Today, we don’t have to remember anything!
Miraculous storage devices provide constant reference and retrieval.
Today we don’t have to depend on anyone for answers.
The world of search engines helps us traverse across information boundaries and beyond.
Today, we don’t have to meet people to have fun.
The world of social media sites provide the awesome delight of knowing one another better and even getting to know those (ahem) strangers.
Today we don’t go out to greet the sun in the morning.
Insta-picture options project its ethereal radiance right into our rooms through numerous screen captures.
Digital avatars enliven our world today. From fancy bots to cryptic dots, the tech world gives us more than the due share of wow moments.
The learning experience today is indeed uber-cool.
Lives have become simpler and smarter and splendid!!!
Or have they?
A world of curiosity
The labyrinth of information and everything new that permeates today’s digitalized world reminds one of the classic metacognitive adventure, ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician, under the pen name Lewis Carroll. Published by Macmillan 150 years ago in the first week of July 1865 and beautifully illustrated by Sir John Tenniel, the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland sold 160,000 copies, and it is rumored that the sale provided Dodgson (Carroll) with a comfortable living that he asked his college to reduce his salary. The debate is still on-going whether this tale that took a young girl to destinations hitherto unexplored is just an imaginative children’s storybook or a philosophical treatise on logic. However, that magic spell of the wondrous journey of Alice into a new world was actually the unraveling of many learning experiences. It was the demonstration of an inexplicable, young curious mind that ignites the search for a mysterious alternate existence and leads to adventures of fantastical precedence. Alice’s fall into the rabbit hole was the response of a young, impressionable brain to the fascinating stimuli of the external environment; the rise of the higher order functions of the brain that led to the enquiry, exploration and discovery of the inexplicable.
What happened in 1865 as exemplified by Carol’s stupendous articulation is indeed a living reality today. The adventures of the era we thrive in are an illustration of ‘the rabbit hole’ times; where we are completely disheveled by the swarm of information surrounding us, absolutely engaged with the stuff of things on the internet, and totally enamored with technology intrusions. Interesting to further read in this regard, is the explanation of ‘Online Rabbit Holes’ by Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker, where she beautifully explains its variable forms.
The human brain and the learning quest
‘The Secret of Millions of Minds that Stay Forever Young’ by Dragos Bratasanu, published in The Huffington Post, brings out the important element of ‘learning’ as the ‘one’ quality that gives a distinctive edge to human beings. As Dragos points out, ‘The greatest minds in human history understood the importance of learning to accelerate creativity, self-expansion and personal growth.’ It is the learning quest of the brain, its desire to explore the unknown and satiate one’s pursuit that makes human existence so unique. It is this urge for discovery that has led to voyages into ethereal spaces and inventions of unimaginable stature.
It is this ‘love for finding out’ that gives human beings a unique character making Homo sapiens, the most evolved living species. This distinction of superiority is majorly because of the human brain which is an intriguing marvel of 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. It is difficult to fathom the tremendous communication potential and neuroplasticity of the brain that makes it adapt to new situations. But it is interesting to explore how the brain deals with ‘curiosity’.
In The Washington Post, Emma Saville points out three critical research findings on the response of the brain to curiosity. ‘First, when people are curious to learn the answer to a question they are better at learning that information – not only in the very short term but also after a 24-hour delay. There is also a greater recall of completely unrelated information made known at the same time. Secondly, when curiosity is stimulated, the research found that there is increased activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory. And lastly, there is increased activity in the regions of the brain associated with reward when curiosity is stimulated.’ These findings illustrate the indisputable connection of curiosity in stimulating the human brain and in making it more refined in its functions.
So with this all fascinating input, it becomes interesting to explore this further to understand the brain’s function with respect to its malleability in adopting newer technologies in today’s techno-cognitive era.
Changing times and changing identity: Will it affect our curiosity?
Curiosity is the human species’ greatest differentiator on this planet; a hallmark of the human mind. What happens when young, curious human minds get answers to their quest and search instantaneously, in no time at all? What happens to their abilities to question, to explore and enjoy the process of satiating their curiosity? What happens to the synaptic connections of the brain when everything is so easily, readily and immediately given? More importantly what will happen to this inimitable function of the brain in the long run?
Susan Greenfield explains the threat of changing times to the brain in her article, ‘Modern technology is changing the way our brains work’ adapted from her book ‘The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century by Susan Greenfield’. The revelation startles as we are made to realize that, ‘…we could be sleepwalking towards a future in which neuro-chip technology blurs the line between living and non-living machines, and between our bodies and the outside world.’ Ms. Greenfield highlights the underlying impact on the brain because of the pace of dramatic change, continuous exposure to gizmos and gadgets, pressures of confused social influences and addictive pleasures, all resulting in the loss of individual identity. She shares, ‘We could be raising a hedonistic generation who live only in the thrill of the computer-generated moment, and are in distinct danger of detaching themselves from what the rest of us would consider the real world.’
Technology and the ‘world of work’
The human mind has always been harvested in the sector of work – leading to great innovations that have enabled humans to add value to processes and products to make human lives better. However, along with the impact of this exponential change on the human faculties, especially the human brain, which might soon become subservient to technology; the ramification of this edgier reality is manifesting new challenges in the ‘world of work’. Exceptionally discerning is the mindboggling singularity of robotic control and domination over human decision-making, illustrated in extinction of various work operations. Based on a research study, Alan Tovey writes about such technology tribulations when he shares the wiping out of millions of jobs by the invasion of robots and computers. ‘The research predicts that as much as 35pc of jobs across the country will be made redundant by technical advances over the next 10 to 20 years – some 10.8m positions.’
A 2013 report by The Associated Press further illustrates how technology is irrepressibly impacting the workforce affecting a quiet annihilation, ‘millions of workers are caught in a competition they can’t win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use’. This automated gizmo world is taking a toll on the workforce, resulting in a situation that might slowly get out of the purview of humans. ‘Two-thirds of the 7.6 million middle-class jobs that vanished in Europe were the victims of technology, estimates economist Maarten Goos at Belgium’s University of Leuven.’ In these times of predicament, Ravi Venkatesan, past chairman of Microsoft India, highlights the dilemma of ‘creative destruction’ by announcing the end of the once ‘insatiable demand of India’s IT factories’ while also sharing the admittance of leading business heads, ‘that automation can displace a third of all jobs within three years.’ He elucidates, ‘This party is coming to an end. A combination of slowing demand, rising competition and technological change means that companies will hire far fewer people. And this is not a temporary blip -this is the new normal.’ The agonizing influence of this tech-driven world reveals its indelible imprint in today’s organizations. Unimaginable changes, at an even more inconceivable pace are creating havoc in the work ecosystem suggesting the need to restructure our vision for the future. Bill Gates highlights this agonizing quandary through, ‘software substitution’ and emphasizes how, ‘Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. … 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower.’
It is important to become cognizant of this overwhelming reality before it becomes unassailable. We might not be prescient with respect to the future, but we do have enough signs that suggest the need of an earnest preparedness for this transmutation. And therefore it is even more important for the ‘world of learning’ and the ‘world of work’ to coalesce. Learning experiences today are mostly ephemeral and superficial, a contradiction to the etymological meaning of curiosity that highlights, ‘careful attention to details’ as its essence. This needs to change.
In order to prevail, the human species shall have to devise new reasons to learn continuously and discover infinitely, sparked by the explorations of its curious brain. Intelligent technology environments need super intelligent human beings and therefore today the sprint for ‘Survival of the Smartest’ should be steered by salvaging curiosity.
Harold Jarche enunciates the shift in the expectations of the future world of work in, ‘Preparing for 2020’. He emphasizes the importance of tacit knowledge and the higher use of human faculties in becoming more evolved as creative, empathetic, connected beings. He articulates, ‘Any work that is routine will be automated. Jobs that only do routine work will disappear.’ Technology therefore has to be made use of for doing these routine tasks, so that the human brain becomes available to perform high order tasks and be future-ready. Harold Jarche adds, ‘Valued work, enhanced by our increased connectivity, will be based more on creativity than intelligence. The future of human work will require tacit knowledge and informal learning, and will create intangible value that cannot easily be turned into commodities.’ The excitement of the world of future has to be preempted and the world of learning has to prepare itself for it. As Harold Jarche points out, ‘the future of work will be complex and this will be even more obvious in the next five years, as robots and software keep doing more complicated work. Just as people had to become literate to work in the 20th century workplace, now they will have to be creative, empathetic, and human: doing what machines cannot do.’
DAY AFTER TOMORROW
What came first -the chicken or the egg?
This question has long mystified mankind and resulted in no definite answer. But the question with all its validity is an inquiry into evolution that we humans have been pondering upon since we developed the faculties to think.
Astounding technological advancements are a vindication of the human spirit and exaltation of the scientific temper that made curious minds think and discover. The social milieu around any path breaking event in history has been amiable to the origination of novel opportunities. Since time immemorial humans have spiritedly adapted themselves to the changing times. Whereas today’s times are most conducive to inventiveness, the irreverent skepticism around too much dependency on technology is also not hyperbolic. This is primarily because this dependency is resulting in the abatement of the same spirit and temper that created renaissance moments in the past, possibly making human brains defunct and human beings deficient. The characteristic DNA of Homo sapiens with the curiosity to learn and the joy to discover should be reinforced by re-igniting the brain. Humans do not have a choice but to start thinking into the future. There is no denying the discerning control that technology has started establishing over the human mind and if don’t prepare ourselves for the new rising, the benedictions of technology might prove to be myopic.
What came first -the chicken or the egg? This question that perplexed our ancestors shall soon be revised. A few years from now- another question might baffle our progeny. What came first the human or the robot?- this unless we start preparing for the day after tomorrow.
© Shradha Kanwar, 2015
Images Reference and Courtesy
Curious Cat image courtesy – D E Clark, 2015
Alice in Wonderland 1898 cover: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alicesadventuresinwonderland1898.jpg
Alice in Wonderland adventure images: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150702-alice-in-wonderland-lewis-carroll-books/
Harold Jarche Image: http://stoweboyd.com/post/66386153673/socialogy-interview-with-harold-jarche
Susan Greenfield Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Greenfield,_Baroness_Greenfield
World’s first robot-staffed hotel to open in Japan: http://indianexpress.com/article/world/asia/worlds-first-robot-staffed-hotel-to-open-in-japan/