Like many of us, you too have probably read the horror stories about AI-based automation leaving less room for human thinking. Instead, try to imagine a world where automation releases you to think deeper and better than ever. How does that world look? Find out below.
How come people don’t demonstrate against escalators and elevators?
How come trains and busses aren’t forbidden? I mean, after all, they make us fat.
The World Health Organization is talking about a global obesity epidemic, they even made up a wonky word for it, globesity. They point out that globesity has nearly tripled since 1975 and estimate that 1.9 billion adults are currently overweight. Add to that another 340 million children.
Still, we don’t seem to mind. Mechanical automation reduces our need to move and that speaks to our appetite for convenience. If you think about it, that job of yours – the one which you travel to every day – it isn’t really work in the traditional sense. After all, if your job is work, then why do you work-out afterwards?
Mechanical automation has slowly increased ever since the dawn of industrialization; hence we have gotten so used to the gradual change that we don’t really seem to care. Digital automation, on the other hand, is coming much quicker. That makes people much more worried.
If you google “reliance on computers” you will get a lot of hits about all the dangers and effects of overdependence on technology and basically nothing about the benefits of relying on them. So, for example, you read about the chaos created when IT systems at airports collapse or any number of essays and posts on the theme of “Are we too dependent on computers?” That is not at all the kind of response you get if you instead google for “dependence on elevators,” trust me.
With digital automation, becoming intellectually stumped is indeed a real worry among people. For this reason, we chose to highlight mental obesity in our 2019 consumer trends report. As part of this, we found that 34 percent of respondents already believe critical thinking will disappear due to the overuse of virtual assistants. That is rather astounding! In my imagination, I see a world pulled straight out of the TV show Little Britain where you are about to do something but then all of a sudden someone tells you that “the computer says no” and you can’t. Except there is no comedy to it, as in the mentally obese world, everyone accepts what the computer says without question.
But given that we are more aware of the risks with digital automation than we were during mechanical automation, I would argue that we are instead in a better position to do it right this time. That is, without causing obesity of either kind.
Already now, digital automation in the form of wearables is being used to combat physical obesity and, as shown in our eco-me trend, consumers also would like to use smartwatches to reduce CO2 emissions related to physical automation such as transport.
But why stop there? There is a lot of gloom and doom around, but from my perspective much seems related to mechanical automation for the sake of convenience – and all the burning of oil and gas related to that. The Exponential Roadmap report identifies 36 solutions which, if accelerated, could slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Importantly, they call digital technology a “wild card.” That means, we can either use it to rapidly transform our economic systems or to drive emissions even higher. It is up to us, right here and right now.
Shouldn’t our aim be to turn digital automation into an era of mental prosperity and agility rather than one of mental poverty and obesity? In doing so, we can instead focus on the important decisions we need to make.
Without digital automation, I find it difficult to get the mental breathing space to even think about those decisions. I don’t know about you but I am too bogged-down with routine decisions to even find breathing space for bigger thoughts. Imagine to not have to bother your brain with all that – everything from choosing which color soap to buy, to many boring but unavoidable work-related details – and instead being able to do a proper think-out every day rather than just that work-out you might be doing tonight.
In fact, 31 percent of respondents in our survey expect that we will have to go to "mind gyms" to practice thinking – but, hey, maybe that is a good thing! Just like going to the gym has been trendy for decades and having a personal trainer has become even trendier of late, going to a mind gym could be the next cool thing. In fact, mental coaches are already becoming quite important in professional sports, so there is no reason to believe brain training would have no impact on other people.
Would you, for example, be interested in having your personal guru? I would love that!
So, if we play this right, we could be entering a golden age, where philosophy comes back in fashion and digital automation liberates us from the daily decision-making rat race to the point where we are mentally energized to really reflect on what it means to be humans – and what we need to remain being that.
If that is a possible future, then I am all for the next wave of automation. Digitalization, bring it on!
Originally published on Ericsson Blog.
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