ask me about the direction-finding motors I keep strapped to my ankle

IBM’s victory at Jeopardy has led to the usual woe-is-humans handwringing, including (charmingly) from Jennings himself.

But look, while I agree that the logic of machines crowding out off-the-shelf humans is compelling, I think there’s some reason for hope.  I, and probably most of you, already carry a substantial neural prosthesis around with me all the time, which confers superhuman trivia capabilities at a level even more impressive than the Watson system.  It’s just that a couple of the system buses are a bit slow.  The neural bus will remain relatively sluggish, but for now it’s the interface that’s the real problem.

I think there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that can be grabbed on this front: voluntary cochlear implants, haptic interfaces, mobile or ubiquitous ambient displays — but at some point we’ll be talking about neural interfaces, and the problem’s going to require technology that’s currently only speculative.  That’s going to be a difficult problem to solve.  More difficult than creating artificially intelligent beings?  Honestly, I don’t think we know enough to guess.  But I suspect the answer could go a long way toward determining whether or not our descendants spend their days fighting Terminators.

Let me add: it occurs to me that one interesting/tragic side-effect of the steadily improving quality of these interfaces is likely to be the disenfranchisement of older workers who are biologically incapable of utilizing these self-enhancing tools.  I don’t just mean in an “old people can’t work the VCR” way (though I think that may be related); I mean that neuroplasticity declines with age, and it’s conceivable that some of these technologies will simply be impossible to install in people with less malleable nervous systems.  My understanding is that there’s already some reason to think this phenomenon affects users of cochlear implants (though I’d want to do a bit more reading about it to be sure).

How are you going to compete in the workforce against someone who can Google without a keyboard?

7 Responses to “ask me about the direction-finding motors I keep strapped to my ankle”

  1. tudza

    Perhaps I could compete by doing things like *not* using Google as a verb.

  2. AlleyGator

    Honestly, I’m all for human-enhancing technology. It will begin with soldiers and those with lots of disposable income, but eventually they will be indispensable. Just like smart phones.


    If you knew how to Google properly, you’d know that Google has been in the dictionaries as a verb for over four years.

  3. Meg

    But will that be enough to get them on SSDI? We’re likely to end up with a group of workers who’s only productivity is recording their existing knowledge and dropping it into the ocean. Which is unlikely to be enough to keep their Medicare from bankrupting the nation (unless, of course, the government is willing to tax robots, but so far they seem unwilling to tax anyone.)

  4. Jeff McM

    I fail to see what job would prefer someone who doesn’t use Google as a verb, aside from rival dictionary editor.

  5. bex

    Technically we’re already cyborgs… Eye glasses? Check. Automobile? Check. Jetpack? Check. It’s just that our cyborg “implants” are really easy to remove.

    The neural interface problem is a sticky one, but although neuroplasticity decreases with age, it’s still quite good. It just takes more time. There are some good stories in “The Mind That Changes Itself” along these lines… although those could be just exceptional elderly individuals.

  6. ISY

    Tragic side-effect? Heh, hopefully it helps empower the young to overcome democratic gerontocracy.

  7. Borzwald

    There’s a problem with the Kurzweilian tilt this post takes– many people do not WANT to be neurally linked to their iPhones.

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