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In Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Carr asserts himself that technology is renovating us. What he means by this is that when we create new technology it is creating a whole different style of reading, thinking, and writing into our minds. More specifically he’s talking about today, in the age of software where we’ve adapted to what sociologist Daniel Bell calls “intellectual technology”, …. tools that extend our mental powers – classify information, formulate and articulate ideas, etc. (Carr 5). The internet is an example of a “intellectual technology” however, Carr argues that the internet has not only become a distraction, but it has become a part of our daily lives. He speaks from a decade worth of experience on the net and has been contemplating the sense that his mind is altering. His ability to deeply think and read has now become a struggle. His friends also seem to have the same problem. He’s noticed that there is content surrounding the net which makes the mind “scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration” (Carr 6). Carr also mentions “skimming activity” suggested by scholars from University College London which found that users were leaping from one reference to another and skimming through articles, journals, …. as a form of “power browsing”. To “power browse” according to studies pointed out by Carr, are when users skim “horizontally through titles, contents pages, and abstracts going for quick wins” (Carr 3). Essentially, users are not retaining the necessary information and they are often misleading to the wrong main points. Carr continues to say that the internet has become “immeasurably powerful”, that it’s absorbing other “intellectual technologies”. The internet is becoming our daily thing, the fact that we are able to tell time, print, know our location, calculate, watch movies, etc. is unsettling to Carr. When we’re reading on the internet “we tend to become mere decoders of information” rather than deep thinking readers (Carr 4). These assertions that Carr points out has caught my attention and I couldn’t agree more. However, after reading the last couple of pages I felt skeptical of his last assertions. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d agreed or disagreed with Carr. A little part of me thought I should be biased. Subsequently, I thought about it some more and came to realization that I’d have to disagree with Carr more than I can agree with him.
Carr had lost me when he mentioned how the clock was a valuable tool that benefited and impacted economic growth, yet he counterattacks his own response and says that the clock took our senses away. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. He also points out “Taylorism” named after Frederick Winslow Taylor who liked to call it his “system” which was an algorithm he invented that brought out the “one best method” of work (Carr 7). He says in today’s modern society, the internet is an example of the perfect algorithm or the “one best method”. Nothing seems wrong about that except Carr is specifically talking about Google and their computer engineers and software coders. He says that they are trying to find the “one best method” – “to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work”” (Carr 8). Then he brings up Googleplex, which is Google’s headquarters and talks about how they use “Taylorism” as religious practice. Now that seems a bit much, but theres more. Carr specifically explains how the founders of Google are trying to replace our brains with artificial intelligence or what Carr says replace our minds with a HAL-like machine. It sounds to me like Carr is thinking over his head and his arguments are a bit over exaggerated. While I agree that new “intellectual technology” is renovating us in a way where we operate and process information, it’s also robbing our ability to concentrate and scuba dive in the sea of words. I can’t say the same with his belief that we’re thinking like computers. To say that new “intellectual technology” is affecting our brains to compute like algorithms in a computer or that our brains will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence is fallacious.
Carr asserts that the human brain is capable of being shaped and changed. According to his sources, the nerve cells found in our brain “break old connections and form new ones” as well as having “…the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions” (Carr 5). Although this is true, the brain however cannot compute like a computer. Carr seems to misunderstand that just because we’re in the age of software, doesn’t mean our brains operate like computers. There’s a big difference between how a brain and a computer operate. They may function in similar ways such as, retaining information or performing calculations. However, there are major differences between the two. The brain has the ability to generate ideas, while the computer can perform accelerating computations. The brain is powered by neurons that allow to collect and transfer data, and the computer is powered by electricity. Then you have the most obvious difference, a computer does not have the capability to possess human-like consciousness or emotion.
If we explore back to “Taylorism”, we know that Carr wants us to believe that Google is trying to create what Taylor once did, a perfect algorithm. One that resembles “a utopia of perfect efficiency” (Carr 7). The internet best resembles that perfect algorithm, its designed to efficiently transmit and manipulate information, as well as automating collection. Google’s intent, according to Carr is to develop “the perfect search engine” by collecting behavioral data through its search engine to distinguish unwanted algorithms that “increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it”. Google defines their “perfect search engine” as “something that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want”. To Carr, Google is nothing more than a business company that seeks the opportunity to “collect information about us and feed us advertisements”. He assumes that Google sees information as a valuable thing or a useful resource and when they are able to allow users to easily access information at a fast rate, they automatically become thinkers. There’s a lot of assumptions that Carr makes about Google that makes me wonder if he’s had any bad experience with them. To me it sounds like he’s headed into a more biased state against Google and that he’s expressing to much of his personal opinion rather than stating facts.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page are the founders of Google, who’s desire is to supplement or replace or brains by artificial intelligence according to Carr. However, it’s not just an ordinary artificial intelligence, it’s a “HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to our brains”. What is exactly is a HAL? At the beginning of Carr’s article, he describes a scene from a movie he once saw, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In it, he describes a supercomputer HAL who begs his life after attempting to murder an astronaut named David Bowman. Bowman is seen disconnecting the HALs “memory circuits that control its artificial brain” while HALs emotional response goes “Dave, my mind is going, … I can feel it. I can feel it” (Carr 1). Carr is forever haunted by this scene because HALs human-like emotional response resembles an algorithm that makes its “actions and thoughts feel scripted”. He compares this fictional character to our non-fiction world. He worries that when Google finds a way to make artificial intelligence, this will be the result because to Google “the human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive”.
There is no doubt that new “intellectual technology” is renovating us. Renovating how we process information by creating a new style of thinking, reading, and writing. Others will say it’s a bad thing or a good thing, depending on how you look at it. However, we can disagree that new “intellectual technology” is affecting our brains to operate like computers and the idea that our brains will be replaced by artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is just nonsense, unless you’re Carr.
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