The question of whether technology will surpass human intelligence has emerged as a topic of debate and speculation, with the emergence of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, which can compose essays, create AI art prompts, and even do software coding for users.
The reality is that the concept of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which refers to highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work, has evolved so much in 2023, that it can even perform leadership tasks as well. The tech world is highly divided on AI’s future potential. While Google boss Sundar Pichai has predicted that the tool will enhance professions, Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque and OpenAI chief Sam Altman have pitched for the tech to be regulated.
Are we going to see ‘technological singularity’?
Yes, it is difficult to predict the future with certainty; with experts holding differing views on the timeline and likelihood of technology surpassing human intelligence. Proponents of the idea, such as futurist Ray Kurzweil, believe in the concept of a technological singularity, a hypothetical point in the future when AI and technology become so advanced that they surpass human intelligence.
In a 2005 non-fiction book, Kurzweil described his law of accelerating returns, where there will be a massive increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence. Once the singularity has been reached, machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than human intelligence. Is ChatGPT the first step towards the fulfilment of the ‘technological singularity’? No one can answer that, at least in 2023.
However, experts are also cautioning against making definitive predictions about when or if this will occur. Developing AGI involves complex challenges, including understanding and replicating human-level intelligence, achieving common-sense reasoning, and most importantly, navigating through the tricky alleys of ethical aspects of the tech. In short, developing AI tools involve a significant amount of technical, philosophical, and societal obstacles to overcome.
Also, let’s not forget another reality. While technology has made remarkable advancements in specific domains such as chess and language translation, human intelligence encompasses a wide range of capabilities, including creativity, emotional intelligence, and intuition, which are yet to be fully replicated in machines and will take a few decades more (to be realistic), if we are talking about the timeline of a ‘technological singularity’ kind of scenario arriving.
What about a symbiotic relationship?
In all likelihood, we will witness a symbiotic relationship between humans and technology, where AI and advanced technologies augment human intelligence rather than replace it entirely. This perspective aligns with the concept of Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), a specific type of artificial intelligence in which a learning algorithm is designed to perform a single task, and any knowledge gained from performing that task will not automatically be applied to other tasks. We already have instances in the banking sector where AI and robotics have been deployed to do tasks like processing huge data sets in a very short span, thus spotting fraudulent information in a matter of seconds, using intelligent algorithms to find anomalies from a vast amount of data, an activity which would have been unfathomable for a human agent.
This is helping the banks to reduce operational costs, increase productivity and take quick decisions. A Business Insider report suggests that by 2023, banks will save $447 billion by using AI apps. These numbers indicate that the banking and finance sector is swiftly moving towards AI to improve efficiency, service, productivity, and reduce costs. So the sector is on the way to establishing a workable model of the symbiotic relationship between humans and technology
The trajectory of technological development and its impact on human intelligence will depend on various factors, including societal choices, regulatory frameworks, ethical considerations, and ongoing research and development efforts.
Also, before jumping the gun, one needs to consider some additional points regarding the potential relationship between technology and human intelligence.
One of them is ‘Enhanced Cognitive Abilities.’ Technology can enhance human cognitive abilities. Wearable devices, brain-computer interfaces, and neurofeedback systems can improve our memory, attention, and learning capabilities. Such technologies can act as cognitive tools that amplify human intelligence and help individuals perform tasks more efficiently.
Recently, the University of Waterloo came up with ‘Companion Robots’, which will help people with dementia. These devices will have episodic memories of their own, powered by object-detection algorithms, thus helping the robots to detect, track and keep a memory log of specific objects in its camera view through stored video. Here, you have a perfect example where technology is symbiotic towards humans with medical conditions.
Collaborative intelligence: The road ahead?
Rather than technology outpacing human intelligence, a more possible way ahead will be the development of collaborative intelligence. It will be a multi-agent, distributed system where each agent, human/machine, will be autonomously contributing to a problem-solving network, with each contributing with their unique strengths. Machines will process vast amounts of data, analyze patterns, and perform repetitive tasks, and humans will provide creativity, critical thinking, and ethical decision-making.
Also, we need to address the ethical questions, when it comes to technology’s potential impact on human society, especially risks like job displacement, inequality, privacy, and algorithmic bias. Striking a balance between technological progress and ethical values is essential to ensure that human intelligence is respected and protected. With systems becoming more autonomous and complex, there is a need for robust oversight, accountability, and safeguards against unintended consequences. Close attention must be paid to AI safety, control, and the potential for misuse.
One solution can be in the form of ensuring that the technology becomes human-centric, and considers the needs, values, and well-being of individuals, apart from empowering and enhancing human intelligence. Remember that human intelligence, apart from having cognitive abilities, is also guided by elements like consciousness, subjective experience, emotions, and social interactions. These aspects are currently not fully understood or replicated by machines. Neither will they be able to encompass the entirety of human intelligence.
The impact of technology influences various aspects of society, including education, healthcare, governance, and communication. Integrating technology in a way that fosters equitable access, empowers individuals, and addresses societal challenges can lead to a more inclusive and intelligent society. So in the long run, we will see a collaborative relationship between humans and machines. Technology will augment human intelligence, address societal issues, and amplify human potential.
Striking a balance crucial here
Finding a balance between technological progress, ethical considerations, and human-centric design will be the key, to realise the dream of a future where technology and human intelligence will coexist harmoniously. Remember, human intelligence is deeply rooted in contextual understanding and the ability to make sense of complex and ambiguous situations. While machines can process vast amounts of data, they often struggle with understanding nuances, cultural context, and abstract concepts that humans effortlessly grasp, and it’s a proven fact.
Human intelligence encompasses creative and innovative thinking, which involves generating novel ideas, making connections between ‘unrelated concepts’, and thinking outside the box. While machines can assist in generating possibilities and performing certain creative tasks, their thought process lacks the elements called ‘originality’ and ‘ingenuity’. Neither do they have the adaptability and the capacity of learning new skills and knowledge (from a wide range of experiences), like their human counterparts. For meeting these scenarios, AI, robotics or any other technology requires explicit programming/training.
Programmed rules or algorithms lack human empathy
Humans possess empathy, intuition, and the ability to navigate complex social dynamics. Machines do face limitations, when it comes to understanding and responding to human emotions, building relationships, and demonstrating ethical behaviour. Things like moral reasoning and decision-making based on values and ethics, determining ethical priorities, resolving ethical dilemmas, and making value-based judgments are complex aspects of human intelligence that are challenging to replicate in machines. All the above elements come under the domain called self-awareness, which is very much alien to technology.
Also, despite technology making significant strides, there are inherent limitations to its development. Power consumption, computational constraints, data availability, and algorithmic limitations pose hurdles to achieving Artificial General Intelligence. Overcoming these limitations will require ground-breaking scientific discoveries, and most importantly, an unlimited capital flow.
Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt to technological advancements and incorporate them into their lives. Humans have displayed the trait of adapting and leveraging technology to enhance their own intelligence, along with fulfilling professional and personal requirements. Collaboration and co-evolution between humans and technology are more probable than technology surpassing human intelligence entirely. And expect the trend to continue in future as well.