Will Technology Keep Us From Thinking?

The New York Times quotes Plato’s play Phaedrus to make a point about Facebook’s use of data. They make the claim that “Technology promises to make easy things that, by their intrinsic nature, have to be hard”.

In the play, a wise king, Thamus, is offered the art of writing by the god Theuth.

The art of writing, Theuth said, “will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.”

But Thamus rebuffed him. “O most ingenious Theuth,” he said, “the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them.”

The king continued: “For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves.”

It struck me how this analogy is also perfectly applicable to the new technologies entering the field of medicine, from EMRs with “Decision Support” to Artificial Intelligence.

Just like there are store clerks who can’t make change (for customers who still pay with money) or school children who can’t multiply without a calculator, will the doctors of the future be helpless if dislocated from the propping up we are now starting to expect should they ever have to practice in a natural disaster, remote area or mass computer hacking situation?

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