2015 : WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Dartmouth College; Author, The Island of Knowledge
Welcome To Your Transhuman Self

Consider this: you are late for work and, in the rush, forget your cell phone. Only when stuck in traffic, or in the subway, you realize it. Too late to go back. You look around and see everyone talking, texting, surfing, even if not allowed to do so. You sense an unfamiliar feeling of loss, of disconnection. Without your cell phone you are no longer you.

People like to speculate about when humans will hybridize with machines, become a kind of new creature, a cyborg with a beating heart. That’s fun all right, but the reality is that we are already transhuman. We define ourselves through our technogadgets, create fictitious personas with weird names, doctor pictures to appear better or at least different in Facebook pages, create a different self to interact with others. We exist on an information cloud, digitized, remote, and omnipresent. We have titanium implants in our joints, pacemakers and hearing aids, devices that redefine and extend our minds and bodies. If you are a handicapped athlete, your carbon fiber legs can propel you forward with competitive ease. If you are a scientist, computers can help you extend your brainpower to create well beyond what was possible a few decades back. New problems that were impossible to contemplate or even formulate before come around everyday. The pace of scientific progress is a direct correlate of our alliance with digital machines.

We are reinventing the human race right now.

Traditionally, the quest for an artificial intelligence tends to rely solely on machines that recreate—or so is expected—the uniquely human ability to reason. We talk about electronic brains that will quickly surpass the human mind, making us superfluous. Then we speculate about what would become of us, poor humans, at the mercy of such cold-blooded brains-in-vats. Some fear that we are designing our doom.

What if this premise is fundamentally wrong? What if the future of intelligence is not outside but inside the human brain? I imagine a very different set of issues emerging from having us become super intelligent through the extension of our brainpower with the aid of digital technology and beyond. It’s about artificially-enhanced human intelligence that amplifies the meaning of being human. We will still have a beating heart and blood pumping through our veins alongside electrons flowing through digital circuits. The future of AI is about expanding our abilities into new realms. It’s about using technology to grow as a species—certainly smarter, hopefully wiser.