I'm sure people of my age had parents who tell them not to depend on calculators. “You need to make sure you understand how to do the arithmetic calculations”, my dad would say. He was a unique eccentric individual who worried about everything and raised a daughter and son without their mother who passed when I was eight. He also had significant concerns about the computer and the huge dependency it would create in society. He grew up in the depression and went to World War II fought against the Japanese. He was a self-taught smart guy. As I got further into computer science, he would go on and on about computers and our dependence on them.
As a young man, I frequently rejected anything he said is being crazy or goofy. As with many things he was right more than I realized but not necessarily in the exact right way. With my four kids, I have similar dependencies talks but now about the cell phone, internet, Facebook, etc.. I think what he saw and that I see now is not new and started 100,000+ years ago with our first tools. I can imagine some dad/mom caveman saying “hey don’t get used to that spear, keep practicing wrestling the deer to the ground”. As we build layer upon layer of inventions, we need to grasp our dependency on them. That is how we are here today and how we can do all the wonderful things with these inventions. We depend on them, and that’s how it is.
It is a dangerous dependency for sure as easily illustrated by natural disasters such as Katrina in New Orleans or other places where electrical power is lost. People are driven back almost into caveman existence but with a much larger population. But, we can’t worry about how to live off the land with 7 billion people to feed and house. If something big happened, we’d have much bigger problems.
Today we have many calculators that we will depend on to exist: cars, electricity, meds, food production, internet, computers, money, etc… Life and society are an incredibly complex set of dependencies, like house cards, where we all depend on each other and many things.
We are now creating a new type of dependence “calculator” that will make us even more dependent on computers. But, dependent on a more ‘thinking’ way. Siri, Amazon Echo Alexa like type devices/entities are our new calculator. Not bad ones, just dependence and soon to be a BIG one. This new calculator is knowledge/brain dependence. Our kids can now ask Alexa questions and get answers. They don’t need to go to the internet and check out Wikipedia to get their questions answered. Our kids are even not reading to get the information now, just asking. “Make sure to learn to read kids”, someone might say. Our kids kids will laugh at the idea we used our hands find out information or solve problems. This is the new dependency, and that’s ok. We progress by building on the shoulders of others, in this case, an artificial mind shoulders.
Long live the calculator.