Tuesday, January 12, 2016

HAL, Google Click Brain

Is Google Making Us Stupid? - The Atlantic:

I enjoy Nicholas Carr as a writer and it was fun going back and reading my Blog on "The Big Switch" from March of '08.  The world was a lot more positive back then, I was still more hopeful of technology advances helping our futures, and less worried about downsides. His predictions of computing moving to "The Cloud" are very much coming to pass.

I've also read "The Shallows" on which the linked Atlantic article is based, but did not blog on it (yet) ... I'm probably going to give that one a re-read, although it already obvious that the Atlantic article is a pretty darned good summary, right down to the "2001 A Space Odyssey" references ... in particular:

The Carr thesis, going back over a decade at least, is that our technology changes us in unpredictable ways, and we ought to be aware of that. His view on the Internet and Google in particular is that we are losing our capacity for "deep reading" and "deep thought", and are being "distracted". Like HAL, we are "losing our minds".

He recognizes that it goes back a long way. One of the fairly recent (in terms of history) pieces of technology that totally changed the world was the clock. To wit ...
The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.
Being a Lutheran, I recognize one of the other "big ones" as the printing press. Without it, Luther would likely have just been another heretic burned or hung to save his own soul at the behest of the Roman Church. Instead, 500 years ago in 1517, the printing press (invented 1436) allowed his arguments and eventually the Bible itself, to be put in the hands of the common people in their own language. The central power of Rome was de-centralized, and much of what happened with democracy, republican government, the rise of commerce and science, etc was a direct result.

However, as this blog laments, wisdom is much more dear than knowledge, and one of the many challenges with "artificial intelligence" is just what is "intelligence"? These are not new problems ...
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).
Since 2008, I've become aware of at least SOME of the dangers of my own auto-didacticism (self teaching with no program of study) in the areas of philosophy, politics, theology and areas of science (primarily cosmology and mind / consciousness study).

I would argue that being "filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom" is pretty much the "disease of our day". I'm sure that the invention of writing was a contributor, but I'd argue that the abandonment of honor for history/tradition, infatuation with "the latest and greatest" as well as the pell-mell rush for "knowledge" (with abandonment of "values") and forced abandonment of "wisdom",  since it may slow the headlong rush, was a decision -- not "inevitable". As in the case of most of our modern decisions, it is hard to call it a "conscious decision" because we seem to firmly avoid thinking with enough depth to make those sorts of determinations, and have for a lot longer than the Internet has been around.

Some parts of the technologies are as McLuhan said, endemic ... "the media is the message". Mass radio and television begat mass marketing and everyone standing around the water cooler discussing what was on Carson last night. Airplanes trumped battleships and nuclear missiles made it clear that no visible nation could get away with isolationism unless you had "cover" (that used to be the US, prior to Obama). It seems that is a lesson that will apparently require a few more millions of deaths to re-learn.

While Carr seems to think that "technology is destiny", I prefer to believe that **IF** we, FIRST considered meaning, wisdom, culture, human frailty, Gods will, tradition, etc, and THEN made use of technology with those goals in mind and primary, we could avoid at least the most onerous of the losses due to technology.

We **CAN** still enjoy an evening around a crackling fire, and we can still shut off the lights and have a beautiful candlelight service at church, and as I often do, we can settle down in a nice easy chair in front of a big window looking over the backyard with a remote / thermostatically controlled fireplace to keep us warm while we read in depth.

It is completely true that before the invention/discovery of tools, fire, language, writing, printing, computers, Internet, etc, we had less choices and "things were different". What is far from clear however is that we can abdicate our responsibility for making appropriate use of technology and blame the problem on "the technology made us do it". I agree with the following quote from the column on the fact that we are creating a lot of "flat people" these days, but I find it to be a choice rather than our destiny.

Before even the first crude spear, God enabled us to have "Free Will" -- the rest of the creatures only have instinct on which to rely. We need to quit thinking we are "apes with tools" and recognize that we are uniquely blessed to be human with the divine gift of consciousness!
I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”
'via Blog this'

1 comment:

  1. Carr has cost me lots of time "explaining" with his hyperbolic titles and provocative writing. That said I enjoy his writing and I generally agree with many of his "cautions." Grounded moderation seems quite a thoughtful way to find a balance. Nice piece.