Automation and AI Perform Tasks That Once Required Our Cognitive Skills, But Can and Should We Delegate All of Our "Intelligence" to Them?

Dec 10, 2021
3 min read

From utopian to dystopian, the scenarios of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our societies are varied. Which one will prevail? As stated by the Villani mission, such "are a delicate matter. Our governments and companies' leaders are struggling to define the necessary strategies for these different scenarios. Still, their mission is to combat the negative impact of AI and new technologies on our cognitive capacities.

AI seeks to understand how human cognition gets interpreted by creating cognitive processes that mimic human beings. As a result, it has improved the speed, precision, and efficiency of the way we think and work.

However, its prolonged use also weakens our cognitive abilities over time. Indeed, suppose we automate our cognitive tasks such as problem-solving and decision making. In that case, we reduce our innate or unaided capacity to "translate information into knowledge and knowledge into know-how" (1).

There are growing case studies of the negative impact of AI and new technologies on a range of human cognitive abilities. For example, the constant use of computational systems that analyze and recommend courses of action could reduce the understanding of the competitive situation and the ability of leaders to develop medium and long-term strategies (2).

In terms of spatial conceptualization skills, the constant use of computer-aided design software can reduce architects' sense of scale.

The insidious, short-term decline in our capabilities can have serious, long-term consequences for human health, corporate governance, and city life, to name a few. Therefore, we must fight against the threat of today to protect our life of tomorrow.

We believe in the virtuous circle that can constantly reassess, redefine, and evaluate AI.

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Let's start with reviewing current technologies used by businesses and cities to reassess their impact on cognitive abilities in the short and long term. Then, let's redefine these technologies and their designs so that citizens or workers achieve their efficiency and productivity goals without sacrificing their cognitive abilities. If this is not possible, this redefining phase should make it possible to fluidly alternate from a mode that aims for efficiency to a model that makes it possible to strengthen our cognitive capacities.

Finally, let's use the AI ​​and data analysis applied to these new designs to better assess their effectiveness and, if necessary, initiate a new Reassess / Redefine / Evaluate cycle that allows us to make our lives easier without affecting capacities of our brains.

Protect the cognitive sense

To illustrate such a strategy, the Lew Kwan Yew Center for Innovative Cities in Singapore has developed a new intelligent GPS design. Conventional GPS provides turn-by-turn directions, which the driver can follow almost without thinking. So reassessed, GPS is a cognitive risk factor, as sticking to navigation regularly reduces hippocampal activity with potential long-term risks of Alzheimer's disease. The intelligent GPS could thus allow a driver to receive new information related to visual and spatial cues, for example: "turn right at the red building," or "turn left at the Ferris wheel after the airlift," protecting thus his cognitive and spatial sense of the urban environment. The driver could then have the option of switching between smart GPS mode and conventional GPS in cases where they need quick turn-after-turn instructions.

To such a device, we could add analysis possibilities and a playful approach to help the driver see if his navigation improves over time and encourage the continued use of this mode of interaction.

Such a strategy forces us to decide which human cognitive capacities are essential and must be protected as a priority to develop solutions with AI that enhance these capacities while reaping the benefits of efficiency and effectiveness increased productivity.

From this perspective, such a strategy is much more than a strategy to protect our cognitive capacities. It is a deep hope: strengthening our mental abilities also strengthens what makes us human beings. It's about becoming more human in the age of AI.