2 min read

Can GPS Cause Dementia?

Starting about 10 years ago I made a modest prediction (as I saw it) and began starting it in talks. I recently shared that same prediction in some posts on social media. They generated a bit more attention and discussion than I expected, and so I think it's worthwhile to do something I never do: explore the comments. First, let’s look at the original context and source material.

My prediction: in 20 or so years, we will see a small but substantial increase in dementia.

The cause: GPS-based AI navigation systems, like Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze.

We know navigating through space is prophylactic against cognitive decline, but we rarely do it any more. And it's beginning to show...

Not only do people with “greater lifetime GPS experience have worse spatial memory during self-guided navigation”, but greater GPS use over a 3 year period “was associated with a steeper decline in...spatial memory”, even for those with strong initial memory and spatial reasoning. “Habitual use of GPS negatively impacts spatial memory during self-guided navigation

Furthermore, active navigation requires deeper processing than just following directions, and is associated with improved cognitive longevity. “Hippocampal and prefrontal processing of network topology to simulate the future

What can you do? Take a different route to work. Actively create a new path and engage your brain! “Spatial knowledge impairment after GPS guided navigation: Eye-tracking study in a virtual town

This goes beyond navigation and GPS. "People who use Google to answer general knowledge” questions become overconfident in their own ability and even come to “mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own. “People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own

People should not only be better when they are using technology, they should be better than where they started when they turn it off again.

I normally have a hard rule about reading comments, but a few came to my attention:

And one commenter posted an interesting self-exploration of his urban explorations:

Am I a neuron? A Quantified Self-experiment using my GPS data about exploring the world.