WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday authored an op-ed for the New York Times to lay out what we lose when Big Tech algorithms replace the ritual of childhood discovery. After meeting with a group of high school students in Connecticut, Murphy explains why he thinks it is more important than ever that Congress passes the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, bipartisan legislation he introduced with U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Katie Britt (R-Ala.). As algorithms grow more sophisticated and artificial intelligence more advanced, he also argues that it’s necessary we engage in a national dialogue to weigh whether the risks posed to both kids and adults outweigh the potential benefits.
“As our children’s free time and imaginations become more and more tightly fused to the social media they consume, we need to understand that unregulated access to the internet comes at a cost. Something similar is happening for adults, too. With the advent of A.I., a spiritual loss awaits us as we outsource countless human rituals — exploration and trial and error — to machines. But it isn’t too late to change this story,” Murphy wrote.
Murphy reflected on a conversation he had with local high school students about the role social media plays in their lives: “[T]he high schoolers with whom I met alerted me to an even more insidious result of minors’ growing addiction to social media: the death of exploration, trial and error and discovery. Algorithmic recommendations now do the work of discovering and pursuing interests, finding community and learning about the world. Kids today are, simply put, not learning how to be curious, critical adults — and they don’t seem to know what they’ve lost.”
Murphy continued: “The feedback from the students in Connecticut left me more convinced than ever that this law is vital. By taking steps to separate young people from their social media dependency and forcing them to engage in real exploration to find connection and fulfillment, we can recreate the lost rituals of adolescence that, for centuries, have made us who we are.”
On the potential for artificial intelligence to have a similarly harmful impact on adults, Murphy wrote: “The role that social media has played in the declining mental health of teens also gives us a preview of what is coming for adults, with the quickening deployment of artificial intelligence and machine learning in our own lives. The psychological impact of the coming transition of thousands of everyday basic human tasks to machines will make the effect of social media look like child’s play. Today, machines help us find a song we like. Tomorrow, the machines won’t just find the song — they will create it, too. Just as we weren’t ready for the impact the social media algorithms would have on our kids, we likely aren’t prepared for the spiritual loss that will come as we outsource countless human functions to computers.”
Murphy concluded: “Regardless of whether the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act becomes law, we should get to work on a broader dialogue, with adults and kids from all walks of life, to determine if we will really be happier as a species when machines and algorithms do all the work for us, or if fulfillment only comes when humans actually do the work, like searching and discovering, of being human.”
Read the full op-ed here.