Outsourcing Intelligence

Are we becoming dumber as our systems become smarter?

I’m noodling around with the hypothesis —  but it seems that a confluence of factors are making us dumber.

1. We don’t need to think – everything else does so for us. You don’t need to know much of anything — thermostats, microprocessors, you name it, all have feedback and optimization built in. We just have to “set it and forget it.”

2. We don’t have the time – there are too many alternatives competing for our attention. Distractions are increasing exponentially while time is staying constrained. Don’t let #1 above fool you into thinking you have more time. You don’t. You just stop thinking about things you used to.

3. We are entitled – for much of the democratic world our unfilled needs are definitely near the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy. And in fact, as I review the hierarchy, I wonder if the factors here inhibit us from ever reaching self actualization. You get smarter when you feel there is a gap between the present and the future. I think we’re stuck in the vicious loop of seeking belonging and esteem…

This is just a start of a line of thought. It leads me to Schumpeter’s thinking of capitalism eating itself. I wonder if our “progress” make us more selfish, more entitled, and we end up outsourcing real purpose and meaning so we’re not bothered.

The original germ of this reasoning started when I was thinking about what I wanted to ask Arianna Huffington when she visited my office. I was thinking about the information we expose ourselves to — that “news” isn’t about what is fit to print — it’s more about what we want to hear (whether it is interesting, shocking, etc). And if you follow that reasoning to the limit, I fear that rather than having a broader world view we have a more narrow one. Rather than being more understanding, empathetic, and compassionate towards others, we instead seek out our cohorts or tribes and engage in a vicious echo chamber of thought.

There is a counterweight to all this — the transparency and connectivity that comes with the enabling technology. Twitter in the Middle East, Wikileaks and closed government, etc. But are those enough? If American politics are the bellwether we’re doomed.

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