How Technologies Amplify Human Abilities (1/2)

Jinho D. Choi
4 min readSep 18, 2023


Image by Freepik (background)

In the previous section, I introduced the CAP (Core, Augmented, Perceptive) abilities and explained their roles in flourishing in the era of AI.

We have witnessed numerous technologies that enhance human capabilities. Consider the calculator: it empowers us with lightning-fast calculations. Calculators operate deterministically such that they always produce consistent results for the same arithmetic equations — a level of certainty never guaranteed for human calculations. Once the input is correctly entered, a calculator ensures that it gives us the correct output.

A more intelligent technology that has become indispensable for us is the GPS navigator: it enables us to explore unfamiliar places with ease. Given source and destination locations along with additional data like maps and traffic conditions as input, the GPS navigator aims to provide us with the most optimized route. Unlike calculators, however, its output is not deterministic. With the same source and destination, it often suggests multiple paths that may not be even the most optimal, due to different path-finding algorithms, challenges in accessing real-time traffic data, or using outdated maps. Nonetheless, most of us continue to rely on its suggestions because it generally offers solutions that are “sufficiently good” for our needs.

Undoubtedly, calculators and GPS navigators enhance our abilities in those specific tasks. The question is how: if these technologies impart entirely new abilities to us that we have never possessed before, even if our abilities to perform those tasks are zero, they should still allow us to complete them. To delve deeper into this, let us think about the case of calculators. Can we effectively use a calculator without knowing anything about arithmetic? The answer is a resounding “No.” Unless you have a grasp of arithmetic principles and can formulate equations for what you need to measure, a calculator remains largely inert.

More importantly, the depth of your knowledge in advanced arithmetic operations directly impacts the calculator’s utility. Consider this: if you only understand addition but not multiplication, calculating the total number of students in 10 classes, each with 5 students, might lead you to input an equation like (5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 = 50) instead of a more efficient equation like (5 x 10) = 50. Similarly, if you are unfamiliar with division, attempting to distribute 50 students into 10 classes evenly would be challenging, whereas those versed in division can effortlessly formulate the equation (50 ÷ 10 = 5) for the task. Therefore, calculators do not add the ability to you; they amplify the ability that you already have. In other words, how it augments your ability is not the operation of “plus (+)” but “times (x)”:

What about GPS navigators? Can you reach your desired destination without having any concept of navigation? If you do not know how to read maps, the navigator’s guidance becomes difficult to follow. A lack of familiarity with street names can lead you to inadvertently passing crucial turns. Moreover, when unexpected events like road closures occur, and the GPS navigator insists on directing you through the blocked route because it does not have the updated map, you must rely on your own instincts to navigate out of the situation.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced driver, you can make wise decisions among the suggestions provided by the navigator, rather than relying solely on its directives. GPS navigator may propose a route that you have never taken before. Without experience, you will not be able to recognize it as a potentially better path than the ones you are already familiar with, in which case, you lose a chance to enhance your navigation skills by exploring the newly suggested route. Once again, your expertise in navigation determines the extent of the benefit you gain from the GPS navigator, as it amplifies your ability.

The concept of the CAP abilities that I introduced in the previous section applies well in these two technologies:


  • Core Ability: Your arithmetic skills and understanding.
  • Augmented Ability: Rapid and precise calculations by the calculator.
  • Perceptive Ability: Applying your arithmetic skills to address real-world problems effectively.

GPS Navigator:

  • Core Ability: Your competence in map reading and road name recall.
  • Augmented Ability: Finding optimal routes between source and destination locations.
  • Perceptive Ability: Deciding which suggested paths to follow and handling unexpected events, such as accidents or road closures.

To summarize, technologies do not enhance us by adding external abilities, but rather by amplifying our innate abilities. In the following section, we will explore whether this principle can be extended to AI technologies.



Jinho D. Choi

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Quantitative Theory and Methods, and Linguistics at Emory University