Smart technology is all around us. We have thermostats that can artificially learn a homeowner’s routine and self-adjust on-the-fly. We have smart lighting that can be fully automated. We have smart locks that can be locked and unlocked remotely. But is all this technology making us dumber?
Using Calculators in School
I remember very clearly the first time I was allowed to use a calculator in school. I was a high school junior taking a college-level chemistry course. The material itself was difficult enough, so the teacher allowed us to use a calculator to work out equations. My father refused to let me do it. He insisted that if I learned to depend on a calculator, I would eventually forget how to do math.
Now in my late 50s, I cannot say I disagree with my father’s position. Some of the more complex equations I used to do manually I can no longer do without the help of a calculator. You could make the case that I simply forgot for lack of practice. But then I go to the grocery store and encounter cashiers who can’t make change without the help of a register. Making change is simple, elementary school math.
One could also argue that I don’t need to know those complicated equations for daily living. That’s true. But do I really want to have to dig through the kitchen junk drawer for a calculator just to run some quick calculations when I’m trying to figure out if I spent too much at the grocery store?
Some Devices Are Smarter Than Others
Getting back to the smart device issue, some smart devices are smarter than others. Let us take a good look at the smart thermostat. A truly smart thermostat can be programmed once and then left alone. Integrating it with other smart devices in the home helps the thermostat monitor the homeowner’s daily routine. Based on that routine, it can modify its own programming to make heating and cooling more efficient.
That is pretty smart. In fact, smart thermostats are pretty common these days. Vivint Smart Home is just one example of a home security and automation company that sells the thermostats. But you can buy them off the shelf at your local DIY store, too.
On the other hand, smart locks are just as common but not nearly as smart. You don’t program a smart lock to work autonomously. A smart lock will not learn your routine and self-adjust. About the only thing that qualifies a smart lock as being smart – and this is questionable, by the way – is remote access.
Changing How We Do Things
Smart devices are no doubt changing how we do things. That goes back to the question of whether they are making us dumber. For instance, I recently read an article on smart home appliances. One of the appliances mentioned was the smart refrigerator, a fridge capable of helping you to eat more healthily by monitoring its contents and reminding you to buy more healthy food.
Here’s the problem: the person who programs the software for that refrigerator has decided for you what constitutes a healthy diet. Use the refrigerator long enough and you may forget what a healthy diet is. Worse yet, do you even know what constitutes a healthy diet without the help of a refrigerator?
I am not down on smart devices, so don’t misunderstand. I think smart home technology is fantastic. I just wonder if we are getting dumber by relying more on our devices to artificially think for us.