Will Alexa destroy our cognitive abilities in years to come?
Amazon Alexa is a virtual assistant which uses artifical intelligence to automate tasks, respond to real-time information, as well as reduce workload.
In the last year, Amazon sold over 100 million devices!
Imagine how many devices are now in our homes after 7 years of trading?
I have a confession…
I will admit that I’m techy and I have an Alexa device at home. I use it for reminders, alarms and checking the weather, as well as catching up on the news. I also know, apart from the data protection issues, the impact Amazon Alexa may have on the human race in terms of our ability to remember things is not yet known.
With this in mind, I also have a confession.
Where and on occasion I have been very busy, lazy or forgetful – and suffering from cognitive load – I have resorted to Alexa to answer some questions I already know.
I opt for the easy road.
My recent adventures into understanding the brain and learning more about memory and cognition, and in particular how this shapes my own understanding of neuroscience, I wonder how all of this translates into the classroom.
I am actually quite fearful.
Not just for myself and my inability at times to push my brain a little further, but for the current generation of students who are connected to all this new technology.
They know, no different.
Knowing what we know about learning, specifically on memory. We know that a shift in long-term storage requires us to practise, through rehearsal, retrieval or rote learning – whatever definition you use.
Although many others will admit there are several benefits from technology in the world around us, what about from an evolutionary perspective?
Alexa will make our cognitive functions weaker…
If we all start to use Alexa (or Siri) on our devices to recall things we already know, always choosing to make our lives more technically connected in return for making muscles in our brain weaker, is this good for us?
Some of the things I have asked Alexa recently include:
- What’s £16.99 x 130?
- What is Jupiter’s largest moon?
- Where is Kamchatka?
- Can you hurt someone with a nunchuck?
- I could go on…
Now, some of these questions I do know the answers to. Some of them I don’t.
1. Our memory
What I’m really concerned with is, ‘What impact does asking ‘Alexa have on my memory and retrieval?’
What impact does it have on my son who uses it to check facts and acquire new ones? Am I being an old-grumpy man who has not yet adapted to the modern encyclopedia?
Maybe it’s how we use Alexa, and when and why, rather than what we ask? Can we trust the sources used to provide us with information?
2. The classroom
I also know some of our classrooms have these devices to aid teaching and learning. How will this reduce the role of the teacher (or parent) and their knowledge?
Do we have any reason to be concerned? What do you think?
Will Alexa weaken our ability to remember, or can the modern version of the encyclopedia strengthen the synapses between our 100 billion neurons?
I’m a big fan of technology in and out of the classroom, but I do wonder if these devices in the long term, will weaken our ability to remember and recall.