Artificial Intelligence is sexy.
At least, that’s what we’re constantly being told.
Technologists wax poetic about how computers can increasingly replicate our ability to think and reason. Folks like Eric Schmidt gleefully proclaim that people really want Google to “tell them what to do next.”
Even Clay Shirky believes that people re-Tweeting on a global scale somehow means the Internet itself is beginning to engage in human-like problem solving.
Someone recently asked me “Do you think the Internet itself will someday become intelligent and self aware? Like a big brain?”
I replied “No. Never. But something much better could happen.”
Because I’m deeply involved in technology, particularly online tools that connect people across the globe, I think many people suspect I’m in the same camp as all those technologists who see computers evolving into our intellectual equals as an inevitable and joyous concept.
But they couldn’t be more wrong about me.
I see technology as tools for the human mind. Like a hammer or wrench, these tools become extensions of ourselves. Like language. But only extensions, nothing more.
We’re always frustrated by tasks that are difficult for us. And because of that frustration, we’re very impressed when something comes along that accomplishes those tasks easily.
Likewise, the things that we do easily, the things we do instinctively and brilliantly, we tend to undervalue. It’s human nature.
So when we see technology effortlessly doing things that are difficult for us (like Google combing the entire Internet for our keywords), we tend to subconsciously think “I bet that tech could also do all that *easy* stuff I do every day. You know, all that deeper human thought stuff.”
We forget that being human is much more than clever algorithms. Being human is more than how our physical neurons are interconnected. Being human is how we build culture over generations, our thoughts mixing with other people’s thoughts through communication and knowledge sharing. It’s about how we love and laugh together. How we create art and thereby inspire others with our creativity.
Being human is what happens when human minds touch other minds.
So, no, I don’t think the Internet will become a big brain. I think it’s misguided to focus on how complex technologies of interconnected computers can be used to recreate the human mind.
Rather, I believe the future lies in technology that connects us with each other in new ways. Technology like online communities, social media and virtual worlds that allow us to share ideas and creativity. With other human beings.
So, to that person who asked me about the “Internet Brain” of the future, I’m really sorry. I just don’t see it. But something better could happen. We’ll hopefully realize what being human is all about. And we’ll all be better human beings because of it, connecting to each other by creating and using new tools that allow us to shape and share our dreams.
Now that’s sexy.
-John “Pathfinder” Lester