Is AI lowering your IQ? Part I

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

This is the first in a two-part article on artificial intelligence (AI) and IQ. In the first part, we will discuss the use of AI and machine learning, and how companies are slowly ‘technumbing’ our brains. The second part will look at how our reliance on technology gives us blind faith in how companies use our data, and what we can do to live intelligently in a technology-driven world.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is everywhere. It’s infiltrating all aspects of our lives from our phones, online purchases, cars, banking, healthcare, and logistics. We may find AI exciting now given that it is only in its infancy. But can we anticipate what effects AI will have on our society and on individuals in the coming years, decades, even centuries? We as human beings may think we are so smart in developing artificial intelligence, but will our own cleverness ultimately lead to our stupidity?

There’s a time and a place for AI

AI can be beneficial when it is used to improve people’s everyday lives. Sectors such as education and healthcare use AI to undertake tasks that are not humanly possible. Assistant Professor Colin Walsh and his team at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center have created machine-learning algorithms that predict the likelihood that a patient will attempt suicide. In a study of 5,167 adult patients with a claim code of self-injury, results were 86% accurate when predicting whether someone will attempt suicide within the next 720 days (almost two years), and 92% accurate in predicting whether someone will attempt suicide within the next seven days.

The benefits of machine learning in this case are evident. When AI is used to perform ordinary tasks that the human brain can easily do, however, we overly rely on technology out of laziness or convenience. To what extent, is this reliance lowering our IQ rather than boosting it? What impact is it having on children’s education and also on social connectivity?

Technology is “dumbing” us down

I heard a story the other day about a young university student who lost her phone and was unable to walk the one mile walk to her university – a walk she had been doing for the last year. She relied so heavily on her navigation app that she couldn’t remember how to get to university without it. I doubt this student is alone. Navigation tools have become so pervasive in our lives, and I can safely guess that most people would be lost without them.

In recent years, some of the main implementations of AI have been developed in the areas of decision making, analysis, and problem-solving. Yet, these are tasks that the human brain is brilliant at performing. If we start to rely more heavily on machines to perform these tasks for us, what will be the consequences? As the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The less we engage in decision making, analysis, and problem-solving, the more likely it is that our brains will lose their brilliant ability to perform these more evolved functions.

How AI infiltrates our lives

Let’s take a brief look at three examples where technology has already reduced our ability to think for ourselves. The first example is related to simple mathematical equations. Since the introduction of the old fashioned calculator and then the computer, many people can no longer perform basic math without using a device. The second example is the spell and grammar checker in our word processing applications. As a result of this ‘handy’ functionality, fewer people know simple grammar and spelling (let’s not even mention the consequences of abbreviated words in text messages and online chat rooms).

In addition to education, AI has also begun to infiltrate workplaces. The third example is based on a study completed by the University at Albany. In this study, 78 primary care physicians showed that software reduced the ability of doctors to make informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment. This doesn’t make you feel overly confident if there are network issues while you’re in surgery.

Sure, if we don’t have a calculator and make a mistake in our personal budget then it’s not really a big deal. But if we begin to rely too heavily on AI technology to solve our problems in areas that affect safety and human lives, it may come at a great cost.

You may be thinking, “But I feel smarter now than ever before due to using a smartphone, iPad, or the Internet because I have easy access to any information I want at any time.” At some level perhaps this is true, but is this ease of accessibility merely cluttering our minds full of excessive information and bringing greater restlessness into our daily lives?

Technology will continue to make us use our brains less, especially with more AI, if we allow it. The smarter our computers or mobile phones become and the more they do for us, the less we will think for ourselves. Will we reach a point when our brains have become so underused that we can no longer make our own decisions or solve problems without a machine’s guidance?

If we do reach this point, humanity could be in grave danger, especially if AI technologies are used in the wrong hands for the wrong means.

How corporations are slowly “technumbing” our brains

Technology surrounds us in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our shopping centres. Some people even can’t use the bathroom without taking their device with them, or they sleep with their smartphone. From the minute a new baby is born into this modern world until the moment we exit this world, we are plugged in.

We have accepted this lifestyle, and many of us encourage or embrace this new era of technumbing in which we are disconnected enough to believe that we need technology and its intuitive features to perform our daily activities. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are working behind the scenes in every part of our lives. Google’s smart compose feature in Gmail, as well as predictive texting on our smartphones, offer suggested words and phrases to add to an email or SMS that we are typing. We blindly select someone else’s words to use to communicate with others. You can choose to turn off these features, but many of us don’t because we find it convenient.

Social media companies use big data and AI to ‘enhance’ user experience by deleting inappropriate content but also targeting advertising specifically based on our likes, preferences, comments, and choices. We also experience constant targeted advertising when you browse the Internet or buy books, music, and other products online. As mentioned earlier, we use AI to show us directions and calculate travel distances. The automation of airlines, powered by AI, enables human pilots to oversee the flight and take control if something unexpected happens. We even have smart homes that turn lights and TVs on and off when we enter or leave rooms, robots that vacuum floors, and self-regulating air conditioning and heating.    

It’s so easy for us to be blasé about this technumbing now because everything seems so innocent. But we stand on the precipice of a 1984-ish situation that is difficult to perceive when it’s occurring day by day. Because it’s happening slowly, we become accustomed to it more easily. By the time AI really starts to affect our lives for the worse, we will be so used to it that we won’t even question it. The AI world will be just normal life. Artificial intelligence may become simply ‘intelligence’ – it will be the only kind.

Continue reading: Is AI lowering your IQ? Part II

Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020

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