Tools have played a central role in human evolution since our ancestors first developed hand axes and similar such stone tools a few million years ago. Ever since, we’ve been co-evolving right alongside the tools we create. “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us,” observed noted author and educator Marshal McLuhan in the 1960s.
The Industrial Revolution led to dramatic improvements in productivity and standard of living over the past two hundred years. This is due largely to the machines we invented to make up for our physical limitations - the steam engines that enhanced our physical power, the railroads and cars that made up for our slow speed, and the airplanes that gave us the ability to fly.
Similarly, for the past several decades computers have been augmenting our intelligence and problem solving capabilities. And, according to IBM’s John Kelly and Steve Hamm, there is much more to come. In Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, Research director John Kelly and writer and strategist Steve Hamm, note that “We are at the dawn of a major shift in the evolution of technology. The changes that are coming over the next two decades will transform the way people live and work, just as the computing revolution has transformed the human landscape over the past half century. We call this the era of cognitive computing.”