Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The psychology (and politics) behind our dependence on machines in much of our lives

On BBC news, Professor Stephen Hawking warned that AI (artificial intelligence) could, if it advanced far enough, ultimately spell the end of the human race.

I believe Professor Hawking has an important point-we are already seeing the potential dangers of AI in unmanned drone warfare as well as science fiction. And although Channel Four's new comedy, 'Bad Robots' (where automated machines are used to prank members of the public in various ways in the same way Fonejacker and Facejacker once did), is supposed to just frustrate its victims (and amuse its audience), it could be potentially a warning of what will come next in terms of AI-human interaction.

And machines and robots have already deprived so many people of their jobs, especially over the last three decades of neoliberal capitalism, even if there need to be humans around to maintain the machines.

How did we become so attached to machines, even though we are often as frustrated by them as we are pleased by them?

1. Ease of stress. Work, especially onerous and repetitive work, is by its nature stressful and does not stimulate the brain's pleasure or cognitive centres-and can actually hinder stimulation in some cases. Machines cannot suffer mental stress as they lack the ability to feel emotions-ironically, however, we are sometimes stressed by machines' inability to interpret some requests properly due to their lack of independent thought.

2. Cognitive perception of progress. Humans are generally naturally inclined to be at least somewhat progressive (even if their cultural influence normally influences them to be more conservative than usual) and machines, because of their lower error rates, comparative smoothness, and quicker rate of task completion. This is all advantageous to the capitalist elite, who of course care much more about short-term profits than they ever did about ethics or compassion towards fellow human beings.

3. Machines cannot deliberately ignore or disobey instructions. Not yet, at least. However, we generally consider this trait useful when we want a particular and simple task (that current machines are able to be programmed to carry out) done with a minimum of hassle and consequent stress.

However, at the same time, our attachment to technology, especially in wealthier nations, has created some wide-ranging psychological problems. First of all, over-use of social media, and over-reliance on machines for certain tasks, has within everyday society affected our ability to emotionally connect with and empathise with other human beings, which is essential for us and our continuance. Secondly, on the whole we are less thoughtful about using backup solutions should the complex technology we use fail-and the greater the complexity and capacity of a technological device, the greater potential for error there is. This is particularly notable in voice-activated devices, for instance. Thirdly, our physical and mental health has been affected by the use of too much labour-saving technology.

I believe by gaining further evidence into how machines and advanced technology can affect us, we can counter the mechanisation of ourselves, try and reconnect with each other as I have said before on my blog, and above all, we should avoid at all costs creating machines and artificial intelligence capable of independent thought. If you are wondering how this relates to politics as well as psychology, it is because it is free-market capitalism and its greed that takes major responsibility for the rapid pace in technological advancement-whilst that is sometimes useful, it should only go so far.

Alan.

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