Recently I was eating a sandwich in the food court of a shopping center. A homeless man settled near me, squatted down, and started rummaging through his collection of things—assorted rags, plastic bottles, scraps of paper—and a smartphone. Ignoring me, he started tapping its screen. Startled, and intrigued by where his cyber journey might be taking him, I asked, “Who are you contacting?” and he answered, “I use it for everything.” It was his entire life.
Social media apparently is the most popular use of smartphones with Facebook installed in 70% of them. Google and other search engines, the portals to the world’s knowledge, are installed in fewer smartphones—about 58% in early 2015. This ranking may increase now that search engines can be queried by voice. The average user checks their smart phone more than 100 times a day.
The situation gets worse with children and teens. They look first to smartphone sources for advice and guidance, and, if time permits, their parents and teachers. They may be bright, but they are self-absorbed to the exclusion of everything else.
What is going on? Are we falling into an inescapable black hole? This is a key discussion in my new book , The Digital Rabbit Hole.
The problem is not the threat of AI, despite the stellar thinkers who have said so. The problem is we the people who are increasingly leaving our thinking to our social media groups and the Internet.
AI will not consciously take over. People will give in.
See Winter of the Genomes.
Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and other big thinkers have expressed concerns that AI could bring an end to our civilization. I think Pogo said something relevant here: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We could give up to the machines by default. We are so bound to our computers and their access device, the smart phone, that every advance in information technology is geared to reducing our work and lessen our apparent need for thinking. As we carry on our social media chatting, and the more “likes” our declarations produce, the less the apparent need to pursue the truth. The robots don’t weary. They relentlessly press forward.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).