Can machines make our minds more powerful?
Your head contains a learning device far more powerful than a computer. The 100 billion neurons of the human brain are each connected with as many as 10,000 others, creating a neural network of incredible power. Where a typical laptop carries out a rapid 1 billion operations per second, your brain does an unfathomable 2.2 quadrillion. That’s 15 zeros.
Despite this, in our digital era we’re increasingly obsessed with improving our tech, inventing AIs that can do everything from recognising faces to radiography, chess-playing to bot-chat. In order to avoid becoming more stupid, losing our ability to think or forgetting what we know as we’re sucked stealthily into the machine zone, here instead are three ways to upgrade ourselves:
First, invest equally in exploring human and machine learning. Since IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, artificial intelligence has taken off. But so too have our own minds, not least in their ability to invent ever more powerful AI. Under the right conditions, your human intelligence grows hand-in-hand with new technology.
Second, resist user-friendliness. Your tech isn’t interested in making you smarter, but only in harnessing your attention with a continual flow of zaps, nudges, buzzes and bleeps. Sure, it’s fun – like eating candy for a kid. But just as those delicious sugary snacks have no nutritional value, neither is there learning value in what your apps are feeding you.
Third, don’t automate human intelligence, augment it. Your tech wants to make life easy for you, outsourcing map-reading, calculation and memory. But your brain thrives on challenge. Just as when you go to the gym, you don’t get any fitter unless you feel that burn, so you can’t expand your mind without some intellectual heavy-lifting.
Finally, remember that you are born to learn. Right now machines are making you stupid, but if you follow these rules, they can make you smart.