Intelligent Systems Make Us Smarter

Is it possible to support advancements in intelligent systems from a compassionate point of view? Perhaps by leveling the playing field with intelligence, we might tackle one of the most bitterly contested characteristics of man. We face ‘intelligence battles’ on a daily basis – in classrooms, social settings, and in the office. Much of our status in society is based upon intelligence.

Intelligence
Intelligence

What if everyone had a memory booster, something like a personal hard drive? Many of today’s geniuses have impeccable memories. What if everyone accesses the same reservoir of ‘facts and information’ from intelligent systems? (Currently access to primary sources of knowledge is costly, which creates an advantage for those who can afford it.) Could there be a baseline IQ because of boosts in cognitive thinking?

There are still geniuses, naturally brilliant people who are thought leaders and influencers; use of intelligent systems simply allows for them to solve ever increasingly complex problems. Quora recently posed the question: What would an IQ of 500 or 1000 look like? It elicited over 200,000 views and 200 followers. One respondent suggested a person at this level of intelligence might learn a language in a day, read a book in an hour, or solve our current unsolved problems.[i]

There are smart people. With universal access to AI, smart people represent a larger segment of the population. The bell curve for IQ becomes taller and standard deviations smaller. More smart people follow their passions and interests, rather than being excluded because of their natural intelligence. In addition, smart people without access to a proper education use AI to catch up.

Finally, there are people who have less natural intelligence but have a more satisfying life because of AI.

Soft skills, character and personality become paramount in employment decisions. We are starting to see this now. Many of the leadership coaches say emotional intelligence (EQ) often has more value than cognitive intelligence (IQ).

It will be interesting to see if those who have access to intelligent systems share them with the general public. Naturally intelligent people lose an advantage – something that gives them power. Having a high IQ, SAT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT – all tests largely driven by raw intelligence – practically guarantees access to a top college and future employment.

Barring geniuses, intelligence in the future will be measured by adaptive, conceptual and novel thinking skills. Now we come up with a relevant question and it is something to ponder over a period of time; but in the future, we get an immediate response from an intelligent system. So we ask a series of questions, modifying each question based on previous responses. In addition to being responsive, creative ‘out of the box’ thinking becomes a highly sought after skill.

An intelligent system:

  • Pulls together content from a multitude of sources and puts into a ranked list based on relevancy. Intelligent systems tap into a vast amount of online information.
  • Cross-disciplines and subject areas to solve increasingly complex problems. An intelligent system synthesizes information from many disciplines.
  • Processes all types of content: website, documents, narratives, graphics, and videos. Intelligent systems already have image and video recognition; it only gets more advanced.
  • Allows intuition to be validated by sources immediately. Smart people come up with ideas without doing the necessary research, an intelligent system does it for them.
  • Taps into the Internet of Things. Intelligent systems access into the growing number of sensors to understand behaviors, and add context to experiences.

Yesterday, IBM unveiled the enterprise email system Verse to the world. What separates Verse from its predecessors, according to a press release, is how it learns employees’ preferences and then provides “instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it”. And an intriguing ‘future option’ allows users to “query Watson on a given topic and receive a direct reply with answers ranked by degree of confidence.”[ii] If your company invests in Verse, you might have access to the smartest supercomputer on the planet.

I thought of an example where I could have used an advanced intelligent system to save weeks of painstaking work. Earlier in my career, as an economist, I had the task of collecting data for business valuations. One step is to get financial ratios of comparable companies. I could see myself asking an intelligent system: “Hey there, could you give me the financial ratios of the top ten comparable companies to…?”

Current Technology/Human Interaction Intelligent System
Identify companies based on financials.
  • Create a complex query string in Moodys.
  • Transfer the results into Excel.
  • Complete multiple iterations of this process to get a final list of companies.
  • Hears criteria through a verbal command.
  • Works across platforms and understands idiosyncrasies between iterations.
  • Outputs results in Excel in minutes.
Read companies 10Ks, profiles
  • Read each document individually.
  • Sort them based on relevancy (a time-consuming process).
  • Reads and processes the documents, then makes recommendations (in minutes).
Calculate financial ratios
  • Input comparable companies’ financial numbers into Excel, calculate ratios.
  • Calculates ratios instantaneously.
Each time the intelligent system goes through the process it gets better. It does it faster. It understands and remembers why you make decisions to keep or drop comparable companies. Eventually, the intelligent system does everything based on the initial criteria and produces results in minutes.

[i] https://www.quora.com/What-would-an-IQ-of-500-or-1000-look-like

[ii] http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/45402.wss

Original Image © Depositphoto/ maxkabakov #20722549

New Social Contract With Intelligent Systems

Advancements in intelligent systems (AI, robotics, etc.) require us to make important decisions now for our future. The technology is currently on the doorstep. We are accustomed to talking to a voice on our cellphone (Siri) and barking orders to a system in our car. Though, it is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in just about everything we do.

Intelligent Systems
Intelligent Systems

One perspective of futuristic AI is captured in the film Her about a lonely writer who reaches out to an operating system to satisfy his companionship needs. The AI is intelligently responsive, attentive, curious, and seemingly emotional. (Of course, having Scarlet Johannsson’s husky, luring voice and a picture of her in your mind further sells the idea; this is why you know she is doing the voice over before you watch the film.)

As we race to adopt advanced technologies, some of the issues include: educating future generations on how and when to use them, providing universal access, establishing social norms – boundaries when it is appropriate, and mitigating excessive security controls.

It is still hard to predict the best ways to educate children with using intelligent systems. What is the criteria in deciding what facts and information has to be memorized versus being retrieved from an intelligent system? (As I have said in a previous blog on knowledge, building skills will have more value than memorizing facts and information.) Should there be limitations on the frequency or duration of ‘nudges’? Is it ethical to receive deep emotional encouragement from AI?

There was an article in the NYT about an autistic child who found personal satisfaction in communicating with Siri through his IPhone. It is an uplifting story because, as his mom acknowledges, he receives attention and comfort he probably does not get in other ways.[i] As AI becomes more advanced, this situation – having relationships with AI – plays out with a broader segment of the population.

Using AI frequently requires multitasking. A highly contested issue is whether multitasking has a positive or negative influence on a person’s cognitive abilities. There was a study that says “yes”, multitasking is an acquired skill.[ii] In another article, the results were negative: multitaskers had less grey matter density in their brain and had a more difficult time concentrating when they need to.[iii]

According to Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT: “technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequalities”.[iv] Futurists predict a bifurcation of the classes, where the middle class splits into the upper and lower classes. Highly skilled professionals with access to new technologies find jobs, the rest will be under- or un- employed. As a society, we must make the latest technologies accessible to all in K-12 and higher education; this might be a simplistic argument, but what about the commitment to follow through on it. Currently there is support in providing internet access to all; in the future, there needs to be similar support in providing advance technologies (like AI) to all.

One of the most prominent transhumanists is the inventor and philosopher Ray Kurzweil, currently director of engineering at Google, and popularizer of the concept of the technological “singularity” – a point he puts at around 2045, when artificial intelligence will outstrip human intelligence for the first time.[v]

Some people embrace AI, some people abhor AI. Regardless, advancements in AI will continue to move forward because people want to feel happier, increase productivity and become more intelligent. There will be a new social contract laying out how humans interact with AI.

In the latest Wired, there was an article about the dangers in giving an authority control over newer technologies – especially those engrained to us in a personal way. Currently authorities can use a ‘kill switch’ on a cell phone, eavesdrop on our communications, and take control of our computer or devices. What about implanted devices? Should you be concerned in interacting with an intelligent system in a personal way, letting it know all your behaviors and what you are thinking?

What the net is, is the nervous system of the 21st Century. It’s time we started acting like it.[vi]

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html

[ii] http://online.wsj.com/articles/teen-researchers-defend-media-multitasking-1413220118

[iii] http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Multitasking-Damages-Your-Brain-and-Your-Career-2102500909-p-1.html

[iv] David Rotman. Technology and Inequality. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[v] http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/the-future-is-android/index.html

[vi] Cory Doctorow. Keep Out Don’t Let Uncle Sam Invade Your Devices. (Wired, November 2014 Issue).

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