Posted by: suekenney | July 12, 2011

Man or Machine?

Do you believe machines will be smarter than humans?  Many sci-fi movies are based on computers becoming smarter than we are.  Do you think this is possible?  Why or why not?  If it’s possible, do you think it will be dangerous for us? Or beneficial?

Personally, I don’t believe machines will be smarter than humans.  Let me clarify that.  Of course one really well-built computer, with a massive memory, can “know” a whole lot more than any one human ever could.  (With one exception, but that’s getting into theology, and I’ll save that for another day.)  And with all those crazy electronic connections, a computer can make thousands of calculations and comparisons in a fraction of a second – while some days, it may take me minutes, if not hours, to make just one!

But there’s a lot more to being “smarter” than just access to a wealth of knowledge.  It also has to do with the APPLICATION of that knowledge…with knowing when and where and why and how to apply it…and to whom.  This is something that humans learn in their respective cultures.  Much of it is overtly taught, but so much more is “caught” – you don’t even know that you’re learning it, but it slowly becomes a part of you, as much as the multiplication tables and the planets of the solar system and the use of prepositional phrases.

Some of us might call this wisdom, as opposed to just knowledge.  Knowledge, by itself, is pretty much a morally neutral thing – wisdom is just the opposite, rife with moral overtones.  To be wise, you must be able to take into account the moral implications of an action or series of actions, and plan accordingly.  For instance, knowledge will tell you that the only thing separating you from that laptop computer you so desperately want is the little boy sitting on the park bench watching his daddy’s case while Daddy is helping younger brother catch a ball.  Wisdom will tell you that it would be wrong to take the laptop from the boy, both legally and morally.  Knowledge will tell you that you can get someplace faster by driving a bigger, more powerful vehicle.  Wisdom will tell you that perhaps it would be better for the environment and people’s health to drive something smaller that won’t pollute the air as much.

So coming back to the original question:  sure, a computer can have more knowledge than a human.  But that knowledge will have no moral foundation.  A human can have that moral foundation, and thus be able to make better, wiser decisions than any machine, however sophisticated.  So, my contention that computers will never be smarter than humans.

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