Life is hard. That is why humanity has always used the tools available and generated new ones in order to make our lives easier. The ability to create and use artifacts is one of the main differences between humans and animals, and what has enabled us to dominate the world at will. Throughout history, there have been several revolutions that have changed the way we live and face problems. In fact, one of the most rapid transformations has been taken during the last decades with the digitalisation. If we look back to 100 years ago, we can obviously see the difference between lifestyles.
While a century ago people had to use pen and paper for everything and used to have meetings face to face, nowadays, our lives orbit around computers and smartphones. People are using constantly new technologies for not only work, but also for entertainment. Media have been converted to digital platforms, like newspapers or TV. Even social interactions have changed drastically with the creation of social networks, chatting and video call systems. This transformation of our society is very well-known and there is a high concern of where society is heading towards and dangers at a great scale (malevolent AI, total population control, etc.). However, one of the biggest impacts of this revolution is going to occur in ourselves, the way we feel, face problems and act in our daily lives. Our attitude is currently changing enormously, and not for good. We are becoming lazier, addicted to digital platforms and isolated because of the influence of new technologies. And this phenomenon has begun just recently. With the rise of ArtificiaI Intelligence (AI), it is expected that the changes we have been living during the last lustrums will be multiplied in the incoming years.
Usefulness, Laziness and Decision-Making
Over time, humanity has been able to avoid doing hard or unwanted tasks by creating new tools. For example, after the Industrial Revolution, machines began to substitute workers in agriculture and manufacturing. This trend has been followed by subsequent improvements of technology, leading to a diminishing of physical jobs. With the rise of the digital area, machines are able to perform more complex tasks outperforming humans. Until this point, this phenomenon has pushed towards a more educated and less physical society, as technical job demand increases and non-educated job demand decreases. Although a more educated society is beneficial, this phenomenon can end up being very dangerous for us. As machines replace us for physical working and jobs in front of a computer multiply, people are starting to follow more sedentary lifestyles. Thus, since the introduction of computers, the obesity rates have been increasing non-stop in the last decades.
In less than thirty years, obesity rates have increased in the US from 22.9% to 42.4%, almost doubling it. In the UK, an article published by The Lancet states that if we do not take any measures, by 2050 60% of men and 50% of women could be clinically diagnosed as obese in the UK. Being there the current proportion of obese adults 25%, this increment should be very alarming. The increase of obesity rates is extremely dangerous as it can carry several health problems, including heart diseases, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In the UK, there are 7 million cases of diabetes, 6.5 million cases of heart disease and stroke and 500,000 cancer cases linked to obesity.
The research community is aware of the forecasts of obesity prevalence and is already claiming the countries and the WHO for food policies and policies to promote physical activity.
Obesity and other physical problems are not the only dangers to our lifestyle due to the rise of AI. We are also getting more lazy and “useless”. In the incoming years, not only physical and repetitive jobs are being substituted, but also more technical ones. Customer service, drivers or even doctors are just three examples of the many jobs that AI will replace in the future. Of course, why would we bother to do something if a robot can do it better, faster and cheaper? This way, we will become obsolete. However, getting substituted from our job doesn’t necessarily mean we have to get slothful. According to Jeet Mukerji, lead AI product manager at Beamery, AI may make us lazy at our jobs if we fulfill three requirements. Firstly, the original work is worth mastering by humans and we choose to not do this, as AI is doing it, so we will at some point lose this skill. Secondly, the time and energy saved by letting AI do our work is spent poorly. Rather than learning a new skill or taking advantage of that extra free time, we just let it go (by scrolling through social media or watching TV). Lastly, we evade our jobs, by overestimating the powers of AI, ignoring its limits, taking off responsibility and not checking the results of AI.
As we can see, the decision of becoming lazy is ours, we have the power to decide what we want to do, or how we face anything. Still, the real problem comes when we are substituted for everything. Not only are we becoming useless in the job market, but also in our daily lives. We are seeing how innumerable daily tasks of many of us are being taken by robots. People eat meals prepared by a robot and live in a house that is cleaned by a robot cleaner. Self-driving cars are already circulating through the roads. We even have personal robot assistants. Daily life is getting easier. Let us put an example. Before the Internet, if someone wanted to know the number of inhabitants of Norway, he would need to go to a library and search for some encyclopedias. With the internet, a simple search in Google would be needed. However, now it is even easier, saying to your phone ‘Siri, what’s the population of Norway?’ is enough. We are getting used to obtaining anything we want easily and fast.
However, the evolution of AI is showing us that the capabilities and adaptability of AI are much broader. So, this is only the beginning. In the incoming years, these robots and tools will be becoming more accessible to everyone and new robots that perform new tasks will be created. So, what would happen if we don’t have the necessity of doing nothing? Imagine that a robot is performing your job, you just have to supervise it. Then, at home, robots clean your house, make your meal and get you from one place to another. There wouldn’t be the necessity of doing anything productive that we don’t want to do. We wouldn’t have the need to learn new skills either. This, in addition to the unlimited possibilities of entertainment that will be available in digital platforms just from our sofa, emerges an extreme risk of us becoming ‘couch potatoes’. This range of possibilities for our amusement leads us to the next point: we are getting addicted to digital platforms.
Addiction and Lack of attention
One of the main reasons for why AI has the potential to make us lazy and follow a sedentary life is its ability to engage us. Have you ever watched a YouTube video and after finishing it immediately watched one of the recommendations? In that case, you have been a victim of the famous ‘recommendation algorithm’. Youtube, social networks and streaming platforms such as Netflix have as an objective to retain you in their website. For that purpose, a recommendation algorithm is used to predict which content (movies, videos…) you might like. They do it by analyzing what you like and what other people with similar tastes do. You might think this isn’t a problem, as you can discover content that you like without the need of searching for it.
However, the overwhelming bombarding of new content might affect the productivity of people. All these websites are in a constant fight for catching your attention. They constantly ‘attack’ you with easy, fast and targeted entertainment that keeps you distracted and makes you receive instant and easy satisfaction. Therefore, many people, most of these young people, are starting to get severely affected by the so-called ‘digital addiction’. This addiction makes people need to increasingly use the Internet, be unable to cut it, and get obsessed with it. Of course, this affection makes people ignore work, studies or chores to do. In fact, digital addicts usually find it extremely tough to perform any activity that requires some amount of effort. We have lost our capability of paying attention. It feels more difficult than it should to do some task, having a limitless amount of personalized entertainment right in our pockets.
Let us put some numbers to have an idea how much time is spent on digital platforms. Every day, in Youtube, users watch over 1 billion hours of video, that is over a million of years of video watched, everyday. And that is only YouTube. People spend around 60 billion hours per month on Netflix, which means an average of 3.2 hours per day per subscriber. The gigantic amount of entertainment available and consumed nowadays is undeniable. Apart from getting as addicted to certain content, this phenomenon has another huge drawback, the isolation of people.
Human nature is social as people tend to reunite with others, to form groups of friends and families. However, social encounterings might be difficult for many people. As we have already made clear, currently there are unlimited alternatives to social meetings. That’s why many prefer to spend their time with digital entertainment rather than with other people. This is a huge problem concerning adolescents, which has escalated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since it has been impossible to meet others of their age, they have got used to spending their free time in front of a computer. To grow up watching videos alone in a room, at such an important age to grow a personality, is extremely dangerous for their personal development and mental health. According to several studies, there is a strong association between social isolation, anxiety, and depression in children and adolescents. Of course, the increased isolation is one factor that will drastically change how we relate to other people. However, it is not the only change that we will see in this context in the incoming years.
Relationships and insensitivity
A large change is also expected in human relationships. Currently, AI is advancing rapidly in the everyday and in the emotional world of people. If all the above (and more) is already happening, AI has even larger power over us than predicted and imagined. For instance, in the movie ‘Her’ (2013), the main actor is falling in love with an AI system capable of only talking to him. However, the system is programmed to fit his mind and needs and as eventually it turns out to fit many others minds and needs, i.e., 8 316 more people.
As unfortunate as it may sounds, this is already close to becoming a reality. According to an article written in 2019, similar relationships are likely to become commonplace in ten years’ time. This, however, might range anywhere from bodyless chatbots, like Samantha in ‘Her’, to robots very similar to humans having their own body and mind. Subsequently, the emergence of potential relationships between humans and AI are not only raising ethical concerns but also personal ones. If we substitute human relationships then what about reproduction? Is the whole meaning of our existence going to be pointless?
The second main concern is the lack of empathy and sensitivity that AI systems have. Even though people are currently working on creating a system that can simulate human emotions and feelings, it’s never going to replace human ingenuity, creativity, and empathy. Would you imagine a world where people would have completely emotionless relationships based simply on intelligent discussions and reflective responses? I would not be able to. As humans we look for, and need, that human relationship that embodies empathy, solidarity and love in forms not (at least yet) possible to show between a human-AI relationship. If the world is already replacing us, humans, by steam engines, cars, and so forth, will AI also replace our minds and bodies by machines? Fortunately, that will likely not be the case in the near future.
No matter how good a machine becomes at chess, it won’t be able to understand the emotions of its competitor.Tony Lorentzen, 2019, “Nuance”
Is there a solution?
Unfortunately, many people are currently struggle with the issues mentioned in the article above. They feel addicted to their social media platforms, they do not have the independency of choice, they feel isolated and lazy. Of course, there is always a solution. However, it goes the same way as a famous saying “If there is a will, there is a way”. If someone would like to change the way they live, they have to change the way they act. On a large scale there will always be new advancements and technology coming and we cannot stop that. However, we can change the way we react to these.
There are numerous ways in order to live a healthier life and to restore our independency of AI. Some of the suggestions on how to do that include to that include finding a hobby, turning off your phone notifications, limiting your time online and checking with your friends and family. Furthermore, spend some time for activities that make you feel good such as reading a book, dancing, gardening, and painting. If you would like to improve your attention spam, as mentioned in the second part, you should try to take frequent breaks from the time online. Go for a walk and enjoy your time outside, you might find some friends out there or even more than a friend, thereby fixing both the isolation and the relationship point above. The bottomline is that the less power that AI has over your life, the easier it is to control it.