[Note: this is a long post]
In the movie, Memento, the hero, Leonard suffers from some form of amnesia that results in an inability to store new memories. Nonetheless, he sets out on a quest to find his wife’s killer, aided by the use of notes, annotated polaroids, and body tattoos. Using these resources he pieces together the puzzle of his wife’s death. In other words, He has outsourced mental functions.
Digital technology enhances memory, for example, via data input/output tools and electronic storage. Digital data-gathering and decision-making tools enhance judgment by allowing us to gather more data than we could on our own, helping us perform more complex analyses than we could unaided, and increasing our power to ask questions and pursue all the implications of that question. Digital cognitive enhancement, provided by laptop computers, web, three-dimensional virtual simulations, online collaboration tools, PDAs, and a range of other, context-specific tools, is a reality in every profession.
If I lose my PC or mobile or disconnected from web, I lose some percentage of my brain, the unenhanced brain is well on its way to becoming insufficient for truly wise decision making.
The human mind need not be in the human head. ‘our’ memories can be externally-located and perhaps even externally-manipulated. What I see is that our memories need not always be in the head, and if they are not in the head then they can be manipulated in a variety of ways. the nature of the external resource (to manipulate external human memories) may be somewhat more dynamic and invested with greater computational potential.
Humans have the ability to store information outside the brain to communicate, remember etc. Humans store/convey information by drawing, talking, writing, recently by digital form. By default, human brain is an imperfect object – the information may lost over time, limitation in remembering things etc. The way brain stores/retrieves information is so complex process. Suppose we are trying to recall someone’s name: We know the person. We know that we know their name. But we just can’t retrieve it. And then it pops up: We have no idea how, or from where. When the name pops up instantly, Do we have any idea how we managed to retrieve the name. Most of us know the multiplication table up to 12x12, Beyond that we have to perform a computation. When we perform the computation externally, with pen and paper, it is evident what computation we are doing, and we can describe that same computation explicitly even when we do it in our heads. But there are computations that are done for us implicitly by our brains, computations that we cannot verbalize, nor are we even aware of their algorithm or its execution.
A person can communicate himself, for example a thought/idea is communicated within one self. It may be within the brain boundary (Ex: a dream or a thought) or may extended to outside the physical body (Writing in diary, personal note etc). Technologies comes into play to solve the brains limitation. There are lots of technologies that we have been using it, recently on “the Web”. I have stored lot of my data in the web, I will be keep on storing it. I guess the percentage of my information stored in web has increased from 0% (first day) to 4%(today), it may increase to 15% – 20% when I die. If a child born around the year 2100 will store lot more information than me. Probably may be more than 50% of the entire life. Hence the human virtual memory volume will be increasing rapidly. Collectively all these virtual memory of humans stored in the web is a virtual “Global brain” (ie: Collective outsourced mental functions/assets). The global brain is very very powerful. But my virtual brain is not always with me, its stored on cloud, its not mobile, my virtual brain is not in my control, for example privacy, data portability etc. the way web stores/retrieves information is so much different than my physical memory, brain stores lot of additional information than web for example: context, environment/surroundings and so on. In a long run, we will be seeing some awesome services/devices which stores/captures context information as well.
When one finds an item by searching google instead of searching one’s brain, google becomes a part of one’s mind. I mean, dynamically our brain is connected to services on the web.
Few ethical questions
Who Am I? where is my Ego? And What will happen for the data I stored in the web after my death? We can ask more such ethical questions. Since we are connected to the web, there is no “I”, there is no “ego”, there is no death.
Lets see how the global brain is growing
The number of people on the web has reached 1.5 billion, There are now 4.6 billion mobile cellular subscribers around the world, among those some 600 million are broadband subscribers. In developing regions of the world, where next billion people are expected to emerge, they bypass the PC-era and use mobile devices. As of 2005, 50% of the people in developed countries were using the web compared to 9% in developing countries and only 1% were from least developed countries. This is called digital divide. Fortunately due to creation xml, web started to speak all languages, this is good.
I look at the web as brains connected, brains connected by technology, we need to enhance/complement brain limitations. Digital technology enhances memory, for example, via data input/output tools and electronic storage. Digital data-gathering and decision-making tools enhance judgment by allowing us to gather more data than we could on our own, helping us perform more complex analyses than we could unaided.
As a human being, we are limited in our perceptions and constrained by the processing power and functioning of the human brain.
- We make decisions based on only a portion of the available data.
- We make assumptions, often inaccurate, about the thoughts or intentions of others.
- We depend on educated guessing and verification to find new answers.
- We are limited in our ability to predict the future and construct what-if scenarios.
- We cannot deal well with complexity beyond a certain point.
- We cannot see, hear, touch, feel, or smell beyond the range of our senses.
- We find it difficult to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.
- We have difficulty separating emotional responses from rational conclusions.
- We forget.
Some of these failures arise because we do not have access to necessary data, while others stem from our inability to conduct complex analyses, derive full understanding from the ever-increasing volumes of data available to us, understand others fully, or access alternative perspectives. All of these factors reduce our capacity to judge situations, evaluate outcomes, and make practical decisions wisely. The human mind cannot remember everything; detailed, voluminous data are quickly lost. In some ways, this is good in that it forces us to be selective, but it also limits our analytical capacity. Web can help by providing databases and algorithms that gather and process vast amounts of data far more efficiently and thoroughly than the human brain can.
As the world becomes more complex, planning and prioritization skills far beyond the capability of the human brain will be required; digital enhancements will be needed to help us to anticipate second and third-order effects to which the unaided mind may be blind.
One of the greatest barriers to human understanding and communication is that we cannot see inside another person's mind. This limitation gives rise to unintended misunderstandings, there are projects underway to read people's thoughts and even have access to direct brain-to-brain communication. While these developments will clearly raise ethical issues and privacy questions that will have to be addressed, there can be little doubt that as people gain access to and learn to take into account others' unspoken motives, thoughts, needs, and judgments in their own thinking, their wisdom will increase. The world is full of things we cannot perceive with our brain, things that are too small, too large, too fast, too abstract, too dangerous, or too far away. Exploring these things through digital enhancements will certainly help expand both our understanding of these things and our knowledge of how they can help or hurt us. It will also expand our ability to assume multiple perspectives—to see things from more than one point of view. None of these tools will replace the human mind; rather, they will enhance it. Digital technology is making us smarter by expanding our collective memory and increasing ability to share information across time and distance. It means time and distance have different meaning in the web.
How one can leverage the web’s potential?
Leaders are digitally wise when they use available techniques to connect with their constituents for polling and to solicit contributions and encourage participation, as Mr.Barack Obama did so well in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalists are digitally wise when they take advantage of participative technologies such as blogs and wikis to enlarge their perspectives and those of their audience. Parents and educators are digitally wise when they recognize this imperative and prepare the children in their care for the future - educators by letting students learn by using new technologies.