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As we know, technology can be a fantastic thing – it makes life and business easier – but it can also be abused. While it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for tech and the human race, there is a contingent forming that says it has begun to change us in fundamental ways. We are basically evolving around technology.
Search is one core area that’s changing the way we act according to data from a study by Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu and Daniel Wegner. The trio believes that having the world’s information at our fingertips is indeed a good thing, but when it comes to our memory and organising that information, we’re losing out on key contextual elements that help us retain facts and make sense of the world. Reliance is the issue: “We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found. This gives us the advantage of access to a vast range of information, although the disadvantages of being constantly ‘wired’ are still being debated. It may be no more than nostalgia at this point, however, to wish we were less dependent on our gadgets. We have become dependent on them to the same degree we are dependent on all the knowledge we gain from our friends and co-workers — and lose if they are out of touch. The experience of losing our internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend. We must remain plugged in to know what Google knows.” The study was completed ten years ago and has been replicated many times over. Changes over time are being measured right now and remain a core area of focus for researchers all over the world because memory and learning are so intrinsic to our species. Algorithmic intelligence affects us all, from job applications to online shopping baskets. But human biases can be transferred in code and the way we (humans) interpret data that is presented to us. Bad data in doesn’t necessarily mean bad insight out but it certainly doesn’t guarantee it and reliance on what computers present us is a growing cause for concern as biases are being programmed. Facial recognition is now having a clear impact on daily lives. Just ask the people in China who can now pay with their face but who are also being denied travel and access to certain locations. Mentally this is bound to have an effect over time as it becomes a method of controlling people and therefore an economy. The technology itself doesn’t have to directly cause the harm for harm to be caused. Facebook is learning this lesson well. Ultimately, technologies can change, and are changing, the way we think and act. Only a few key areas have been touched upon here. Technology like the Apple Watch and apps like MyFitnessPal are helping people around the world break bad habits, prevent health-related issues and generally augment themselves in some way. Biologically speaking, most of this change is mental rather than physical but there are groups who focus on the physical aspects. Biohacking is nothing new, people have been putting magnets and chips in themselves for decades but the rise of RFID (think contactless payment, underground barrier technology) is popularising this practice which adds a new dimension for behaviour change. Elon Musk is taking this one step further through his company ‘Neuralink‘. Neuralink is ‘developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers’. A lofty goal and one that, if successful, will change the very core of what it means to be human and where we, as a species, will evolve to.
Paul Armstrong runs HERE/FORTH, an emerging technology advisory, is the author of ‘Disruptive Technologies’ and regularly writes about technology and society for Forbes, Reuters and Cool Hunting. He is also the creator of TBD the conference which attendees described as ‘TED… without the bullsh!t’. www.thetbdconference.com