November 13, 2010

Has technology made us weak?

By Alejandro Migoya

Technology makes us stronger as a species, but weaker as individuals.

How will technology affect our evolution? By general consent we know that humans descended from apes. At some point in time we were the same, but then something happened. We started to evolve differently.

A monkey is approximately five times stronger than an average person, which suggests that we once were much stronger than we are today. So, why have we evolved to become physically weaker?

I don’t think it is too hard to figure this out. As our brain evolved, we started building tools, clothes and shelters; eventually the natural selection process stopped favoring the strongest individuals. Thousands of years of this new selection-criterion translated into loss of strength, fur and agility. We simply became physically weaker.

Do we care being weaker now? No, we don’t. We really don´t need to be five times stronger to survive nowadays, just give me a gun and I´ll be stronger than any ape in the world.

It´s that simple; technology made us evolve into weaker beings because we don´t need to be strong any more, we have tools that do that for us.

But, what is happening now?  Our current technology is now doing the same thing to our brains that ancient tools did to our muscles thousands of years ago. When was the last time you did long division without a calculator?

I´m a computer scientist, I'm able to develop complex computer algorithms, but I´m having trouble doing simple math in my head. I have grown as dependant on my calculator as my ancestors were to their rudimentary tools.

Will we be careless enough to allow ourselves to become less intelligent just as we didn´t care to become weaker? Will technology end up destroying human intelligence - the very source of its creation? After all, why would we care if we have "tools" that do that for us, right?. I find this thought very unsettling.

Economy, government, information, knowledge, etc. are must-have assets in our society, but they are becoming less tangible every day. We depend on the current technology-based system, if we are suddenly left without it, we´d be lost. I just hope we never live to see a modern version of the Alexandria Library fire and find ourselves with nothing but slow brains and weak muscles. 

As you reach for your calculator next time you need to do simple arithmetic, keep this in mind: Technology makes us stronger as a species, but weaker as individuals.