An interesting juxtaposition seems to be forming in our culture and society today. The news is overwhelmed with announcement after announcement about the next great thing that has happened in the world of artificial intelligence. The milestones are being reached in record fashion and the changes are mind-blowing. Meanwhile, we also hear about the growing struggles between individuals, political unrest, and cultural strifes. As a society our attention has shifted inwards on ourselves more than ever before. We focus on the next dopamine drop, endorphin elevation, and adrenaline accelerant. We've lost the will and the power to think.
This frightful decline of human intelligence and the obsolescence of thought in an age of rapidly evolving artificial intelligence and the advancements in machine learning invokes thoughtful introspection on our culture.
What should we take away from this precarious situation and what lessons should we learn?
Machines will continue to get smarter, faster
If there's one fact that's certain, it is that machines are getting smarter and they are getting smarter faster. One needs only look at the advancements made by some of the world's largest companies and the announcements made in their artificial intelligence endeavors to see the reality of this. One of the greatest examples which I love to share is in regards to the Google Alpha Go team. Here's a snippet from a recent press release they shared:
Over the course of millions of AlphaGo vs AlphaGo games, the system progressively learned the game of Go from scratch, accumulating thousands of years of human knowledge during a period of just a few days. AlphaGo Zero also discovered new knowledge, developing unconventional strategies and creative new moves that echoed and surpassed the novel techniques it played in the games against Lee Sedol and Ke Jie.
- Source: Deep Mind (emphasis my own)
But this is only the beginning. In a matter of days this system learned more than all of human knowledge. And it continued to learn; the system created new moves that humans had never played before. While some look at this as just a game, it represents something much greater. The underlying premise that machines can and will learn faster than humans is sustained.
Humans need to consider our unique abilities
Usually a statement like the previous brings fear and panic within people and the result is an irrational attempt to then limit our technological advances. Rather than taking a rational approach we instead focus on how to impede our own progress. We focus not on our strengths but instead on how to retard the strength of our systems. In any other environment we would look at this purposeful slowing of progress as luddite or backwards-thinking.
I suggest we should instead focus on our unique abilities. What are those things we are quite far from imbuing into machines? Feeling, emotion, passion, empathy, or perhaps of even more importance: the ability to determine causality.
Causal reasoning is easy for you because you are human, and you were once a three-year-old, and you had a marvelous three-year-old brain that understood causation better than any animal or computer. ... we have to teach the computer how to selectively break the rules of logic. Computers are not good at breaking rules, a skill at which children excel.
- Source: The Book of Why (emphasis my own)
I could elaborate on this point...but as you can tell from my source, I don't want to steal my thunder for my Friday post! Just know this book is awesome and I'll share more with you at the end of the week.
Our focus should be on collaborative benefits
I've written about this previously, and I expect this will be a frequent topic in the coming months as it's on the absolute forefront of my mind. This is the future we need to be focused on. This concept of collaborative benefits. How do we improve the future of humanity through an embedded intelligent relationship with computers and artificial intelligence? We are better when we focus on our combined strengths and how we collaborate and share strengths. When we place our human qualities in parallel with the computational powers of computers we can achieve phenomenal results. Here's a quote from one of my favorite posts on this topic:
Creating computers that can think will be our greatest invention yet—they’ll allow us to outsource our most important and high-impact work. Thinking is what built everything we have, so just imagine the power that will come from building ourselves a super-intelligent thinking extension. And extensions of the people by definition belong to the people—they’re of the people.
- Source: Wait But Why: NeuraLink (emphasis my own)
Again, I have written about this before and will be writing on it in greater depth in the future so I'll spare you the diatribe here. The key takeaway is simple: a future of combined human and computer intelligence empowers the human race to achieve unparalleled success and significant advancements as a civilization.
Be brave, be smart, be thoughtful
In conclusion I would leave you with a simple three step directive. Rather than being afraid of the unknown and hiding from the future or denying our species the excitement of what could be, revel in the possibilities, explore the future with an intelligent and thoughtful approach. When we do this we will achieve great things. We set a course for the future that advances our world and creates an ever-expanding universe for generations to come.