When Machines Get Super Savvy, Will Human Intelligence Become Obsolete?

A leading expert in the field of Artificial Intelligence argues that smart machines will compliment, not copy us


The term Singularity refers to the theory that — in conformance with the way technology has been advancing— ultra-sophisticated technology is inevitably likely to emerge. Technology so advanced, it would surpasses human intelligence and capability.

Singularity has become a common theme in pop culture and science fiction and it certainly hasn’t been ignored by academics. When it comes to the debate over whether the moment of singularity will actually arrive… the jury’s still out.

A recent article by Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, takes a look at this issue.  Before presenting his personal opinion, Prescott raises an important question: How should Artificial Intelligence (AI) really be compared to human intelligence? If you ask Prescott, human intelligence encompasses much more than the raw brain power of the average individual— something that evolved to its current capacity around 100,000 years ago. For this reason, Prescott maintains that we should actually be comparing AI to our collective human intelligence. “After all, as an entity, AI can stretch across multiple machines. Likewise, the human race amounts to much more than the sum of its parts when we share our capabilities. And why strip us humans of our intelligence-enhancing artifacts?… intelligence-boosting technologies have hugely expanded our ability to apply shared knowledge and control our environment according to our goals…cultural and scientific development have led to a larger, longer-lived and better-educated human species.”

This notion of collective intelligence is something cyberneticist, Francis Heylighen, refers to as “Global Brainpower.” And according to Prescott, this communal strength makes the possibility of singularity happening far less likely. Additionaly he argues that while humans are working hard to make machines more advanced, they’re still far from being on par with many human qualities.

Humans are experts in the seemingly simply skills of acting in and understanding our world. Robots however, are not— the clumsy maneuvres at robo cup tournaments certainly highlight this fact. And in the long run, Prescott argues that there is no economic incentive for replacing this aspect of human intelligence “machines will continue to be engineered to take on the tasks we do poorly, rather than the ones we do well. Like symbiotic systems in nature, the future partnership of people with intelligent machines will be successful because its two halves complement, rather than copy, each other.”

Tony Prescott is also the Director of the Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo), Director of the Active Touch Laboratory, Co-Director of the Adaptive Behaviour Research Group and a Visiting Fellow at Bristol Robotics Laboratory. You can read the full story about his take on super-intelligent machines HERE.

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