Friday, February 19, 2010

The Internet and Intelligence

And here we have a rather interesting survey on the question of how the Internet will affect human intelligence over the next decade. An amazing 76 percent of the respondents (who were not a sampling of the public at large, but a select group of professionals and "experts") believed that the Internet will "enhance human intelligence" over the next 10 years. These people agreed that "as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices".

Wow. I hardly know where to begin. The shortest and simplest response I can give is that this notion strikes me as being incredibly naive. This must be based on the overwhelming evidence that people have already begun to get smarter and make better choices over the last 15 years or so. (Yes, that is irony you detect.)

Two different people quoted in the article clarified this idea by stating that, while individuals would not necessarily get smarter, "as a society, we’ll get smarter collectively".

Okay. I have to confess it's not exactly clear to me what it means to say that society will "get smarter collectively". I suspect that this does not merely refer to the increase in information, which has been happening since the beginning of time, nor that these folks literally believe in a hive mind. I'm assuming they mean that the average intelligence of human beings will increase during the 2010s.

All I can say is that the 3/4 of these "experts" who subscribe to this view seem to have a pretty narrow idea of what intelligence is, if they believe it is something that can be increased by having access to lots of information. Much more intelligent is what Nicholas Carr, author of "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", said on the matter:

What the Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence. The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.

More on that later.

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