Exoskeletons

Ideally, the tools we use amplify our capabilities.

I often visualize my tools as a sort of exoskeleton: an Iron Man suit, or the kind used for lifting heavy things and fighting multi-mouthed xenos in Alien.

For better and for worse, it’s possible to replace rather than enhance oneself using similar technologies and systems; robot laborers and warriors rather than tech-suits worn by humans. And in some cases such an approach will make perfect sense, while in others it will provide short-term benefits while introducing significant long-term downsides.

I personally, typically prefer tools that augment my existing strength, durability, and overall range of capabilities. I typically draw the line when they begin to automate away tasks and burdens that are beneficial for me to perform and carry, but there are arguably burdens that are not worth carrying because the benefits of the task are not in the task itself but in the arriving, the delivering, the killing of the alien.

The completion of such tasks is the point, not the performance of the task. And by unloading those responsibilities onto algorithms or machines, we can free up our brains and bodies for other things—life that we might not otherwise have the time and energy to live, and/or other work that we might actually enjoy or do better than a robo-replacement could manage.

Despite my enthusiasm for such things, I’m somewhat wary of automation because while I enjoy finding efficiencies in things that are unnecessarily burdensome, I’m also aware that relegating some tasks—no matter how ponderous and pointless they might seem on the surface—can flatten them, suck the life out of them, and deplete the difficult-to-quantify vibe that makes some end-products and activities unique and worthwhile.

This may not always be the case—these tools will no doubt continue to evolve—and many of our species’ exoskeletons are already powerful and cool and very much worth both experimenting with and utilizing where appropriate.

Some of these tools, though, will amplify our capabilities while making us dependent or numb in the tradeoff, which can result in stagnation and atrophy even as we seek growth.

It’s prudent, alongside a justified sense of curiosity and enthusiasm for the possibilities, to also cultivate a posture of care and intentional utility.

These tools are remarkable and can dramatically increase our capacity to accomplish whatever we choose to accomplish—but only if we use them appropriately, and only if we continue to develop the parts of ourselves that allow us to thoughtfully make such determinations.

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