The Future of AI: The More We Know the Tech, the More We Know Ourselves

Back in 1969, supercomputers housed at NASA’s Houston headquarters were responsible for landing the very first men on the moon. These computers were at the bleeding edge of innovation, and represented the ways in which human beings could achieve extraordinary feats with the help of technology.

Today, the phone you have in your pocket is more powerful than almost all of those supercomputers combined, capable of executing millions of calculations per second. The technology once tasked with guiding human beings through space is now less powerful than the tech we use to watch cat videos on YouTube or find the fastest route home during rush hour. 

As computing technology and artificial intelligence advance, the speed in which they do so increases exponentially. If the computing power of a cell phone was capable of landing men on the moon only half a century ago, what will AI be capable of within our lifetimes?

During his FWD keynote address, James Barratauthor of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era — put the breakneck speed of technological advancement into sharp perspective: “We’ve already created machines that are better than humans at chess, and tasks like navigation and search. Soon we’ll create machines that are better at AI R&D. At that point, they’ll be able to improve their intelligence very quickly — and these machines will jump from roughly human-level intelligence to what people refer to as super intelligence.” 

 

Our Tech, Ourselves

Since its inception, AI has always been a study of how to replicate our own psyche in a machine. Those applications are usually narrow — like finding the best route home from work or playing a game of chess — but doesn’t discount the fact that, unlike other technologies, AI is a study of the human condition. 

James put it like this: “Because AI [development] involves neuroscience, psychology, ethics, language — even recognizing objects — it is the deepest look that scientists have ever had at what makes us who we are and what we are.”

Consider the work that behemoth companies like Google is currently undertaking in the realm of AI. During their talk at FWD 2018, Google software engineer, Divya Tyam, and head of product inclusion, Reena Jana, explored how Google is effectively taking the human condition and expanding its possibilities through the power of AI. 

Reena put it succinctly: “[AI] is less about science fiction and more about the science of making [non-living] things smart. It’s not necessarily about making them more like humans, but to augment our abilities as humans to solve really specific problems and problem sets to make our work more efficient.”

This is why the makeup of Google’s AI closely mirrors the way in which the human mind works — the “deep neural networks” that power Google Machine Learning (and virtually all MR, for that matter) are structured much like the network of neurons in our own brains. Through iterative processes that allow Google engineers to set parameters for these neurons, machines can operate in ways that are increasingly like how the human mind operates.

It’s this structure that also allows machines not just to know, but to learn — which, up until recently, was a hallmark of the human brain and not a machine. So now that machines can learn like we do — and are poised to surpass human cognition because of this propensity for learning — what does it mean for the future of AI?

 

The Now, The Next

With nearly every major company investing in AI and Machine Learning, the question isn’t whether or not we’ll reach a point when artificial intelligence rivals and even surpasses human intelligence — it’s a question of what we’ll do when we get there.

Humanity is already setting the stage for the close of the Human Era. The choices we are making now will ultimately determine the ways in which we control (or don’t control) AI in the future — and the implications go far beyond technology.

For Solstice, it’s not about innovation for innovation’s sake — like Google, it comes down to leveraging AI to enhance who we are as human beings.

Take for instance BrAInwave, a Solstice Labs experience that debuted at FWD 2018. By weaving together seven best-in-class technologies including computer vision and text sentiment analysis, BrAInwave creates a richer understanding of a participant’s subconscious mind, and uses that data to connect them with others with whom they’ll likely connect on a deeper emotional level. 

With BrAInwave, it’s not a smoke and mirrors demonstration of AI  — it is problem-solving through the lens of the human condition, and a clear answer to the question of how technology could (and should) operate as a conduit for human connection.

The question of how humanity will ultimately guide and benefit from AI looms large in the minds of those leading the way toward machine super intelligence. If an AI-powered future society is inevitable, how is humanity ultimately creating this future? Will humanity rise to the challenge, and work together to create a future that benefits rather than belittles the human experience?

For James, it’s a question that has yet to be answered — and one he posed at the end of his FWD keynote: “AI asks us in a very meaningful way… what is it we hope to do when we want to mirror human cognition in a machine? What is our superpower intelligence?”