“The simple fact is that we humans are made from hardware that is just too bandwidth-limited, and too slow, to compete with coming waves of computer technology.”
On the one hand, digitization increases growth and prosperity. On the other, write MIT scholars Brynjolfsson and McAfee, “There is no economic law that says that everyone, or even most people, automatically benefit from technological progress.”
Life in the digital world doesn’t just change our behavior; it also changes how we learn and think. Children are growing up in a world in which the distinctions between real and simulated life, as well as between machines, humans and animals, are starting to disappear, concludes Sherry Turkle, a professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.
Indeed, the behavior of small children can reveal whether their parents own iPhones and iPads. These are the children who spread their fingers across paper photo albums when they want to enlarge the images or drag their fingers across television screens when they’re bored by a cartoon they’re watching.
According to a recent study by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow, a person who knows that he or she can readily look up a piece of information online doesn’t remember it as well as someone without Internet access. The study finds that the human brain treats the Internet as an extension of itself, as a kind of external memory. Ideally, this means that trivial knowledge can be stored in this external memory, freeing up brain space for creativity. But, in the worst case, the computer becomes a prosthetic brain.
Computer technologies have been a boon to medicine and of great benefit to human beings. But the advances also illustrate that the divide between man and machine is becoming narrower. Neuro-implants define this boundary because they entail having a machine penetrate into the human body. Although today’s instruments are still relatively crude, brain pacemakers are already being used in patients with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this way, machines are no longer just intervening in the body’s mechanical functions, but also in its emotional life.
- - “Blessing or Curse? Competing Visions of a Computer-Controlled Future” by Markus Dettmer, Hilmar Schmundt and Janko Tietz, March 7, 2012.
Originally published by Spiegel Online.