Friday, March 24, 2023

Human Intelligence Will Always Be Superior To The Artificial Kind

Tam Van Tram (detail from Nonconceptual Space)

You can't swing a dead computer without hitting someone yammering on about artificial intelligence (AI). It will eventually evolve to enslave us. It will be the greatest boon to humankind since the invention of the printing press. It will make life harder. It will make life easier. It's human ingenuity at its finest. It will destroy humanity. 

The focus in educational circles, at least online, is all about ChatGPT, described by the creators as an "AI chatbot." Proponents are claiming that it will revolutionize and streamline how teachers who are required to march children through standardized curricula will lesson plan, freeing up time for really focusing on individual student needs. Others are bemoaning the fact that it can write essays that are almost indistinguishable from human written ones and, hilariously, that they can pass all of our standardized tests,  meaning that it can qualify for just about any of our educational degrees.

My take is that ChapGPT and its successors, which few of today's adults can even conceive, will no doubt completely decimate schooling as we know it. As it gets more sophisticated, especially in the hands of AI natives (meaning today's preschoolers), it has the potential to upset the entire apple cart of top-down, adult-controlled, test-measured, curriculum-dictated schooling, revealing it as the empty charade it is. Within a generation, we will see that schooling as we do it today has very, very little to do with learning or education, as our entire system will be revealed to be a cage in which we hold children until they are compliant enough to join their parents in the workforce.

That's my prediction and preferred outcome. And I sure hope I live to see it.

The term "artificial intelligence" is a marketing term. It is indeed artificial, but I have little expectation that it will ever be intelligent. Will we one day release a nefarious program that evolves into a kind of robot that harms us, either physically or through some sort of brainwashing? No doubt. But it will continue to be long on A and short on I because what computer scientists call "intelligence" isn't really intelligence, at least as humans experience it.

Intelligence is a product of what we call the mind and learning is how the mind adapts and changes through its interactions with its environment. This, I think, is exactly what those who are developing AI are trying to do: create computers that can adapt. And they are certainly beginning to accomplish that. The great challenge, and the one that will prevent true intelligence from ever emerging in my opinion, is that there is no actual mind behind it. In humans and other living creatures, the mind precedes the adapting or learning. And increasingly, we are beginning to understand that our emotions and feelings precede all thinking.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio points out that emotions and feelings are the product of evolutionary survival (avoidance of pain, satisfaction of hunger, drive for procreation, avoidance of toxic food). And it is from these survival instincts that what we call the mind has emerged. In other words, all learning starts with emotion and our emotions start from a sensory experience. Something we see or hear or smell or taste or feel triggers a bodily sensation (sweaty palms, racing heart, hunger) that then translates into an action, one of which is likely some sort of thought process.

The place where the alarmingly and inaccurately named AI falls apart is that it conceives of the mind as separate from the body. It reminds me of the science fiction trope of trying to preserves the minds of great people by preserving the heads. It's fiction, but not science. The mind cannot function without a body: it is not just a product of our brains. Or, if you will, our entire bodies are our brains. We don't have bodies. We are bodies.

AI is something. Perhaps something wonderful or horrifying, but at the end of the day, it is not intelligent, at least not in the way that humans are intelligent. 

As science writer Ed Yong says in his book An Immense World, "You can't simply imagine how a human mind would work in a bat's body or an octopus's, because it wouldn't work." This is because their bodies have, over millennia evolved specific kinds of minds that produce kinds of intelligences that we cannot fathom. I suppose it's possible that should humans survive for another million years, we will be able to, through computer husbandry evolve an entity with the actual survival instincts and sensory abilities required for intelligence to emerge, but I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I'm cheerleading for ChatGPT and its potential to reveal our current schooling madness for what it is.

And, of course, I've written all of this with the caveat that there is no way for any of us to know any of this. It's all quite likely BS -- long on both B and S. But I find it fun to think about. A computer will never do anything just for fun, and that, at the end of the day is why human intelligence will always be superior to the artificial kind.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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