If you don't use your brain, you could lose its abilities.

Barely Functional

Just like smartphone GPS has harmed our sense of spatial cognition and memory, artificial intelligence may soon impair our ability to make decisions for ourselves — an outcome that would be, one expert warns, "catastrophic."

In an interview with PsyPost, neuropsychology expert Umberto León Domínguez of the University of Monterrey in Mexico said that his new research shows that AI chatbots may end up not just mimicking our speech patterns, but significantly harming our cognitive functioning in general.

Like many other educators, Domínguez said he's concerned about how his students are using tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT. Spurred by those concerns, he told PsyPost, he began to explore ways AI chatbots "could interfere with higher-order executive functions to understand how to also train these skills."

"I began to explore and generalize the impact," the researcher said, "not only as a student but as humanity, of the catastrophic effects these technologies could have on a significant portion of the population by blocking the development of these cognitive functions."

In his paper, which was recently published in the American Psychology Association's journal Neuropsychology, the researcher claimed that AI may act as a "cognitive prosthesis." First theorized back in 2019 by Falk Lieder, an AI researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, these purported synthetic mental limbs that would process mental tasks and eventually assist in decision-making were initially thought of as a positive thing — but to Domínguez's mind, they're anything but.

Think It Through

Instead of being a helpful addition to human consciousness, the Mexican researcher argued in his paper that he's worried about "cognitive offloading," or the use of AI in place of the types of mental tasks like problem-solving that we currently do the old-fashioned way, by thinking. To use a physical metaphor, over-reliance on AI for thought processes may weaken our minds the way not exercising weakens our muscles — leading, ultimately, to atrophy.

Though cognitive offloading can be helpful because it "frees up cognitive load that can then be directed towards more complex cognitions," Domínguez said he's concerned that ChatGPT and its ilk may be capable of "planning and making decisions on your behalf" — which is a pretty freaky thought indeed.

"Just as one cannot become skilled at basketball without actually playing the game," he explained, "the development of complex intellectual abilities requires active participation and cannot solely rely on technological assistance."

While the thought of using ChatGPT in its current state to make decisions seems ridiculous to anyone following the technology's advancement, there's already evidence that folks are experimenting with it that way — and looking at the way phones have affected our brains, there's no reason to think AI couldn't have equally far-reaching effects.

More on AI decision-making: Man Uses AI to Talk to 5000 Women on Tinder, Finds Wife

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