Intelligence is a fun topic to delve into. Early sentient intelligent studies were incredibly one-sided, focusing only on homo sapiens sapiens, and failed to resolve any of its mysteries; much later when scientists started to search for other intelligent life on our planet (and found many, but let us consider the incredible dolphins and orangutans), things started to get more interesting. If we can find out the difference between our lesser cousins and ourselves, we could find out the real meaning of being sentient. Many differences have been found. Humans can laugh (though there’s no evidence that dolphins can’t or that orangutans need to), contemplate the future, appreciate art, and have commited relationships. However, there is no single test (except anything prejudiced in our favor) that denotes that a dolphin or a big ape is any less intelligent than we are. Both are amazing creatures, able to adapt to a variety of situations. The dolphin’s cousin – the killer whale – is perhaps the only ‘intelligent’ sea predator.
Perhaps one reason we can’t define what it means to be human is because it is an ever-changing ideal. An Egyptian is hardly similar to a modern man – both had immensely dissimilar ideas, viewpoints and morals. Like every experience, every conversation, every new thought changes a single human, every great revolution, every piece of invention and organization changes the ideal of humanity as a whole. And lately, that pace of change has been inexorably greater, mostly because of Augmented Intelligence.
Every technology or tool that we invent makes us more capable. If intelligence is a measure of how capable we are at solving set tasks, it can be said that every tool makes us more intelligent, however crass that analogy may be. But when talking about simple instruments like a hammer or a microscope, there is a clear dilenation between the inanimate tool and the human behind it. When immersive computing is brought into the equation, things are subtly changed. Most of the time, that is because the computer is an infinitely resourceful tool, able to mould itself around the intelligence of its user, extending it – perhaps to do rigorous number crunching or extensive analysis. Remember the match between Big Blue and Kasparov? It wasn’t Big Blue who beat Kasparov, it was the research team behind the computer, but we forget the distinction easily.
Augmented Intelligence is thus a misnomer. Our intelligence increases only in that we are able to do more tasks easily, and some tasks that we couldn’t do before. It is no different than the earliest of our inventions: using fire to eat cooked food. But since Augmented Intelligence arouses in us visions of a metal man, a hybrid between man and machine, nanobots and more, which somehow give us more capabilities than a normal human, we tend to shy away from it. In reality, the cellphone that you have, the calculator that you use, the computer that you send emails from, the TV or radio that brings you information all augments your intelligence. And like every other piece of technology, it changes the humanity in us only so long as we let it. Augmented Intelligence, like its counterpart Artificial Intelligence is at the heart of many controversies and false truths of the Silicon Age. And yet, it is also an under-exploited capability that we humans have, right now.
Aside from the way AI has subtly changed our lives, we refuse, perhaps for fear of losing our humanity, to clearly examine how a man-machine relationship works. A closer look at the interface between a human and a computer, and the various ways to enhance that relationship would be in order if we are to further add to our humanity. One of the subtle ways in which to do that would be to organize man-machine vs man-machine chess competitions. Instead of perpetuating a Man vs specific Machine in a special context, the focus will then change to the collaboration between Man and Machine. That would help everyone.