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Our extended mind, courtesy of Google – Noteworthy

Alexandra MacDiarmid

Do you substitute your brain for your phone?

Sometimes I find myself reading something informative and zoning out. I admit that, after getting to a certain point in the text, I hesitate, skim through the rest and assuredly remind myself that, should I ever need this information again, it will forever be available to me on the Interweb. For a somewhat recent invention, people have become irrevocably dependent on holding the answers to potentially any question in the palm of their hands in the shape of an iPhone. With literally everything readily available at the touch of a button, technology is marketed as a way of making your life easier. So is this making us lazier or smarter?

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Attention spans

This accustomisation to instantaneous data could suggest a detrimental effect on the average attention span. A technologically dependent society conjures up images of people glued to their phones performing continuous, fast-paced decisions on what to like or what to watch. For example, popular apps such as TikTok only allow for fifteen second videos so as not to lose the viewer’s interest. It makes sense that this would shrink our abilities of concentration, but as of yet there have been no veritable findings from scientific research to support this.

In fact, psychologists argue the contrary. The enormous bulk of knowledge we are exposed to has made us even more selective about what we choose to focus on. This means that now more than ever, it is vital for online marketing to have eye-catching content rich in storytelling and bold visuals. It has also resulted in multitasking being a sought-after quality for job candidates.

Extended mind thesis

Google’s arrival in 1998 incidentally brought forth the extended mind thesis. This theory, by Julian Kiverstein, Mirko Farina and Andy Clark, rallies for the expansion of cognitive science into our environment; surpassing the mind and including what is physically around us, our culture, our social interactions etc. This transcendence from the boundaries of our physical minds is supported by our incessant need for external resources. The thesis uses the example of being reliant on a pen and paper for memory retention, elucidating that components such as these to be so integrated in the thought process that they are part of it themselves. Directions, banking, communicating with friends…we keep everything handy on the software of our mobiles. Technology is not something our brain learns anymore, but part of the thinking itself; think about your phone suggesting where to go, who to see and things you would like to buy.

What’s next

Someone who doesn’t shy away from the possible implications of the unification between the human brain and computing systems is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. His newest brainchild, Neuralink, makes the projections of the extended mind theory an impending reality.

The Neuralink brain chip intends to interface with the human brain, by removing a small chunk of skull and inserting the chip with its attached electrodes. The first objective is to use the implant to treat brain injuries and illness. Ultimately, the company is aiming to facilitate symbiosis between the brain and artificial intelligence.

This impressive, sci-fi-esque advancement in neurotechnology is an attempt to harness the powers of AI. Musk believes that singularity, the surpassing of human intelligence by AI, is the biggest threat to humanity.

Perhaps using Google as extra storage space for our minds is helping us all to better understand one another and retain more knowledge about the world around us. Or maybe this extension of our mind is the penultimate stage of a takeover of the world orchestrated by AI.

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