The term cognitive refers to mental processes such as judgement, reason, memory and perception. These are processes that alter the brain cognitive structures, which in effect are neural patterns representing information retained in the long term memory. The study of these activities is very complex and it is being shared by multiple disciplines that adopt a variety of approaches in describing what is going on in there: physiology, psychology, neuroscience, etc. However, we could say in a nutshell that cognitive processes are calculations, crunching information bits that flow into the brain system through various sensorial channels.
We mostly associate cognitive processes with thinking in a conscious state, but they can occur in other states. The keyword here is “thinking”. In computer speak, that is the running of an algorithm, the execution of program routines that break down the input data into components to assemble a response.
Computer systems do exactly the same thing in their silicon world, with one little important difference: all their programming routines are created by humans. Their thinking is a result of our thinking, which is an entirely rational cognitive process. Sure, we can get emotional in our programming, but in the end the lines of code must obey very dry syntax rules. No matter how hard we try, we can only code software that fakes emotion very well at best, but never software that is actually emotional.
In my mind, this is why artificial intelligence will never match our intelligence: it lacks emotional capability. Emotion is what drives us. Emotion is our most precious attribute that allows us to create something from nothing (almost). We don’t know how emotion really works, but you have a sense that if cognition is a calculation on which reason is based, emotion must be a super-calculation that takes place at deeper and inaccessible levels from which inspiration and unexpected creativity is drawn from.
But, this is a big BUT: is it possible that when you have billions of computers linked through a network, when their state change at huge scale as result of their rapid interaction and massive parallel sensorial input, to have waves of computation patterns forming unexpectedly, creating a significant response that never existed before and that was never programmed to occur, which will change the global distributed long-term memory in ways that will change their future behaviour? That is learning and creating emotionally, a capability specific to living systems.
I suspect that is already occurring, but we just don’t see it clearly yet. If we would take a closer look at the financial trading systems as they are networked around the world, maybe we see a glimpse of that. The quant trading systems that have been programs to crunch huge chunks of market information and detect human psychological patterns could display such “emotional” behaviour. I am not referring to them being programmed to behave emotionally, because they don’t for the reason I mentioned above, but because as they are networked at a massive scale receiving large amounts of input data, they could display “emotion”. I suspect the “glitch” that caused almost 1000 points drop in Dow Jones Industrial Average in May 2010 was in fact an “emotional” behaviour of these networked systems (it was not a bug).
That computational ability is a type of artificial intelligence indistinguishable from the natural. This would pass an imaginary Turing test with flying colours..
PS: Financial markets are one of the most networked systems at a global scale. There is more to come, see here (NYT, 2011)and here (CBS report). Also, social networks such as Facebook will likely display, if not already do, independent intelligent behaviour.
The total information digitally stored in the world in 2010 was 1 zettabyte. The human brain can store 2.5 petabytes. This means 400,000 people can carry in their brains the entire digital data stored in the world in 2010.
When the information stored will reach 7.5 billions (assuming population will reach this level in the next few years) times 2.5 petabytes = 18,750 zettabytes, ( that is 18.75 yottabytes), the size of the total digital information will be equal to the total information stored in people’s brains. When will that be?
If information stored doubles every 18 months, the world needs 14.195 periods to reach that limit. This is roughly the year 2032.
The computing power packed into microprocessors has followed the same growth rate for a long time, and it is highly probable it will do so in the next couple of decades. That means not only the computers will store more data, they will become significantly more intelligent.
We haven’t considered the networking effect. This increases dramatically the computing power of networked devices.
The digital ecology will look very different in 2032. Attempting to make detail predictions of what will happen is fraught with danger of missing the mark by a mile. However, we can try to anticipate some general changes based on past trends.
In the year 2032, a small personal device will have the smarts of a super computer today. The computers will have sufficient intelligence to display quasi-human attributes: metaphoric meaning, low level of perception, complex meaning, natural voice recognition, real time facial recognition, etc. The last two attributes will probably be heavily used in super-high definition of video cameras for pervasive supervision. The computing power will be sufficient then to create realistic special effects that can simulate voice and images, helping trouble makers to fool supervision cameras.
The drones will be smaller, faster and ubiquitous. They can be deployed by thousands to cover designated areas to identify and destroy strategic targets.
Cars will think and drive themselves even in busy urban districts.
Will we still use petrol? Maybe, but there will be a lot more green and smart energy by then.
How will people be?
Affluent society will thrive in creative environments where imagination will transform into usable, consumable outputs almost immediately. Creativity will be powered by work in collaborative and dynamic groups. Highly creative groups will be very fluid, surfing the wave of complexity and sophistication, enjoying privileges that come with success.
Robotics will replace humans in doing repetitive, dirty and dangerous jobs, but it is not likely that this will bring the happiness that many are hoping for. People who made a living out of those jobs will find they have nowhere to go. They can’t cope, they don’t know what to do and the growing gap between the social cognitive abilities of the ones who can and the ones who can’t will slowly push the unfortunate into ever larger enclaves.
This will be the biggest challenge of the modern days in the future: what to do with those who cannot adapt to complex and dynamic society. As the computing devices become smarter, the mental health of humans become a bigger problem. The cost of health, education and civilian protection will not go down, but up.
This is not new, but following a trend that started thousands of years ago when cities were invented.
This problem will be the seed out of which a danger will arise threatening the existence of the whole civilisation as there will be those who will use the ignorant and the desperate to commit crimes, a practice the evil born in wealthy mediums has known for a long time. Anger makes a very good recruiting agent for all the wrong reasons.