Brain Gain

Walter Isaacson in The New York Times:

ChessWhen the world chess champion Garry Kasparov was beaten in 1997 by Deep Blue, an I.B.M. supercomputer, it was considered to be a major milestone in the march toward artificial intelligence. It probably shouldn’t have been. As complex as chess is, it’s easy to see that its rules can be translated into algorithms so that computers, when they eventually got enough processing power, could crunch through billions of possible moves and past games. Deep Blue’s calculations were a fundamentally different process, most people would say, from the “real” thinking and intuition a human player would use. Clive Thompson, a Brooklyn-based technology journalist, uses this tale to open “Smarter Than You Think,” his judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence. But he takes it to a more interesting level. The year after his defeat by Deep Blue, Kasparov set out to see what would happen if he paired a machine and a human chess player in a collaboration. Like a centaur, the hybrid would have the strength of each of its components: the processing power of a large logic circuit and the intuition of a human brain’s wetware. The result: human-machine teams, even when they didn’t include the best grandmasters or most powerful computers, consistently beat teams composed solely of human grandmasters or superfast machines.

Thompson’s point is that “artificial intelligence” — defined as machines that can think on their own just like or better than humans — is not yet (and may never be) as powerful as “intelligence amplification,” the symbiotic smarts that occur when human cognition is augmented by a close interaction with computers. When he played in collaboration with a computer, Kasparov said, it freed him to focus on the “creative texture” of the game. In the future, Thompson writes, we should not fear being beaten in chess by Deep Blue or in “Jeopardy!” by Watson. Instead, humans will find themselves working in partnership with the progeny of these supercomputers to diagnose diseases, solve crimes, write poetry and become (as the clever double meaning of the book’s title puts it) smarter than we think.

More here.

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