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The automation of thoughts


As we build more sophisticated robots and software, they continue to take on unskilled labour and do them more efficiently and cheaply than the people that used to do it before them. Which is why we have lesser people in manufacturing plants and warehouses now, even though their capacities and production rates are rising. This is why we will have lesser and lesser drivers on the road as cars and trucks begin to drive themselves. This is why we will have lesser and lesser last mile delivery jobs as drones start to do them more efficiently and cheaply.

This phenomenon has been hot in the news in the last couple of years as more and more people are troubled and threatened at the thought that in a couple of decades, a lot of jobs will be automated, leaving the majority of the world's population with no meaningful way to earn a living. As a result, many have been calling for a universal basic income where everyone gets a dividend on all the things made in the world just by the virtue of being born and being alive on this planet.

Some like this idea and some others hate it. I have good reasons to feel both ways, so I've been swinging from one side to another every few months.

But today isn't about that kind of automation. My thoughts are on another kind of automation, one that is progressing rapidly and is affecting a lot of us everyday.

This is the automation of our thoughts.

When I was a kid, I would go to the library and look among hundreds of books to pick one that I would read for the day. But now, as soon as I'm done reading one, I already have a recommendation (which is pretty good by the way) for what I ought to read next. This happens with articles I read, with music I listen to, with clothes I buy, with shows and movies I watch, with dates I go on, with the food I order, with the restaurants I visit, with the places I travel to.

As a kid, I used to have an excellent memory (probably still do). I would remember and recollect all my friends' birthdays and phone numbers. I used to remember a lot of the things I read and could quote from books. Now all that has been automated and I don't need it anymore. All I need is an Internet connection (and I haven't been without one for more than 0.001% of my life in the last five years).

As a kid, I used to be really good with arithmetic calculations (probably still am). I could multiply big numbers in a matter of seconds and could solve complex math problems without writing down a thing. Now all that has been automated and I don't need it anymore. All I need is a computing device (and I haven't been without one for more than 0.001% of my life in the last five years).

What jobs we should apply to, who we should be friends with, what food we should eat, who we should date, what we should do on weekends, are all served up as recommendations by impressively effective engines.

As a result, a lot of our thoughts and our choices have been automated. You might be thinking you still make the choice as to which of the recommendations you click on and watch. Think again. A lot of psychological analysis has gone into deciding what choices are presented in what contexts and what positions, so that you are likely to pick them.

In that sense, you still make a choice, because the algorithms are personalised to cater to your tastes. But that choice is now automated.

In a world like this, free will is more and more a theoretical concept.

With our thoughts and choices and decisions progressively being automated, what are we doing with all the freed up brain resources?

Like I watch what I eat, I'm learning to watch my choices and thoughts and decisions.

What are you doing about it?

Should you even do anything about it?

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