We are learning that lesson again today on a much broader scale. As software has become capable of analysis and decision-making, automation has leapt out of the factory and into the white-collar world. Computers are taking over the kinds of knowledge work long considered the preserve of well-educated, well-trained professionals: Pilots rely on computers to fly planes; doctors consult them in diagnosing ailments; architects use them to design buildings. Automation’s new wave is hitting just about everyone.
I don’t think automation makes us dumb, but it sure does mean that end-to-end understanding of complex processes is less likely for someone starting out in the workforce.
I am not convinced that not repairing anything is good for anyone. We buy new when problem solving down to component level could bring about increased levels of specialised knowledge to make systems more resilient to failure.
The rising entry level requirement for cognitive ability in many roles means that even though more people are attending university than ever before, the gap in on-job performance will become even larger because of the complementarity between highly skilled workers and machines.
But the great conceit here is that everyone thinks that they’re above average – their psyches resent the idea that a machine can do a better job – and have mountains of data to back that judgment up.
The downside of these great leaps in technological innovation is that they are likely to be thwarted by politicians attune to how important feelings and emotions are to most of the human population.
It won’t be the automation that makes us “dumber” – it’ll be the attempts to put the brakes on automation that lead to unintended consequences and a less efficient allocation of resources by firms.