Peet Brits

Hmm, but that doesn't make any sense…

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Posts Tagged ‘neocortex’

A more scientific reason why robots will not rule the earth

Posted by Peet Brits on December 20, 2010

My previous post had very little to do with robots, so I will dedicate this post to some views on what intelligent computers might, or might not, become.

From an evolutionary point of view, the neocortex is the last addition to the brain. It is our cortex that makes us think and act consciously. Mammals have a smaller and less developed cortex, so they also have memories and some creativity, but it is our highly developed conscious thought that distinguishes us humans from animals. As far as computer intelligence is concerned, the neocortex is what we care about.

Taken from the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, here is a reason why the robots we see in Sci-fi movies will not rule the earth. Firstly, even if we copy the cortex, we still lack emotions from the “old brain” and the complex inputs from the human body and nervous system. No emotions mean no greed, no ambition and no desire for wealth, social recognition or sensual gratification. That is, unless we painstakingly design these, which will be extremely difficult and quite pointless.

Secondly, the high cost and effort required to make such a machine makes it completely impractical. For example, an intelligent robot butler would be more expensive and less helpful than a human assistant would be. Despite being intelligent, it will not have the understanding that a fellow human would share.

That said, assuming we do not run out of natural resources or kill each other in another world war, I believe that there is much room for intelligent machines in our future. Machines will be considered intelligent because they can learn and make useful predictions. Machines will be the strongest where we are the weakest, be that due to intellectual difficulty, inadequateness of our senses or with activities that we find boring.

I recently saw a video (but lost the link) where computers are intelligently applied to predict a medical diagnosis for a patient. They claimed that computer predictions would be faster and more accurate than that of a human doctor, since it has all the available data about the patient. Humans can only keep a limited amount of data in memory, which potentially limits the time and accuracy of the diagnosis. Since medical conditions are well documented and researched, the computer can combine the rules with the symptoms and a long medical history of the patient to make an accurate prediction.

The above example is still far from the intelligence found in the cortex, but who knows where the future will take us. Intelligent machines will aid us to invent extremely useful tools, but nothing more.


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