How IT Giveth and Taketh Away
Writer Nicholas Carr electrified many readers with his 2008 article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic. He concluded the piece with a poignant and alarming reference to what he sees as Stanley Kubrick’s “dark prophecy” from 2001: A Space Odyssey: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”
As a technology provider, FastFit360 takes this controversial idea quite seriously. We see how IT is sapping some aspects of the brain. For example, who can recall more than a few phone numbers these days, when you know your mobile device will remember for you? Like many employers, we also see the dearth of basic writing and communication skills in job applicants who have grown up in the digital age. Often we seek aptitude and attitude, knowing we’ll need to build other skills on the job.
Yet just as IT has weakened, dare we say temporarily, some abilities, technology also has strengthened the human capacity to succeed in so many other ways. FastFit360’s apparel workflow solution, for example, enables individuals with very little experience or formal education to communicate globally about product development, technical design and quality issues. Years ago, this same employee likely would have required a lengthy apprenticeship, years of hands-on experience with draping fabrics and pattern-making — skills increasingly difficult to learn on the job in the United States. However, thanks to technology, now he or she can quickly use and learn the industry’s vocabulary and communicate detailed fit instructions through drop-down menus and easy annotation functions.
Software has become the new teacher, a positive reality in the competitive global economy. Fashion companies need employees to hit the ground running, learning on the job and contributing immediately. Apparel corporations also thrive from financial advantages of getting more productivity from fewer people, making the most of valuable human capital they have.
Beyond industry, technology promises a brighter future for the broader education system. In its October 2013 cover story, Wired explored “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses.” The article describes how innovative educators are setting kids loose to learn on their own, giving them access to the rich resources of the Internet. “Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another,” the article said. Likewise, in its November 2012 cover story, “One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education,” Forbes applauded entrepreneur Salman Khan for bringing digital lessons to millions, from L.A. to Lahore. FastFit360 heartily applauds Khan, too.
Artificial intelligence is a powerful enabler. Like all powerful things, it must be used with caution and careful consideration. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to employ our natural intelligence to leverage technology to better ourselves, our employees, our companies, our world.