Distraction as an intelligence aid, er . . . hold on . . .

If we type “multi-tasking boosts intelligence” into Google today, we secure 606,000 results in 0.41 seconds. Before looking at the quality of those results, we are easily distracted by speculation as to the role distraction may have played in delaying their arrival by as much as 0.21 seconds. Could the task have been done in half the time if the search engine had not paused to read an email, status check its facebook page, respond to an SMS query on the supply of toilet paper and then browse through a list of ten things it didn’t know about Brad Pitt?

When we take a moment to consider the return on investing time in thinking about the implications of thinking about this, we have another thing to be humble about. Google – and by extension any machine learning process on the nursery slopes of Mount AI – will not be distracted in the pursuit of its objectives. It can focus.

There is yet more worry for those exercising what yesterday’s BAMblog referred to as meat-based intelligence. It was summed up nicely by Nicholas Carr in an article in Wired Magazine all of five years ago, but much referenced since. In considering how “The web shatters focus, rewires brains” he commented that: “ . . . our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.”

So back to the Google search. Page one turns up an engaging testimonial to what multi-tasking can do for adaptive intelligence. With practice, we can become better multi-taskers. But the consensus appears to be that we sacrifice something as champions of reflective intelligence if we sacrifice thinking for skimming.

Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *