Natural Stupidity is more Dangerous than Artificial Intelligence
Do you know what’s more dangerous than artificial intelligence? Natural stupidity. In this article, I will explore natural stupidity in more detail and show how our current technology (driven by narrow artificial intelligence) is making us collectively dumber.
We’ve all had this experience of using a GPS to guide us around an unfamiliar place only to realize later that we have no recollection or ability to get to that place again without the aid of a GPS. Not only is our directional instinct diminished because of lack of use, but so is our own memories. We’ve all experienced losing our ability to recall due to our over use of Google. We now recall more as to how we can search for something rather than the details of that something.
The framework that I often use to explore intuition is the Cognitive Bias Codex found at Wikipedia. It’s a massive list of biases, however to get an overview of it, there are four high level categories that are the the drivers of theses biases. These are “Too Much Information”, “Not Enough Meaning”, “Need to Act Fast” and “What Should we Remember?”.
Our world requires more automation to run efficiently and sustainably. The products and services that will be in demand are the products that compensate for our inadequacies. The clear downside of this is that with every assist, the less we exercise our already weak facilities.
The only people maintaining their smarts are the few people willing to constantly exercise their smarts. Meanwhile, we have a population that is becoming more out of shape and lazy with their own mental faculties. We imagine ourselves to being smarter because we can multi-task more. Yet, our brains have not evolved to do multi-tasking well. In fact, recent research have shown that pigeons have greater multi-tasking capabilities than humans. It is just ironic that we’ve taken pride in our new found multi-tasking skills only to discover that we are dumber at it than pigeons!
However, there is a far worse problem than automation making us dumber. The bigger problem is that other humans are aware that it can make us dumber and they are opportunistically exploiting our natural stupidity to influence our behavior. Over the decades, the industry of advertising has spend trillions of dollars inventing new ways to “motivate” us to do new things without us being aware of its influence. The techniques to do this neatly falls under the exploitation of our cognitive biases. After all, if we were indeed all perfectly logical, then we’ll likely spending our money in the most efficient way possible and very few companies will like us to do that. If we reduce our spending, our economies would stall and there would be an economic depression! (BTW, something is really wrong when we must accelerate our consumption so as to avoid economic stagnation)
So, “Natural Stupidity” is basically our lack of meaning, lack of memory, inability to think fast and inability to process too much information. The current systems that we have in place provide products and services to substitute these inabilities. It is the natural tendency to seek out the method of least action. That is, the method that requires lest effort or the laziest thing that we can do. Let’s explore each of the four in greater detail.
Humans from the beginning of the their life are driven to seek meaning. The simplest explanations to this are going to be the most natural appealing ones. Civilization will naturally create religion to not only create a necessary shared understanding of acceptable behavior but one that is driven by our need for meaning.
The written word (i.e. books) and its more advanced form, the world wide web are devices that address our limited memories. Memories require not only storage but also the capability of recall. Throughout history, religion and law has been transcribed in scrolls, books and now in automation (see: blockchain). Money is a form of memory, that is, once possession of it is a measure of one’s ability to acquire goods and services.
Mankind created computers to automate the math that we invented. Computers not only store memories but are able to perform laborious and error-free computations. We find it an inconvenience to use cash in that we have to calculate in our minds the amount of change so as to guard against error or outright fraud. We have time keeping devices so that we don’t need to look out into the heavens to determine the time of day. We have GPS devices to help us avoid reading a map and calculating a path to our destination.
Finally, we have the problem of information overload. Our knowledge driven economies have accelerated our consumption of information. However, our brains have not magically evolved to process this fire-hose of information. The device that we use to process more information are services that curate information and exhaust it out in more easily digestible forms. Today, social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have become our primary tools for curating and receiving new information about the world. It is dumfounding that the leaders of these two companies believe it is not in their charter to ‘police’ the contents that they help propagate. With great power comes great responsibility, unless it I guess if it affects the bottom line!
We collectively become dumber when we relinquish responsibility and accountability to the automation (or A.I.) that furnishes us with cognitive assistance.
When we avoid questioning the positions of our religious leaders and ignore obviously repugnant behavior in defense of our own beliefs.
We avoid verifying our history and cling to untrue historical information to justify our beliefs. This is the case for Neo-Nazis and Confederates who would like to imagine a more benevolent and just past.
We ignore common sense by following algorithms in enforcement of procedures. Like the United Airlines where a 70 year old doctor was assaulted and removed from an airline just because the crew blindly followed protocol instead of their own common sense.
Finally, we don’t hold accountable organizations that employ information overload in the form of massive disinformation to mold public opinion.
We shouldn’t be worried about Artificial Intelligence taking over the world. The more immediate, clear and present danger is that Natural Stupidity has taken over this world and we are seeing daily occurrences of this in our public discourse.
More on how intuition, human behavior and artificial intelligence are tightly related: