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Humans, not artificial intelligence, carry the greatest potential for change

Posted April 30, 2015

Humans, like individual cells in a functional multicellular organism, can collaborate to make great deeds happen. Technology is, quite naturally, accelerating change by making us more interconnected and capable. Even further, the promise of superior artificial intelligence is fueling our hopes for solving some of the most distressing problems of the world – but will computers be the ultimate saviors of human kind, or do they need us just as much as we need them?

Image via Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain).

Image via Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain).

Humans (well to be fair, all live beings) are all about information processing – from unicellular organisms to every cell in huge multicellular animals can only survive by accepting data about the surrounding world and processing it in an informative way.

Say, during human embryonic development, hundreds of epithelial cells signal each other to complete important events – close the neural tube, form all the major organs etc. None of these events would happen without effective communication and collaboration between cells and an early embryo would never develop into a functional human being.

Processes as complicated as neural tube development in an embryo would never happen without efficient coordination between cells. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Processes as complicated as neural tube development in an embryo would never happen without efficient coordination between cells. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In this day of age, it is quite safe to say that humans function as part of a highly interconnected multicellular organism – we have developed tools to externalize and share information, much like signaling is done at the cellular level. However, humans are also privileged in this sense, as we have superior technological tools to connect and process data, and these are improving further still.

In principle then, we could become as functional as highly coordinated cells of the body and make important events happen in our environment too (and there is no shortage of those!).

However, if we are being completely honest, a lot of the hope for the future is put in the technology itself – but no supercomputer is likely to complete great deeds without human input. Even if we manage to map the entire human connectome – that is, all the neural circuits in our brain – and replicate that in a machine, it is somewhat unlikely that artificial intelligence created this way would be superior to human intelligence.

The more we know about human cognition, the more we realize that intelligence is not only about the bare connections between neurons – non-neuronal cells may play key parts in brain signaling too. That makes artificial replication of human intelligence all the more complicated.

Humans have what machines do not – intuition, creativity, ability to abstract; yet computers are better at completing mechanistic tasks, carrying out complex calculations, organizing and storing large amounts of data. Should not then the greatest hopes for the future lie less in creating artificial intelligence, but bettering human-computer convergence instead?

Numerous human computation efforts are proving just that – human participants are helping to digitize books, transcribe historic records , analyze & classify images, solve complicated scientific puzzles and create other meaningful knowledge in crowdsourced initiatives all around the globe.

Will the future see technology-enabled collective intelligence (the true “supercomputers”!) change the world? We certainly hope so.

Source: Pietro Michelucci (2015). Human Computation and Convergence. arXiv:1503.05959v1 [cs.HC]

Written by Eglė Marija Ramanauskaitė

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