The era of shiny toys

The Google duplex demonstration left the world astounded.

It woke up the naysayers to how advanced AI technology is. It wowed technology enthusiasts, who see it as the coming of their prophet. It caused several people to question its ethics. Regardless of the audience, it evoked universal response.

Google is the epitome of the smartest brains on the planet. The Google I/O is a showcase of the shiniest stuff they create. It serves as a signpost for where we are headed as a species. The conclusion? Convenience – the ability to have a machine to schedule our haircut, is our paramount value.

The questionable ethics aside, should convenience be our ultimate goal? Dan Gilbert has a different opinion. He states happiness is what we crave for in every moment of our lives. He states that the ‘pursuit of happiness’, enshrined in the US constitution, is a synonym for ‘living’.

Shiny toys make our lives easier. But what do they do to our sense of achievement and satisfaction? There is an implicit trade-off. Everything that makes life easier erodes some purpose from it. We are then forced to find this purpose elsewhere – by rather doing the things we are passionate about. Until technology chips away at that as well. At some point, our ability to find purpose may be outpaced by technology’s ability to take it away. And when purpose departs, happiness soon follows.

I have no empirical evidence to support or contradict what I’ve said. But the measurement of happiness itself is an elusive purpose. Maybe happiness is not compatible with the act of measurement. Like a new program isn’t with an old operating system.

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life”, said Jerzy Gregorek – a quote that has the most insight per word.  The smart folks at Silicon Valley build these embellishments that fill their lives with challenge – with hard choices. But at the same time, they make our choices easier.

And paradoxically, with those easy choices, our lives become harder.

Further reading:

The tyranny of convenience – Tim Wu;

An interview with Dan Gilbert on happiness

2 thoughts on “The era of shiny toys

  1. “Until technology chips away at that as well. At some point, our ability to find purpose may be outpaced by technology’s ability to take it away.”

    I would like to question your premise here. Do you think think technology has an evolutionary path of its own? Is not possible that humans can control the evolution of technology? In this case, on plausible solution could be for humans to –

    1. Recognize the problem you have stated as legitimate, viz., that increasing encroachment of technology erodes purpose.
    2. Find how technology can augment our lives without eroding purpose.
    3. Put checks in place to make sure that certain fundamental principles are inviolable.

    By the way, you should look at works by Jaron Lanier – he explores a lot of similar themes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You certainly make a good point. My question is if we have actually defined the fundamental principles for lasting human welfare, whether we have checks in place to preserve them, and if we are indeed headed in that direction. As of now, technology evolution is driven by a market for increased immediate convenience and instant gratification, without many questions on the impact of this evolution on the human race.

    I’ll definitely check out Jaron Lanier’s work.


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