Sidereus Foundation Blog

Computer Technology vs. Human Cognition

It’s difficult to determine what directions will be taken over the course of the future. However, computer technology has already been integrated into virtually every sector of human civilization. The convenient act of flipping open a cell phone or sliding a finger across a touch screen device are ways in which we now acquire information, listen to music, communicate with others and even read books.

Perhaps the issue doesn’t stir up as much controversy as abortion, euthanasia or the legalization of marijuana. Nevertheless, apathy and obliviousness might inadvertently help manifest a world deprived of human cognition; a world where computer software could potentially think for us on a subjective level; a world devoid of naturally cognized creativity and originality.

Growing reliance on computer technology could eventually inhibit our ability to think independently and, without the crucial exertion of human choice, could gradually become a replacement for our innate mechanism that acquires knowledge and expresses original thoughts. As we enter a post-industrial society, we must be cognizant of where human thought ends and computer technology begins.

A Popular Theme in Entertainment

Film and literature have each introduced futuristic societies in which human exertion is either replaced or reduced considerably.

Surrogates (2009) is a film that depicts a world in which people live vicariously through ideal versions of themselves in the form of robotic beings from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

A novel, also released in 2009, entitled His Robot Girlfriend is about a despondent man who decides to purchase a robotic female, the Daffodil, that is not only anatomically correct, but cooks, cleans and performs other domestic duties.

Although obviously fictional, these portrayals are an example of the pinnacles that could be reached in the distant future through the advancement of computer technology.

 

A Professor’s View on the Topic

Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at MIT, shares her knowledge and experience with the world in an essay entitled “How Computers Change the Way We Think.” The subject matter found in this essay relates to virtually every demographic as it pertains to each technological aspect of everyday life. Her essay examines the “social, moral, and political” effects that evolving computer technology has on humanity.

As computer reliance evolves from practical application to cyber companion, “the nation’s cyber shrink” explores what she considers to be “one of the next decade’s greatest challenges,” which is the inevitable growth of technologically altered thought. She examines the positive and negative characteristics of the increasingly cognitive role that technology plays in society.

A synopsis of each key influence technology has on society is listed to support Turkle’s principal thesis, which states, “At every step we have to ask, as educators and citizens, whether current technology is leading us in directions that serve our human purposes.”

Her incisive observations as a professor and psychologist have led her to a revelation, which is abstractly expressed in this statement, “…I began to study not only what the computer was doing for us, but what it was doing to us, including how it was changing the way we see ourselves, our sense of human identity.”

Although websites like MySpace and Facebook offer a “moratorium” devoid of “crime, terrorism, drugs, and AIDS,” Turkle insists that they also instill a sense of ambivalence, which makes it difficult for us to distinguish our real personalities from the ones created on these websites.

In addition to an irresolute sense of identity, information technology has also contributed to the apathetic outlook that college students, in particular, share towards compromised privacy; a liberty held sacred by “past generations of Americans.” Turkle emphasizes that “Professors find that students do not understand that in a democracy, privacy is a right, not merely a privilege.”

Turkle recognizes “one of the more significant challenges for the next decade” and subsequently catalogs key characteristics of it in an attempt to preclude advancements in computer technology from adversely influencing human thought.

Final Thought

There are several advantages to living in an era where technology replaces human effort. However, it’s imperative that we preserve the vitality of our innate cognitive abilities by not solely relying on technology, so that human thought isn’t also potentially replaced.

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