Nicholas Carr on the automated future

“Industrialization didn’t turn us into machines, and automation isn’t going to turn us into automatons. We’re not that simple. But automation’s spread is making our lives more programmatic.”

When we outsource our chance to think, we lose out on the chance to build brain cells critical for generating new ideas. We also become less creative and more straightforward and predictable, like Google maps:

“Google filters out serendipity in favor of insularity. It douses the infectious messiness of a city with an algorithmic antiseptic.”

Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

Beware the Bots

Our worst fear is being replaced by a bunch of machines. But I’m afraid that day is already here. Desultory nods and copy-pasted emails are just the start.

People think there’s a template to life that requires both obedience and automation. Life’s not that easy, unless you want it to be.

There are cogs and then there are people with curiosity and courage that want to make shit happen. These people don’t need to necessarily change the world but they want to be in it. They want to be present and awake so they can see through society’s smoke and mirrors.

Machines don’t know who they are but people should.

The Robots Are Here

The rise of intelligent machines will spawn new ideologies along with the new economy it is creating. Think of it as a kind of digital social Darwinism, with clear winners and losers: Those with the talent and skills to work seamlessly with technology and compete in the global marketplace are increasingly rewarded, while those whose jobs can just as easily be done by foreigners, robots or a few thousand lines of code suffer accordingly. This split is already evident in the data: The median male salary in the United States was higher in 1969 than it is today. Middle-class manufacturing jobs have been going away due to a mix of automation and trade, and they are not being replaced. The most lucrative college majors are in the technical fields, such as engineering. The winners are doing much better than ever before, but many others are standing still or even seeing wage declines.

Technology, know how to use it or you’ll lose out to it. 

Automation.

Asking for Directions

No one asks for directions anymore, nor do they use an external GPS. They just navigate to their destination using the Google Maps app with GPS pre-installed.

The impact is two-fold:

  1. People don’t need maps, nor do they need to know how to read one. They just listen to the machine and depend on it to tell them where to go.
  2. The locals, even the manager at the gas station, feels a bit lonelier. We used to use them as guideposts, and they used us to gauge interest in their community.

When technology replaces old maps and people we lose the chance to problem solve and interact. We never get a chance to learn from our mistakes or be misled, impeding our brain’s ability to form new connections and strengthen our instincts.

Outsourcing the human mind to machines is supposed to free up time so we can move on to do bigger and more important things. But it’s only making us lazier.

Elon Musk has already started making the the first self-driving car to be available in three years. Once we go on autopilot we risk losing our faculty of mind.