The Consequence of Dependence

By Dr. Karen Rezach, Director of the Ethics Institute at Kent Place School

Dependence is defined as “the state of relying on, or being controlled by someone or something else.” I thought about this term, “dependence,” after a conversation I had recently with a group of high school students:

We were talking about GPS systems, namely, Waze and Google Maps, and our reliance upon them for mapping and timing. Understandably, those apps are used to get directions to a location that one has never been to before. But, I explained, I also use those apps to figure out the “fastest route,” as well as how much time I will need to get to where I am going. 

The students agreed with what I was saying; however, they wondered what life was like BEFORE GPS systems. I told them that you would carry a map in your glove compartment and, if you needed to figure out your way, you would use the map to navigate, or you would ask someone for help with directions. They looked at me with a puzzled expression. Now these were not students who would have difficulty reading a map or navigating a route. Yet, the concept seemed completely incomprehensible to them.

“How would you read the map and drive at the same time?” they asked. 

“You wouldn’t,” I replied. “You would pull over and read the map and write down the directions.”

Puzzled again, they asked, “Where would you pull over?”

I said, “A parking lot! A side street!”

“If you were driving by yourself, who would you ask for directions?” they wondered.

I said, “Didn’t you ever hear that gas stations were for directions as much as they were for filling up your car with gas!”

Surprised by these questions, I asked them, “What would YOU do if you didn’t have the GPS.”

The answer was unanimous and was said in unison: “We wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Dependence – the state of relying on or being controlled by something else. In this case, dependence on a form of AI that took over our ability to navigate, to travel, to find our way from point A to point B without even realizing that our dependence had become so great. The harmful consequence of this dependence is glaringly evident in the students’ statement: “We wouldn’t go anywhere.”

And not only do we rely on GPS systems, we are also controlled by them. I usually don’t question the route that my GPS sends me on – how did I come to trust it so completely, without any thought of ulterior motive or error?

Our dependence upon AI in so many areas of our lives is absolutely scary…because we don’t even realize it’s happening. There used to be other ways to do things – methods that required a little extra work and thinking…reading, researching, making decisions for ourselves. Slowly but surely, we are becoming dependent on AI in every aspect of our lives. 

By the way, I Googled  “dependence” to find its definition – I wouldn’t even know where to find an actual dictionary!