AI or IA? It’s not just an anagram

January 12, 2016

AI or IA? It’s not just an anagram

“Why do we bother learning these things that computers can do better?”

Joichi Ito, The New Yorker Festival

Following on from my previous post about The New Yorker Festival – 3 days of arts and ideas in New York City in the first week of October – you’d understand that Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, is a man brimming with future-focused brain waves.  Although gene editing is somewhat scary in its capacity to weaken our biosphere, we find a more uplifting prediction for humans when it comes to Ito’s views on artificial intelligence.


Image: Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab 


When it comes to AI, there is a question as old as the concept itself - whether AI will replace the human mind, or improve and complement the human mind. Our fear of the former often dominates the discourse surrounding AI, and is broadly borne out of ego; we’re the top dogs, we enjoy life, why would we open ourselves to the threatening potential of making ourselves useless and irrelevant?

As this discourse of AI replacing the human mind has strengthened, it has overshadowed the alternative: where technology continues to work alongside us as it has been since the advent of writing.  This is known as Intelligence Amplification.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not able to deal with numbers in any substantial way without a calculator (hence why I’m doing qual, not quant!). A calculator can be viewed as one type of IA – it amplifies my intelligence so that I am able to do calculations that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Instead of AI potentially killing our brain cells and rendering us powerless, IA technology may instead make us smarter, enable us to understand more, and thus empower us in other arenas. Our brains aren’t going to shrink, but perhaps sections of our brains might be repurposed in new and exciting ways. Human brains have constantly changed since our earliest known history and this may just be the next stage of cerebral development.

“There are more neurons in the brain than there are lightbulbs in the world.” - Joichi 

The core obstacle to AI technology at the moment is energy. To function like a brain does, AI needs a constant high stream of energy that just isn’t possible at the moment.

So what if, instead of trying to establish an independent and external form of AI, we instead created IA technology that used our own, human energy?

Now you’re probably imagining some Inspector Gadget, half-man half-beast, cyborg type of thing. Not quite. If we liken this to The Matrix, it may just mean we could “plug in” or “upload” different information into our brains through some kind of port. By todays standard, we could all become geniuses with the click of a button. Think of it like Google on demand, without the labour of reading.


Surprisingly, this kind of technology is a lot closer than we think.

With innovation labs such as the MIT Media Lab advancing our understanding of AI and IA everyday, it’s exciting to imagine what the next few years might hold when it comes to the collision of technological development and the human body.

Amelia