by Robert Gore
Most people don’t think very much about how they think. Researchers keep pushing the frontiers of what is known about the human mind’s amazing capabilities, growth, dynamism, and adaptability; their research itself a testament to human ingenuity and the power of the mind. As with so much of science, the more we discover, the more we realize what we don’t know.
Headlines and commentaries declare that within a decade or two, robots and artificial intelligence will replace human workers, either leading us into an Eden where humans, finally freed from the mundane tasks of survival and earning a living, will be able to engage in “higher” pursuits, or consigning most of us to unemployment, misery, and subservience to machines, computers, and the technocratic elite who design and control them. Left unexplored in the articles is a paradox: how will technology replace mental functions of which our understanding is still so incomplete? Also generally unaddressed: the certainty that new innovation will elicit change and adaptive thinking, behavior, modes of interaction, and opportunities, as they have in the past.
The Industrial Revolution rewarded original thought and innovation as they had never before been rewarded, and ushered in a radical economic and social reordering. Income and wealth were no longer predominantly the fruits of a static resource—agricultural production from the land—but rather the dynamic progeny of the human mind: research, experimentation, science, technology, specialization, expertise, capital allocation, and continuous refinement and improvement. The revolution came to the old mainstay, agriculture, and so dramatically raised the productivity of farmers that within a couple of generations the US and British economies and workforces were transformed from primarily agricultural to primarily industrial. The premium for innovation and productive ability has only grown since then.