Saturday, February 11, 2017

Inventing new kinds of smarts

Thirty years ago, I used "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly as a text in a course to get teachers and ed majors working toward being teachers to think about computers.  That was about when many people said,"What's a computer?"  I remembered how much I got from that book and took up his new book "The Inevitable".  


Sometimes, when a person tries to peer into the future, they make predictions based on current trends or on certainties.  They might predict that over the next 50 years, more girls and women are going to be educated.  That has been the trend and it seems in just about everyone's interest that the trend should continue.  They might predict that over the next 50 years, humans will be born and will die.  It may be that what we call human must of necessity be born one way or another and die, one way or another.  However, my experience, teaching and reading has convinced me that most predictions that are at all uncertain turn out to be wrong.


Humans are both smarter and luckier that it seems.  Over time, they can invent, squirm, wiggle, and save themselves out of many sorts of difficulties, both new and old.


Humans are often said to be intelligent and there is plenty of evidence that they are.  One trouble we have, though, is that we are not just sure what intelligence is.  We pretend to "measure" it with intelligence tests but they are so good.  In general, we recognize intelligence in life when somebody does something, says something, thinks of something, invents something that is very smart, something we are glad was thought of but hasn't been thought of before.


In The Inevitable, Kelly addresses the steady development of artificial intelligence.  Whether it is a calculator or a computer or a tablet, artificial intelligence shows us an answer or pathway that we are glad to have.  Kelly mentions that the sort of smarts we want in a machine is not the sort we have.  He says we want a self-driving car to concentrate on its driving and not be wondering if it should have gone into finance.  Guilford way back went tried to validate something like 120 types of intelligence.  It does seem like the accountant, the medical diagnostician, the prosecutor and the quarterback has different types of intelligence.  Kelly thinks we will be inventing and discovering new sorts of intelligences.  Very likely, experience with ourselves and our machines will work together to develop devices and strategies that will surprise us.


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