Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Intellectual Leverage

In primitive times we used really crude tools. Rocks lightly chiseled and attached to sticks. Rock fragments tied to poles. Whatever was simple and would get the job done.

As we absorbed and evolved this tools, we began to include more and more different materials. From sticks and stones, we moved to metals, cloth, concrete and plastics.

As we practiced, we became more and more precise.

But we exploded in our understanding when we invented tools to help us build tools. The industrial revolution set us off on an accelerating path towards better and more focus tools, culminating in generalized robots that eventually will be able to build anything, at anytime.

As we did for our muscles, we can also do for our intellect. Currently we are extending our understanding with crude tools. We’re still in the intellectual bronze age, but hopefully that won’t last too long. Next, we’ll build powerful tools that will help us build better and more precise tools. We’ll be able to leverage our crude knowledge into something more sophisticated. In this way we will accelerate knowledge acquisition in the same way we accelerated our constructive abilities with tools and robots.

Is this future dependent on artificial intelligence (AI)? I doubt that it is a necessity, particularly in the way that it is commonly discussed in the popular media; seen often as a sentient independent being. As just an ability to extend and transform a group’s capabilities to accomplish complex tasks with minimal effort however, one could see the end product as an organized collective intellect. An intelligence beyond that of just a simple being.

If you’ve ever watched a gifted operator work a dozer or a backhoe at a construction site, you’ve seen the symbiotic relationship between man and machine. The equipment extends the man, enables him. But is still sub-servant to him, obeys him.  Someday we’ll be able to leverage our minds in this same way.