot using artificial intelligence (AI), several big questions are brewing. What human functions will it consume? As the human brain has fewer tasks to perform, could mental inactivity lead to intellectual laziness?

Sea squirts are tiny sea creatures with eccentric lifestyles. It begins its life swimming with the help of its brain and nervous system, but, after clinging to its permanent home, it digests these now superfluous organs and lives a vegetative life. Sea squirts remind us of the brain’s evolutionary purpose: to coordinate and express active movement. Those who adapt to the couch potato lifestyle lose their brains. Will the advancement of artificial intelligence lead to the tragedy of human organ deactivation?

As the agricultural economy gave way to an industrial economy, and as machines took away much of the physical labor, people became less and less physically active. A sedentary lifestyle has contributed to a worldwide obesity epidemic. But fortunately, the knowledge economy took off. In this economy, the human brain has been very active. So while the body is not as active as it was in the agricultural or industrial era, the intense activity of the brain is still burning a lot of calories. But today, in an emerging economy based on artificial intelligence, not only the human body, but even the human brain may become less active than before. So, are humans at risk of both physical and mental obesity?

In the past, our obesity problems from lack of exercise were exacerbated by the arrival of junk food. Likewise, the large increase in time humans, especially younger generations, spend on online gaming and pornography complements the brain inactivity that has occurred. In 2021, the U.S. video game industry will be worth nearly $200 billion — more than its music, book publishing, and sports businesses combined. According to a survey released by the US security company Netskope, the consumption of pornographic content in the first half of 2020 increased by 600% year-on-year. This pandemic-induced behavioral trend looks set to continue.

One of the measures of human intelligence is called the Flynn Effect. It refers to the observed rise in standardized intelligence test scores over a period of time. From the early days of this intelligence test until the mid-1990s, this increase was found to be continuous and roughly linear. But some recent studies have shown that the Flynn effect is no longer growing as fast in the developed world as it used to be.A new study recently published in the journal nature It found that since 1945, the number of papers and patents that could break the past in ways that could push science and technology in new directions has declined dramatically.

This suggests that scientists are getting lazy and tend to seek incrementalism rather than leaps in knowledge. Does the slowdown of the Flynn effect and the decline in the number of paradigm-shifting science papers indicate that mental laziness is a reality we must grapple with?

Such concerns appear to be unfounded. When IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, many feared that the board game was doomed. It has been said that if computer software for playing chess catches on, humans will drop out of the game. But what happened was exactly the opposite. Earlier, those who played chess had to rely on a few rare books to learn the best strategies for the game. Today, humans can perfect their skills against computers. With the popularization of chess knowledge, more and more people started to play chess, even from rural areas. Many became grandmasters even at a younger age than before. It just goes to show that technology doesn’t necessarily destroy human innovation, but can enhance it to a great extent.

With reports that Microsoft may invest as much as $10 billion in artificial intelligence technology, one can expect more technological advancements in this area in the near future. Humans may find new ways to cooperate with these AI advances, as we have seen in the world of chess. This human-AI collaboration may be driven by new trends in human behavior.

The amount of time humans spend on education hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Most human learning takes place in educational institutions before starting a career. This situation is about to change dramatically. Technological innovation will force humans to upgrade themselves in order to stay one step ahead of the technologies that may replace them. Therefore, lifelong learning will become the new normal in education. Gone are also the days when one could only specialize in one area of ​​study. In order to adapt to changing times, people may seek multidisciplinary study. A lifetime of acquiring new knowledge will be the best medicine for any kind of intellectual laziness.

Biju Dominic is Chief Evangelist for Fractal Analytics and Chairman of FinalMile Consulting.

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