By Arjuna Ardagh and Jonathan Robinson
How can technology, and specifically artificial intelligence, affect our state of consciousness?
Jonathan Robinson and I have been friends for many years. Recently we both attended a small conference about technology and consciousness. Lots of interesting people were there from Microsoft, Impact Financing, and many other backgrounds.
On the way home from the conference, we were driving together in the same car. Talking together, we realized something interesting. When people get together in the technology field to talk about new developments, there are really two questions that commonly get asked.
The first question is: "Can it be done? Do we have the technology available to create this?"
The second question is: "Will people pay for it? Will people be willing to adopt this technology in a way to creates financial return?"
But there's another very important question we can ask about the advance of technology as well. It's not about whether it can be done, or even about whether it will be adopted, but we can also ask: "Is it actually good for us? Is it in alignment with what we really want, with what we most deeply long for?"
To answer that question, during the long drive from Southern California to Northern California, we reflected upon some commonly held values, which most people can agree upon. And then we measured advances in technology according to these values.
Check out the questions we asked ourselves, and tell us your answers.
Does it make you more Self Reliant or more Dependent?
Is a technology training you to become better at something yourself, or is it training you to become more reliant on the technology?
Jonathan has a little button called "The Lift." It's very clever, with an altometer built into it, so if you slouch, it reminds you to sit up straight again. Brilliant! After several weeks of use, Jonathan has noticed that even when he doesn't wear his lift device he remembers to sit up straight on his own. The technology has trained him to adopt a better habit, and greater awareness, in such a way that he is now independent of the technology itself.
On the other hand, being a ripe old age now, we both grew up before there were computers, and even calculators. He learned to do mental arithmetic in his head. The more that we each use a calculator, the less we are able to perform these functions mentally. We notice when we go to a store and want to buy four items each for $25, a younger person helping in the store has to use a calculator to multiply $25 by four. Regularly using the spell checker will almost certainly reduce your ability to spell well on your own. These are examples where technology has made us more reliant upon it, and reduced our sense of self-sufficiency.
Using technology in a way that makes us dependent upon it is potentially a great risk. If solar rays from the sun suddenly fried all the microchips, for example, we would all be in deep trouble.
Is technology bringing you closer to people or will it make you more isolated?
Research shows that the number one factor in creating a life of happiness is the quality of your personal relationships. We view love as an intrinsically desirable experience, and we view loneliness and isolation as intrinsically negative.
For sure, we can find plenty of examples of technology that brings us closer to other people. A soldier or a missionary worker sent overseas for many months, or even years, can connect with loved ones using Skype or Google Hangout. You can maintain real conversations with people, where you can see body language as well as hear the voice, in a way we've never been able to do before.
On the other hand, video games you play by yourself, or many other of the activities we do on a cell phone, may actually isolate you from other people.
We have to be able to distinguish between quantity and quality. 200 Facebook friends does not equal one truly good friend who you can trust will always be there for you. Does technology simply increase the quantity of our interactions, and how does it impact the quality?
Is the technology making you more addicted and identified or more spacious?
Last month Jonathan got a gadget called the Muse. It's a device you wear on your forehead that gives you a read-out of your brain's EEG waves on your smartphone. Its goal is to help you calm your brainwaves down so you can experience a deeper level of peace.
There are many other apps developed now, which are designed specifically to bring you back to your center, feeling peaceful and rested.
The question we might want to ask about apps and devices like this is: are they giving you a temporary spiritual high, only when you use them, or are the leading you to a longer-term maintained sense of spiritual maturity and awakening?
We both have friends who take a "technology fast" one day a week. They turn off their internet and smartphone for 24 hours, and go back to living a simpler, more peaceful life, to be sure that we can break through addiction to reliance on outer devices.
Can technology help you to live more awake?
Is this device or software improving your health, or negatively impacting your health?
Of course, there is plenty of medical technology which saves lives today, there are apps which help to monitor your heart rate, your blood pressure and fat, and to make better decisions. We can diagnose and anticipate and monitor health conditions much more accurately than we ever could before.
On the other hand, staying up late at night staring at the screen, as gamers do, may be negatively impacting our health.
The long-term impact of electromagnetic fields on our body is not yet known. You may have heard about the woman who kept her cell phone in her breast pocket in a shirt. When she developed breast cancer, the shape of the tumor exactly matched the shape and size of her cell phone.
We both have had friends and clients who have overdosed on technology working in the IT industry. They spend 10 or 12 hours a day staring at the screen, and finally they burn out. Then they have to go and stare at trees for a few months to recover their health.
Does advancing technology make us mature faster, or make it more difficult?
The word "maturity" means something to most people. We recognize that a five-year-old child, or even a teenager, is not very mature usually, but an older person is more mature. What does it mean? It means they have had a lot more life experience. They have been there, and done that. Based upon this life experience, they are able to make better decisions. Yes, the deal really IS too good to be true!
Does operating in an artificial environment, like a gaming world, actually allow you to learn life skills and to increase your life experience, or does it distract from it? Can an environment like "My Second Life" actually contribute to real maturity?
Is reliance on technology likely to make you more compassionate and openhearted, more kind and more loving?
Devices created by HeartMath are the most obvious example of technology helping us to open our hearts, to feel the pain of others, and to live from compassion. The entire mindfulness movement, which has had such an impact in recent years, is at the same time a backlash against absorption in technology, but at the same time it is disseminated by technology.
Today you can go on YouTube, and see a talk by the Dalai Lama about compassion, or you can get inspired by Eckhart Tolle or Byron Katie. So what do you think: Would you be a more loving and caring person with or without your smart phone?
Is technology in general leaving you with more time to relax and do what you really love, or is it taking time away from you?
Most people would agree that having more free time, or being able to get more things done with less expenditure of effort is a good thing.
Recent studies show that people actually do have more time free, but they have the perception of having less time free. This suggests that technology may save you time, but at the same time give you the subjective experience of being more overwhelmed.
How does our increasing reliance of technology affect our ability to be connected to the divine?
Another universal value that almost everybody shares is the feeling of being connected to, and in service to something bigger than your own mind. People can call that "universal intelligence" or "The Tao" or "God." Many people would say that anything that is helping me to be more one with God is a good thing, and anything that is taking me away from that is a bad thing.
Artificial intelligence can certainly help us to perform mathematical functions more quickly, can help us to access massive databases of information, can help us to navigate through the streets of the city more efficiently, but could a programmed computer ever feel devotion? Could any kind of programmed machine ever be programmed to know what a human means by "The love of God"? These are universal experiences and values that have been found throughout all human history in all cultures, making them a very important aspect of the human experience.
And, for that matter, could artificial intelligence ever understand or duplicate the experience of falling in love? A dating site could match you up with a suitable partner based on all kinds of parameters, but could a computer ever understand the feeling of the spark we feel when we love somebody deeply?
Technology isn't going away. In fact, its rate of development is growing faster and faster every day. Since tech is here to stay, we have to learn to adapt its power towards the goals and values that are most important to us. This is not always easy to do. Yet, by asking the questions presented in this blog, and being honest with your actual experience, you can hopefully keep from getting lost in a technological jungle. Ultimately, tech gives us more choices. It's up to us to choose wisely what we do with it...
Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, best-selling author of ten books, and a professional speaker. He has reached over 100 million people around the world with his practical methods. Mr. Robinson has made numerous appearances on the Oprah show, as well as many other national TV talk shows, and articles about him have appeared in USA Today, and Newsweek. In his public talks and seminars, Jonathan is known for providing people with immediately useful information in a fun and entertaining manner. For more information, go to his web site: FindingHappiness.com