Technology is the major driver of change. Creative destruction is often used to describe the train wreck-like effect that new technology has as it destroys jobs, industries (think of publishing and newspapers), institutions, and markets. The bodies left in the path of creative destruction can be charted by examining the technological history as battle axes and arrows were replaced by muskets and cannon, only to be replaced machine guns, onto atomic bombs, and now in drones that deliver by remote control lethal ordnance.
What hasn’t kept with the rate of technological change is the way our brains process the big data that washes over our lives. It is likely that our cognitive biases and the narratives we invent from the patterns of information that stream through our lives daily are little changed over thousands of years. The fundamental neural wiring is 100,000 years old.
There is evidence for a disconnect between what new methods, structures, and networks that we have invented and how we continue to perceive and behave in the world. Most people’s behavior and mindset appear immune to technological change. The world inside their head is largely untouched by innovation. If you want to witness cognitive limitation, spend a little time in a courtroom or in a police station or a legislative assembly.
One of the reasons that crime novels, mysteries, and courtroom dramas remain highly popular as novels, TV dramas and movies, is people can relate to the conflict in perception, the stories, the mistakes, the lies, and the biases. I suspect it has always been so. We aren’t robots. We are cognitively flawed human beings who have the fancy idea that since we innovate, we, too, have benefited from this technology in the way we behave and think.
That is plain wrong.
Lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and police spend a lifetime listening to conflicting versions of events from those directly involved and bystanders. I call this the magic realm of ‘He said, She said.” Like watching a tennis match, each player hits the ball across the net to win a point only to find the ball comes back. In the courtroom game, people bring in their point of view, emotions, hindsight bias and assume their memory is the complete record of the experience, and any other version is wrong, biased, based on lies and fraud.
While technological changes that are designed to update our cognitive abilities, reduce the biases and flaws may appear in the distant future, there is an intermediate period of change that is happening now to redefine the ‘He said, She said’ world of diverse, confused and biased memory recall. In the real world, who ‘he’ is and who ‘she’ is, at least in my part of the world, is a significant factor in determining what happened.
One such technology is the car camera. Real time, video cameras with high resolution, good lens the camera is fixed to your dashboard or review mirror where it can record everything within 150 degree view of the road as you are driving. In Thailand, where I drive on the highway a couple of times a week, I witness something approaching low-level warfare on wheels. That is likely my bias talking. But in the event of accident, having the video footage leading up to the event, in theory, eliminates the social status of the other driver and his/her story as the accepted version. Having a car camera that also records your speed would also be an advantage when the police stop and say that you were speeding.
I can see a couple of flaws in the car camera. It is possible the video recording would be confiscated and ‘lost’ (this has happened not with car cameras but with CCTV cameras in Thailand on occasions). Some places in the States have made it illegal to photograph or video the police. Shaking off our long history of cognitive biases will be much more difficult than landing a man on the moon.
From judges to cops, to school teachers and prison guards, welfare officers to bankers and government officials, their status has given them an edge when the stories they tell conflict with the stories told by those under their power and authority. As more and more ways of monitoring come on the market, we hear the cry of loss of freedom and free will. That is mainly an illusion. We only have enjoyed a limited about of freedom since we became domesticated about 9,000 years ago, and free will was one of those just so stories we accepted on faith.
The yoke of flaw cognitive abilities and authority structures based on power rather than facts or truth, won’t be overturned as that is the nature of how we are, and revising our cognitive abilities won’t be easy.
Just as the modern GPS on iPads, cell phones and other devices reduces the chances of us getting lost when we travel to a new destination, the car camera promises a way to resolve the ‘he said, she said’ stalemate by producing a neutral way to establish the facts of what happened.
Those in power and authority will hate being challenged with the Third Eye. The technological eye that lacks bias, is not obedient to authority, and has no past or reputation to defend.
Christopher G. Moore’s latest book is a collection of 50 essays titled Faking It in Bangkok, which is available as a kindle ebook.