Outsourcing things that made us who we are… to a machine

Google’s new Super Bowl film is a poignant affair.

Watch it first.

What I found fascinating is not the emotional current per se; that is very, very well done, of course, in true Google style (made in-house). You can’t help but feel the emotions since that is the narrative device used. And I fully understand the utility value provided by Google Photos. I love the ‘this day, that year’ notifications it provides from time to time – helps me relive a day from the past through a photograph that I may not have dug up on my own.

My fascination was a bit different.

Imagine: who would the grandpa ask to show old photos, if not for Google? It may usually be the old man himself, rummaging through his old boxes of photographs and reminiscing over the past as depicted in them. Or, it may be someone in the family – a grandkid, perhaps, who may be doing the rummaging and asking questions to their grandpa. That may lead the grandpa to go on a path down memory lane.

And he tells Google Assistant, “Remember Loretta hated my moustache”. This would otherwise be a quip by him, to his grandson, as part of the reminiscing. Or, someone in the family reminding him, when this photo comes up for a recall/discussion.

Almost every action depicted in the film was formerly performed by humans. Now, for assorted reasons, they are being performed fairly efficiently by a machine! There’s no point fighting this development. Machines will take over tasks performed formerly by us because we have found other ways and means to keep ourselves engaged. In the process, we are forgetting many things that earlier made us who we were – remember, write, spell correctly, read maps, calculate, read and so on. Now, we depend on machines to do most of these for us. And trust the machine to do it right.

Again, there’s no point in going back in time and be cavemen again. But all the time we save from letting machines do our tasks… what are we spending them on? Binge-watching more shows on streaming channels? Consuming an endless stream of videos and content on social media? What else? If our brains are freed from regular, smaller tasks, shouldn’t we be, as a species, a lot more productive and intelligent? That doesn’t seem to be happening at the same speed as we outsource our everyday tasks to machines.

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