Danger, Will Robinson

5988752. This is my phone number from when I was growing up. I can remember that number, and my first passport number H515543, and a couple of other numbers. But I can’t remember by daughter’s mobile numbers, or the phone numbers of friends. Not since I’ve contracted out my memory to my smart phone.

There was an interesting article in The Age newspaper last year, that detailed how people were forgetting numbers, because they were reliant on the phone.  One of the paragraphs that stood out to me was this one

In a recent survey, Finley found 59 per cent of respondents remember fewer phone numbers now than five years ago. One person told of being taken to hospital and discovering she’d forgotten her phone.

“She wanted to call people but didn’t have any of the numbers memorised. It’s almost as if you lose the device and you suddenly have amnesia,” says Finley.

We see this a lot after disasters, where people have had a particularly stressful or traumatic experience, and they become overloaded. People have described it varyingly as bushfire or flood brain. They just cannot remember stuff. It is why we recommend that people write their plans down, and in the case of Rediplan, it is more like a resource directory, that people can delve into to extract useful information.

Equally, we seem to be losing our ability to find our way, according to John Edward Huth. Navigation systems and google maps reduce our spatial awareness, and ability to construct for ourselves a path between A and B, and understand the obvious and not so obvious that happens in between. One urban planning piece, I read a little while ago talked about one day mapping systems will be so good, there will be no need for street numbers, street signs or even advertising. Again, this has been contracted out to our smartphone.

Artificial Intelligence is starting to make big strides. And like with all technology now, its moving very quickly, much quicker than ethics and regulation can keep up. We are seeing the potential for mining big data for disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and the ability to write algorithms to find what we want, and make suggestions. There is potential for robotic firefighting. Being able to send robots into burning buildings to rescue people could be something of the near future. Self driving cars, trains, planes. Fantastic (although I still think I want someone up the front of the plane when I’m in it). But what if you could hack them and reprogram them. Easy enough to carry out a reign or terror or war.

What does this mean? The less we have to do, the more challenged we will be when things go wrong. The World Economics Forum’s, Global Risk Report in 2012 spoke of one of the things that was a weak signal on their risk radar was hyperconnectivity. If we rely too much on technology for decision making, we may lose the ability to make decisions when our access to technology is cut off. Equally as mentioned above, our ability to remember phone numbers, or our way out of danger is reduced. What if we have no visual cues or landmarks, what does this do to our mental maps. And we know that technology fails, and it can still be for some time, as the power goes out, batteries run flat, and there is no back up. As a friend who is a doctor said to me, the more I send people for medical imaging, the more I feel I lose my touch, my feel, my sense for something that might be amiss. We need to be able to turn everything off, as Luke Skywalker did in the original and the best Star Wars, and rely upon our senses sometimes. To keep our hand (and nose, ears, eyes) in. To feel the decisions.

These new innovations are brilliant and making many things so possible for us, and we must embrace them. But also the hidden luddite in me also utters the immortal words “Danger Will Robinson”

On this day, the 20th anniversary of the release of  one of great albums of the 90s, Paranoid android seems about right

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