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.”


Once More into the Breach: Times of Great Change Bring Opportunity

Times of great change are also times of great opportunity. We are all aware of the erroneous Chinese ideograms that define Crisis as Danger plus Opportunity. They have been pulled out by politicians since 1938, most famously by JFK.They are popular because the statement remains correct, though the derivation is false. But beware!

Correct Vision, Wrong Characters

In a greater sense, the current upheavals in politics across the world should be understood as a natural result of the changes in technology, which have ushered in the 21st century. We have long argued that recent developments such as growth of social media, development of stronger AI, spread of the Internet, and all of the trappings of today’s online universe were having a revolutionary impact. But, when you equate the Internet with Gutenberg and mildly consider the technological results as revolutionary and creating great opportunities for the future, you cannot ignore the inevitable political and social traumas which come with such radical change. The Gutenberg press created the Protestant Revolution by making it possible to distribute vast numbers of Bibles in regional languages. Wars were subsequently fought for hundreds of years; powers rose and fell; people were burned at the stake; and some moved across the seas to America.

The technical revolution which we are facing today will take, perhaps, hundreds of years to be incorporated in the social fabric. Even as the technology continues to evolve, we have not yet come to grips with a digital world and the instantaneous communications that it makes possible. As we add technologies such as Big Data Analytics and AI to the equation, the situation becomes even more difficult. Human society must now adapt to competing intelligence; this is not to the robot revolution portrayed in science fiction, but, rather, the type of intelligence that will be incorporated in a wide range of human tools and activities. The complex result of this association will inevitably yield new visions of how people must live together and how the various tribes that populate the earth will cooperate—or not—going forward into the future.

The changes that are occurring appear on the surface to be minor for most people, since lives continue, errands must be run, children must be schooled and so forth. But the greater movements of society–jobs, economies, interactions, global relationships, political groupings, and all the rest that exists on a meta level–is in flux with a need to respond continuously to new situations.

All of this yields enormous uncertainties. While this creates great opportunity for those with foresight in areas subject to positive change, it also means that populations react to unforeseeable consequences. This is the basis for international conflict, which, in a complex society, inevitably creates a maelstrom.

Recent political movements such as Brexit and the US election, have certainly responded to changes in technology, and technology has also added to uncertainty. Campaigns are being waged globally with big data, hacking, and extensive use of social networks. People are enraged by tweets, and real news clashes with fake news and disinformation so quickly that verification is impossible.

Is extreme conflict the new normal? Will we disengage emotions from the constant barrage of new developments? Not likely. But, one interesting possibility looms. If we reach the point that we can no longer adapt rapidly to changing situations due to limited information and emotional disturbance, then it may gradually become time to bring in automated leadership based upon big data and artificial intelligence. Some would say that this is already happening. But such a result creates a new category of risk, indeed.

The Fungible Digital Universe: Convergence in a New Key

With digital transformation so active in enterprise considerations, relatively little time has been spent in considering its implications. Digital transformation is often presented as a means of improving efficiency and creating processes that can be easily and flexibly integrated across the corporation. But one of the key issues in digital transformation is digital convergence.

In digital transformation, the vision is to transform all processes, designs, work products, services, and anything that might be so-converted into a digital form. Digital form makes instantaneous transmission over vast distances possible; integrates processes, and opens them to replication or posting within the cloud. The advantages are extraordinary and digital transformation has been underway for a very long time. But there is another factor in this conversation: the fact that all digital streams can easily be subjected to the same or similar processes, thereby opening the way for extreme innovation and cross-pollination, as diverse and heretofore entirely discrete fields are brought together.

As we move into an era of embedded artificial intelligence and big data analytics, digital convergence becomes an issue of extreme importance. The same processes that analyze and interrogate one digital stream might easily be applied to another; the algorithms used in deep learning, for example, easily move between image recognition and voice. Similarly, because they embody the same digital format, the same algorithms might be used to find patterns within programs; to analyze architectural drawings; to understand transactions; and to provide new forms of user access and data comprehension. Digital convergence becomes a kind of synesthesia, where the boundaries between objects, activities and functions become increasingly blurred.

Digital convergence as an issue first arose with telecommunications, and then with multimedia. These areas were early examples of how digitization erased the boundaries between dissimilar components. As everything became transmissible in digital form across the network, markets for multimedia changed; intellectual property rights became problematic; and the capability to copy and broadcast items such as movies and audio recordings became nearly infinite. Legal systems are still struggling to fit the new possibilities within social and legal frameworks and understandings. Now, with everything becoming digital, issues such as intellectual property, privacy, and segregation of one component of the universe from another become moot.

The world itself, as we know it, is a fabrication of knowledge whose definitions, patterns, and interactions we digest and share. It is an imperfect system since it is overlaid upon an existing physical reality; the vertices become sharp and apparent, and logical argumentation becomes less precise because definitions encompass our understanding of an item rather than the item itself. In a converged digital universe, the world we interact with is, in fact, the primary level. Language starts to stumble in its description, because all of those new concepts become terms whose meaning changes as swiftly as the territory shifts.

Digital transformation is the means by which we are moving to this more flexible, more fungible universe; it is an essential process for business which will reap immediate benefits in being able to act far swifter than any non-digital process or comprehension. But, in a greater sense, it will also change how we understand the universe and how future interactions will take place as human beings evolve toward assisted and hybrid man-machine thought processes.