Childhood with Google: Reading like a Robot

Erik's picture


There are scenarios, utopian or macabre, where one day people will merge with machines. Organ implants and robotic limbs are considered to be the intermediate step, together with technology and digitalization. Clicks have already replaced basic movements, such as walking to a shop. But after reading an article by Nicolas Carr - Is Google Making Us Stupid? - I realized that most of us already are robots, at least when we read.

We are how we read not what we read. Nicolas Carr‘s article nicely outlines how modern media makes us less creative and contemplative. He compares the internet to "zipping along the surface on a Jet Ski" instead of discovering the depths by scuba diving. The article includes similar experiences and observations from several bloggers about Googleization - the process of getting involved with the many different Google services.

Carr recognizes that thanks to Google, research that would otherwise take a few days can be done in a few minutes, and a hyperlink takes you directly to the source. It works in environments where time is money, but profit aside, how much more useful information and connections could be discovered when browsing through a pile of books in the library? The books themselves are evidence that carefully laid down thoughts will serve for future generations. But an online article written in order to attract instant attention can last for just as long, or, it can fall into oblivion due to the low support of its host.

Reading is not as inbred as speech, and our brain easily adapts to the stimuli. Carr explains that "My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That's rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages". Due to information overload, we are losing the ability to concentrate on deep reading; Carr argues that most people can no longer concentrate for more than 4 paragraphs.

Thanks to technology, today's younger generation have a much wider knowledge than many adults. But they have problems with deeper thinking, which, as a teacher, I discovered during examinations. Sometimes my students would learn passages from books by heart and then simply repeat them like programmed machines.

In 1936, mathematician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer can be programmed to perform the function of any other device. Now Carr writes that we have started to think like the devices. A kid at school once pointed out that being a robot is not about the cables and metal body parts, but instead it is the way the ‘device' processes information. We agreed that, most probably, many people today wouldn't pass the Turing test - a machine's ability to exhibit behaviour equivalent to human.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence. Now the monster has started to cannibalize on the malleability of the kind of its creators. Luckily, intelligence is not the final step of a mechanical process and there is still a small hope that some people will stay human.

Erik Redli is a university graduate from Slovakia who lived in London for much of his graduate life. Follow him on Twitter @erikredli and read more of his posts here.

Share with friends