IBM’s victory at Jeopardy has led to the usual woe-is-humans handwringing, including (charmingly) from Jennings himself.
But look, while I agree that the logic of machines crowding out off-the-shelf humans is compelling, I think there’s some reason for hope. I, and probably most of you, already carry a substantial neural prosthesis around with me all the time, which confers superhuman trivia capabilities at a level even more impressive than the Watson system. It’s just that a couple of the system buses are a bit slow. The neural bus will remain relatively sluggish, but for now it’s the interface that’s the real problem.
I think there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that can be grabbed on this front: voluntary cochlear implants, haptic interfaces, mobile or ubiquitous ambient displays — but at some point we’ll be talking about neural interfaces, and the problem’s going to require technology that’s currently only speculative. That’s going to be a difficult problem to solve. More difficult than creating artificially intelligent beings? Honestly, I don’t think we know enough to guess. But I suspect the answer could go a long way toward determining whether or not our descendants spend their days fighting Terminators.
Let me add: it occurs to me that one interesting/tragic side-effect of the steadily improving quality of these interfaces is likely to be the disenfranchisement of older workers who are biologically incapable of utilizing these self-enhancing tools. I don’t just mean in an “old people can’t work the VCR” way (though I think that may be related); I mean that neuroplasticity declines with age, and it’s conceivable that some of these technologies will simply be impossible to install in people with less malleable nervous systems. My understanding is that there’s already some reason to think this phenomenon affects users of cochlear implants (though I’d want to do a bit more reading about it to be sure).
How are you going to compete in the workforce against someone who can Google without a keyboard?