From brain v computer to brain + computer

For anyone worried about our fixation on the adversarial trope of man v machine, two articles appear on the same day, promoting convergence over conflict.

First, “A key to the human brain” on the BCS website is both refreshing and instructive. Described as the “first of four articles on the implications of the convergence of computing, biogenetics and cognitive neuroscience”, it replaces oppositional thinking with reflections on brain-computer convergence, believing that “human and artificial intelligence and their relation to the genetic code offer enormous opportunities for new research and innovation.” Whether or not the end game of all this is “prosthetic brains” will leave some people wondering if this is really possible, and no doubt as many wondering if this is what humanity truly needs.

Second, a feature on the TechCrunch website reflects on “The era of AI-human hybrid intelligence”. It is less technical and richer in its linkings, and it offers some helpful thoughts on intelligence as it actually expresses itself. Natural language generation technology is a clearly wonderful thing but for the foreseeable future it will need augmenting with human curation skills to understand the subtle differences of nuance that exist between what is expressed and what is comprehended.

For the time being, we wonder if brains are being constrained to act more like computers (the slaves-to-technology school of thought) or if computers will be best improved by being modelled on the human brain. With articles such as these, our thinking is evolving beyond the choices implicit in A versus B, towards reflections on the potential in symbiosis and convergence. When synthesised intelligence becomes the objective, we move onwards as a species to considering A plus B.

In time to come, we will face a gigantic questioning of our identity as a species: is our goal to be the best we can be, and not just “faster, higher, stronger”? Does the focus change if we amend the Olympic motto to “faster, higher, stronger, smarter”? Do we aim to be as smart as we can be, or possibly higher as being as intelligent as smart-without-limits may allow? And which choice offers better odds on survival?

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