TV host and philosopher Jason Silva reads much more into the act of using a smartphone to store contacts than the rest of us who simply consider the ability a useful tool of our devices.
Storing our contacts is an example of us using smartphones “to extend the boundaries of our thought, our reach, and our vision,” said Silva, who is currently hosting a new series on the National Geographic Channel called “Brain Games” airing at 8 p.m. (Central Time) on Mondays.
“We offload our memory so that we can free up our brains to think about more creative things rather than remembering phone numbers.”
Silva, who describes himself as a “wonder junkie,” to borrow a phrase from Carl Sagan's “Contact,” sees his life's work as helping people understand and marvel at how our technology helps us transcend time, space and distance.
He talks fast and crams a lot of information and enthusiasm about the future (and past) of technology in a 10-minute interview, but he is on a mission to get people to see the wonder behind our inventions.
Whether he's talking about the invention of the alphabet, extensive use of our smartphones or the future in wearable technology, Silva notes that humans have always used technology to extend the human mind.
“Humans didn't stay in the caves. We haven't stayed on the planet. And soon, we won't stay with the limitations of even biology,” Silva said, referring to big initiatives in the United States and in Europe to study the brain and to try to model it.
These days, Silva is fulfilling his mission of bringing the wonder of technology to the masses with “Brain Games,” which offers an entertaining level of engagement for anyone who has ever enjoyed working out brain teasers and mental puzzles online, on mobile devices or on paper. Between those challenges to the viewer, the show attempts to explain the brain science behind things like fear, persuasion, and our perception of time and more.
“The idea is that the audience is a key participant in these interactive experiments, in these perceptual illusions. The show only works if your brain is engaged,” Silva said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman.
“Brain Games” is in the middle of a 12-week run. Silva, who has worked for Current TV, created online videos exploring the science of the brain and spoken on the future of technology, said he is fascinated with the brain, and he wants “Brain Games” to help viewers become more aware of their surroundings and engaged in the world.
“I think everything we make is an extension of the brain, 'cause it all emerged from the brain,” he said. “If you could look at human progress like if it was timelapsed, you would literally see that these thoughts spill over into the world in the form of technologies.”
A ‘double-edged sword'
Silva's message and his enthusiasm about all things tech and the future can be overwhelming, but he would rather people look at it with wonder instead of fear.
Take the alphabet, for example, which he calls “the greatest information technology in the history of the world.”
“The alphabet allows you on the one hand to compose Shakespearean sonnets, to capture the imagination, to enliven your mind,” he said. “On the other hand, you can use the alphabet to compose hate speech. So technology has always been a double-edged sword.”
It's up to us to create a culture in which we use these tools for the better, he added.
Another person working in the area of brain science, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, also has urged people to balance the potential for harnessing new mobile technology for good against unforeseen negative effects. Gazzaley is director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. His recent projects include the PBS special “The Distracted Mind.”
Writing for CNN last fall, he warned that mobile technology's constant interruptions are challenging our ability to focus; however, there also is evidence that the technology can be used to improve our minds.
“There are ongoing efforts by cognitive science laboratories and companies to develop cognitive assessment and brain training software that will function on mobile phones and tablets. This field is still in its infancy, but early signs are encouraging,” he said.