Evolving the Cognitive Man-Machine

Human intelligence and artificial intelligence will increasingly interact as we extend the range of mechanical cognition to include sensory interpretation, role playing, and sentiment (Affective Computing, Intersecting Sentiment and AI: The VideoShifting the Boundaries of Human Computer Interaction with AI: The Video). Such advancement will both create new conflicts and increase our understanding of the human mind by providing an objective platform for comparison.

But the cross-pollination of human and machine understanding does not stop there. As digital assistant roles progress, robots will need to understand and influence people. They will need to win negotiations, and devise strategies of engagement. AI will need to become increasingly cognizant of human thought patterns and social characteristics. This will make them a part of the greater “human conversation.”

As cognitive systems are assigned roles in which they must take the lead or suggest actions, AI will be playing a human game with human pieces. Social interaction is a construct: Knowing the rules, anyone can play. This will lead to competition and friction between automata and humans across a wide range of activities.

Even as AI continues to advance, human capabilities will be amplified through integrated advisers, prostheses, and avatars that will vastly increase our ability to process information, remember and assemble concepts, travel to remote locations, and communicate–all at the speed of light.

Robots and mankind are locked in a co-evolution that will ultimately lead to hybridization. We can add new robotic capabilities much faster than we can evolve them on our own. Simple toolmaking was the first step along this path; the final step will be where the intersection of humanity and machine becomes blurred, and finally, almost invisible.

Organisms adapt to fill a niche; when they can no longer adapt, their cousins take over. Evolution is about survival of the fittest, not of the strongest or the largest or even the smartest. Technology is an evolution of tools to fit a world defined by humans, that will continue to be shaped by human thought. Hybridization is inevitable, because it will augment human capability. Technology can evolve and be adapted much quicker than native biology; so further evolution of the species will be based on technology.

At present, we are barely on the doorstep of hybridization. We have clumsy “wearables,” limited but promising smart prostheses; the beginnings of AR concepts from Google Glass to HoLolens; social industrial robots that can work with people; digital assistants that can insert themselves into social settings; and an increasing range of smart devices that bridge the human context and the IoT.

In a somewhat distant future, we will likely view this as simply “making better  tools.” The alarming possibilities we envision today will be the commonplace realities.  As with the unknown Chinese inventor of printing blocks for text, we will ignore revolutionary change and create a narrative in which everything is consistently normal.

Twilight of the Gods? Perhaps. For the present, we are faced with the problem of understanding these changes and applying new technologies in a way that society continues to benefit, and the multitude of interstices are filled. This will create great opportunity, but it will also demand innovation directed specifically toward human-machine interaction.

Ultimately, of course, this solves the problem of “the Singularity,” and a robotic Apocalypse. To quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”


 


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