The Role of People in Man-Machine Process
Until AI reaches level 2, people will be part of processes. The thought that frightens so many people is that computers will replace humans. The United States National Science Foundation predicts a somewhat different scenario. They predict something they call “network-enhanced telepathy.” Based on progress in recent research they posit a kind of digital mind meld. Sending thoughts over the internet, they say, would be practical by the 2020s.
The “Trans-humanists,” a group of futurists and scientists who meet regularly, predict a kind of human-machine merger that will lead to a superior post-human species “…with beings that possess qualities and skills so exceedingly advanced they no longer can be classified simply as humans.” Companies as level-headed as Intel are predicting that human and computer intelligence will merge in 40 years.
If that were the case people and processes would be intrinsically intertwined. Well, where are we now in the waning months of 2016?
So you don’t think humans will have only a minor part in the coming human-computer partnership. Cognitive neuroscientist, Chris Chatham points to very important differences between the human brain and the computer. He makes some reassuring points that clearly imply that human beings will always have a unique role to play in the interaction with machines. The main difference is that “brains are analogue; computers are digital.”
It’s easy to think, Chatham says, that neurons are binary-like computers. Although neurons appear to fire when a certain threshold is reached, the operation of a neuron is really complex and the simple analogy belies a variety of continuous and non-linear processes. Factors such as rate of neuron firing are among the non-digital, continuous variables that play a part in neuron function in the brain.
There are no special devices for different brain functions. There is no “memory area.” Areas of the brain we thought were “memory areas” are also important for imagination, spatial navigation, and other important functions. Recent evidence indicates that there is no central “language area,” but that language functioning is diverse over the entire brain. The brain is “a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial.
There is no system clock in the brain, like there is in the computer. The speed of neural information processing varies according to wide-ranging conditions. It’s based on electrochemical signals transversing nerve cell axons and dendrites.
The mind is not a software program “executed” in the brain. No matter many neurons the brain has, the “mind emerges directly from the brain and changes in the mind are always accompanied by changes in the brain.” People have a unique place in man-machine systems.
The current iteration of artificial intelligence has certain problems that may be symptomatic of the difference between computers and human brains, and will represent the kinds of roles humans must play in man-machine systems.
There are certain tasks people do very quickly and easily, often so quickly that they are not aware of doing them, but these tasks are very difficult to program into a computer. Programs that recognize birds from photographs are only about 50 percent accurate. Programs that recognize images from simple verbal descriptions can be fairly successful for some phrases, but not all. Programs that can tell whether two textual phrases are referring to the same thing are successful for only certain phrases. Computers have trouble making the translation of words to real objects or visual objects.
Certain behaviors of computers can make them look like the external appearance of human intelligence. However, the brain is a model maker and the biological systems of brain and body have everything to do with adaptation. Human beings fit things into categories, fit fingers around shapes, and fit white corpuscles around the configurations of foreign objects. Computers are rigid and can’t make adaptations easily. Walking robots have trouble learning to adjust legs and feet onto a wide range of surfaces. The reason robots remain largely on wheels is because of the failure of computers to shape leg motions to different ground conditions.
Computers have no self-interest or internal motivation. Human beings provide point of view and motive into the transaction between human and machine. It is the human being who suggests or demands the task and the machine that follows an assigned course.
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