Technology is amazing. I’m a big fan. But I don’t see it matching the human mind for all around brilliance any time soon. Even seeing Roger Sterling (from Mad Men) climb into a “smarter than luxury” Lincoln 2011 MKX toting its intuitive technology doesn’t convince me. It can park itself, and even stop if it detects danger, but it can’t feel satisfaction, George Castanza style, after the perfect park, or stop mid park to let someone else take the space just because its feeling generous. The car has spatial judgment, but no emotional discernment, like joy or compassion.
Recently the television series Jeopardy pitted two of its top contestants of all time against a computer known as Watson. Watson won both times. An article in Forbes magazine says that IBM’s Watson is the beginning of a new era in computer technology. Watson had no internet access during the matches, but has 200 million pages of content and the full text of Wikipedia stored in its system.
Some suggest that the revolutionary advance of Watson is computer intuition. Watson could answer a question with more than one meaning correctly based on the context of the question. For example, he could distinguish between socialite Paris Hilton and the Hilton Hotel in France. This is an exciting development for a computer, but it still doesn’t rival the human brain for imagination and creativity. It can feel neither attraction nor cynicism towards Paris Hilton, and it can’t long to be in Paris, France, like most of us do at some point. I’m not sure that intuition is the right word to describe what Watson is capable of doing.
Maybe Watson is the next step in artificial intelligence, the point of singularity that many expect in our life time where machines will be smarter than the intelligence of humanity collected for over 100,000 years. Some claim that Watson marks THE moment of singularity. Artificial intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil defines singularity as “the ability of a computer to PRETEND to be human and win the Turing Test.” (the Turing Test was designed in the 1950s to compare the intelligence of machines and humans.) The machine can only pretend to be human. The complexity of the human brain can’t be fully understood, let alone copied.
Comparisons between machines and humans are inevitable, but maybe not productive. They may bring altogether different intelligences to the table, complimentary but incomparable.
While machines can make incredible discernments based on contexts, they can’t make the sort of intuitive leaps of faith that the human brain is capable of taking. We do well to remember the gift of the intuitive mind. As Albert Einstein said,
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
A machine can’t see around corners the way the intuitive human mind can know things without knowing how we know things. And a machine can’t make complex moral decisions in the grey zone, the way we do. But then again maybe my opinions include a leap of faith using the machine in between my ears with its complex stored memories and neural connections.
Technology may not have human intuition, but it can partner with human intuition in amazing ways. Technology creates ways to work with human intuition. I read an interview with some wine makers who described the connection between technology and intuition.
What the new facility has given us, is far greater ability to act quickly on our intuition—so when Liam and I are standing in the vineyard tasting the fruit and we decide the moment is right to harvest our Sauvignon Blanc for example, the capacity and quality of the winery machinery means we can have all of the fruit juiced within hours. This means the juice we start making our wine with is the most true to the fruit we tasted in the vineyards as possible.
I’ll drink to that! Technology and intuition are partners like hand and glove. We can honor both equally. Technology can sometimes cover for the risk of human error, such as the self parking car. Both are important and both are imperfect. Time will tell if technology is capable of producing human, or humane, moral judgment and intuition, and time will tell if the human brain can evolve beyond current limitations. That would be a point of singularity that I could get excited about. In the meantime, let’s take the best of both technology and human intuition, and let both of them work together for the good of the planet and all of its citizens.