With movies like Genesis, Terminator, Artificial Intelligence and I, Robot—it appears that machines can surpass humans.
But will this become a reality or remain a science fiction?
Science fiction or reality?
In the middle of the twentieth century, an American biochemist and a prolific writer, Isaac Asimov, remarked “Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact.”
And with the invention of amazing machines that can perform wonderful tasks, faster and more precisely than any human, Asimov’s statement seems almost like a prophecy.
Not only him, but also many other science fiction writers joined him in this oracle.
In Looking Backward: 2000–1887, journalist and writer, Edward Bellamy, introduced a concept of a universal credit card.Today, it is a part of our lifestyle.
In his novel, The Lord Ironclad, HG Wells introduced warfare machines on land. We now have automatic tanks in armies.
Ray Bradbury, a sci-fi legend, introduced the concept of small earbuds in the 1950 s. It entered our culture in 2000. Nowadays, everybody has small earphones.
E-readers, translation machines and smartphones were all part of science fiction.They are now a reality.
Looking back at all these examples, we may think ‘Well, nothing is impossible.’ But can machines surpass humans one day? If they do, that day will be the start of the end of human civilization!
Can machines surpass humans?
Do not worry. We are far from machines surpassing humans. Even a kindergarten kid can do better at many daily routine stuff that machines find impossible to do.
There are at least four areas in which humans beat machines.
1. The Power to create Ideas
Man is a slow, sloppy and brilliant thinker;
the machine is fast, accurate and stupid.
(John Pfeiffer, Design Engineer)
Humans have perceptual, symbolic and conceptual thinking.
For example, I can see this paper. I have perception. I can write on it. Hence, I have symbolic thinking. I cab write an idea and later evaluate the piece of writing to gain further insight and ideas. I therefore have the power to conceive ideas, conceptual thinking.
Do machines have any of these?
Machines can imitate human perceptual and symbolic thinking. You can insert a lens and photo sensor in a machine and it will perceive, I mean, start registering the information. It can then take in information and symbolize it into zeros and ones as binary data. This is the symbolic thinking. But it cannot create a concept or an idea from that data. The most that machines can do is give random choices by probabilities and correlation of data, based on which humans can come up with ideas, but machines cannot create an idea.
Machines can never replace Darwin or Einstein. They cannot even replace a two-year-old infant! They cannot write a detective novel. They cannot even say ‘This boy looks cute.’ They cannot create ideas.
To sum up, machines have speed, but humans have ideas.
2. Instincts and Awareness
Machines do not know… Machines do not know that they know.
This statement by Hubert Dreyfus, professor of philosophy at the University of Berkeley and a strong critic of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is quoted in his book ‘What Computers Can’t Do’ which was published in 1972. Even after two decades of publishing his book, machines did not have the ability to think.Then in 1992, he brought out a revised edition, with a new title, ‘What Computers Still Can’t Do.’ And to-date, computers are unable to think!
Basically, he said even the perceptual and symbolic thinking that a machine does is nowhere near what a human does. Humans know that they are perceiving and symbolizing. They have cognition of their activities. But a dead machine is simply mimicking thinking without any cognition of any kind whatsoever.
Dreyfus argued that the difference between human thinking and a machine mimicking thinking is that not only humans know that they are thinking, that they are conscious of their thinking process, but that human intelligence and expertise depend on unconscious processes rather than conscious symbolic manipulation. He argued that these subconscious processes can never be fully captured in formal rules. The subconscious works not by intelligence but by instincts.
Computer scientist, Donald Knuth also noted, “Artificial intelligence by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires thinking but has failed to do most of what people and animals do without thinking. That is sometimes harder.”
In essence, machines can only do data crunching and mimicking, while humans can understand and are aware of their thinking process.
3. Plasticity of Human Brain
Our brains renew themselves throughout life,
to an extent previously thought not possible.
(Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California)
Human brains are often compared to computers. Brain substance is seen as hardware, and brain functions and processes as software. But Dreyfus argues these are simply naïve assumptions.
He states that AI scientists have simply assumed that the brain processes information in discrete operations and using predictive rules like any computer program. Modern psychology and philosophy likewise do not support the assumptions of AI.
Dreyfus also maintains that AI has simply assumed that the brain, in itself, is like a hardware. But unlike any computer hardware which is fixed, the human brain has amazing capacity to change repeatedly. This phenomenon of brain is called plasticity.
Plasticity occurs when the healthy parts of the brain take over the functions of the damaged part due to either a stroke or a brain tumor or the aging process.
Surprisingly, in these cases, people with almost fifty percent of their brain removed, have the remaining half of their brain take over the functions of the removed parts.
The brain is special and cannot be compared to a computer at all.
4. Human Nature
One purpose of smart machine is to free us up to do the thousand and one things humans enjoy from singing to swimming to falling in love. (Steven Baker, non-fiction author, Final Jeopardy)
In his famous book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas Hofstadter, an American professor of cognitive science, notes, “One thing a chess program cannot do, if you ask the program in the middle of the game, do you want to continue to play chess? It cannot say—no I am bored of chess. Let’s talk about something else.”
Machines cannot appreciate the higher cognitive faculties of friendship, peace and love. They cannot cut jokes.
They are boring, cold, and emotionless… ultimately a dead object! While humans are interesting, warm, and loving… a living being!