Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Free with technology, not technology-free

One of my favorite authors of all time is Michael Crichton. When I saw the movie Jurassic Park, I immediately wanted to read the book (good job Steven S.). I remembered that I needed to study for a biology exam in high-school about genetics (go figure!), but I wanted so much to read that book. The strategy was:

  • read 30min;
  • study 20min;
  • read 30min;
  • study 20min…

… and that’s how I read the book in a flash and got 19.something out of 20 in the biology exam. People say that exercise is good for a good academic performance, but in that day I discovered reading. And discovered something else.

Writers like Crichton did(do) a lot of research to write their books, but what captivated me was(is) their vision about technology, and the ethical concerns if it falls into the wrong hands. In that sense, their writing becomes a warning and opens up our conscious to the limits of what we can do, and what we’re supposed to do. Technology is like a magical mirror that always reflects the truth about their master. Often we ask

– “What can I do with this technology?”, but the true question is,

– “What will I become with this technology?”

If you want to sense what is Humanity “becoming”, see the technology being developed. So… what’s the landscape?

Smartphones, smart-watches, artificial intelligence, social networking, intelligent cars, and probably the most important of all: information.

I love technology, and I experience what today’s technology is able to do for us, but I also see what it can do to us. 

Ever witness 5-6 friends around a coffee table each looking at their smartphones?

Or a girl giving ice-cream to her boyfriend at MacDonalds because he’s on Facebook?

A family sitting on a restaurant table, a couple and their daughter, all looking at their individual small screen?

Sometimes I think we’ve never been this connected, and never more isolated. Is there time – I mean – “real time” to look into my friend’s eyes and listen to him like he was the only person in the world. And control myself to the point of purposefully not paying attention to the vibration in my pocket? I do this all the time, specially if I’m talking to someone. And the sensation of freedom is amazing.

Technology is an extension of our abilities, and in a few cases  go beyond them.

Are we at the service of technology without realizing we are? Are we free relative to technology?

Several post-apocalyptic novels, series and movies picture the perfect achievement of artificial intelligence. The moment it becomes self-aware, the first thing it does is destroy humanity to protect humanity from humanity (odd…), and protect the planet.


I’ve seen this is numerous ways where we’re portrayed as a virus in this world.

But what if this is already happening?

What if the fact that people are so dependent on their mobile is precisely the way an artificial intelligence found to control us, without we even realizing?

– “Oh, no. That’s nonsense. We’re controlled by the guys in big tech companies. Not by some kind of artificial intelligence.”

– “But, what if a real artificial intelligence is not what we think it is?”

An analogy. Our thoughts imply small electric charges triggering our neurons. And even if neurons are complex structures, they never realize their combination in a particular way produces a thought. We say it is consciousness. But if we aren’t able to disconnect, maybe it means we’re already being controlled by this “collective consciousness” and its manifestation called social networking. This would be a good novel…

The best way to make sure we’re truly free is to make the following exercise: raise your head, look around and speak with people for an entire hour without picking up your mobile. Don’t turn it off. Every time is vibrates, feel it, but control your impulse to pick it up. If you can do this. You’re free.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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