Marc Prensky is smarter than you. In addition to his many degrees (BA, language, teaching, and business), he speaks three languages fluently, has written 4 books, runs two companies, and is possibly best known for coining the phrases digital natives and digital immigrants.
Yet, with your smartphone, tablet, or computer and connections to the Internet, you can beat him in virtually any cognitive task. Fact recall, math calculations, problem solving, music creation (despite the fact that he was a professional musician), virtually anything you can name, there's a website or an app for that.
The ability to stretch your mental abilities, to extend your brain, if you will, is what Prensky calls brain gain in his new book, Brain Gain: Technology and The Quest for Digital Wisdom.
For tens of thousands of years (unless it's true that the earth is only 6,000 years old) humans have increased the abilities of their bodies with tools. It's only in the last 60+ years that we've been able to measurability increase the power of our minds using technology. In his book, Prensky details the ways this shift from physical to mental augmentation changes the way we act and think, and our very humanness. Here are a few discussions he raises in the book.
What is the essence of digital wisdom?
It's one thing to be able to retouch a digital photo on your phone and share it with your 1,000 closest friends. It's another thing entirely to know a) whether this is something you should be doing, b) how to do it well, and c) the best tools to use for the results you want.
What changes should we be making to the way we educate ourselves and our kids?
We all need to learn how to learn to do things that today we can't even imagine we'll ever have to do. How would we have trained kids to properly use social networking in 2002? We didn't know something like that could exist, much less that over a billion people would be using it for intantaneous communication. Tweeting would have been associated with bird calls, something probably most used outside in an open field. Yet billions of us use social networking, and not just for fun, for professional development, for collaboration on projects, to keep up-to-date on fast breaking news in our fields. What do we subtract from education to make room for the new capabiliities that are essential for operating in the digital world? Is it still necessary to teach kids how to multiply three digit numbers, when virtually everyone does it on some type of calculator today? Do we emphasize reading and writing, when so much of what we ingest is video, images, and voice? Why do we stop after high school or college? It could be that a lot of what we teach in school is just taught because of inertia, but maybe it's time to take a closer look.
How will thinking machines be even more tightly integrated with our senses?
In addition to wearable computers, we may have some types of computing ability inserted under our skin, or attached directly to neurons. To a certain extent, smart artificial limbs already operate this way, but there could be devices that add to our memory, improve our sight, or give use specialized computational abilities. These devices could initially help people who are debilitated, like sufferers of Alzeimer's disease; but eventually used to enhance human cognitive abilities for some or all of us far beyond what we are capable of now. How would you like to instantly know how your son or daughter did on the last school assignment just by thinking the question?
What happens when machines get smarter than us?
The current pace of technological improvement indicates that computers should first surpass the neurological processing power of the human brain somewhere around the year 2030. By 2050, computer generated intelligence will be about 1 billion times the amount of human intelligence. How will that change our relationship with computers? How will that change us?
Most of us spend our days concerned with what we will be doing today, tomorrow, or next week. But sometimes its very valuable to look at the longer term. How did we get here? Were are we heading? And what should we be doing to ceate the type of future we want? Brain Gain is one of those books that can clarify this process and provide some great points for reflection.