Artificial Versus Natural Intelligence
Are you ready for Skynet? In 2029 the artificial intelligence that controls American nuclear weapons achieves self-consciousness. A humanity besotted with machines, electronic medical and communications devices, is nearly wiped out. Ultimately we are saved from complete annihilation by a single mother who can’t balance a checkbook, her larcenous son, and a fully robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator. Science fiction silliness? Recently Stephen Hawking, our most famous living physicist, said humanity risks decimation from just such unconstrained artificial intelligence.
Hawking knows a lot about machines. Much of his long survival with ALS and remarkably productive career has occurred through frequently updated AI.
AI is everywhere – in our phones, our watches, our cars, and very soon our reading lamps and skateboards. AI helps tell us what books we wish to buy and television shows to watch – even whether you should read this article. Are there other forms of intelligence we can use to progress?
Fortunately the answer is yes. Natural intelligence is abundant. It has been coordinated for hundreds of millions of years across the globe, pushing deep into the oceans and high into space. It’s guiding motive is evolution. Today we understand much of evolution’s power through one of its ostensibly more successful products – the human brain. So what can natural intelligence tells us about our capacities, and our health?
Nature is amoral. So is evolution. What works survives. Individuals are expendable. The species is what matters.
Presently there are tens of millions of species. We don’t know how many, only that there are far more than we have named. Nor de we know many of the variables that predict our survival. Chance – the sum of our ignorance of how the world works – is the controller.
But we do know that evolution adjusts for chance. It has thrown up dinosaurs and creatures filmmakers find too outlandish to put inside a movie. Fiction, unlike reality, has to make sense. Yet evolution succeeds.
In many ways human evolution has succeeded. We are a dominant species. We grow and grow – so quickly and powerfully the rest of the planet cannot keep pace. Fully half of wildlife populations disappeared in the forty years after 1972. There are now powerful threats to our survival more immediate than Skynet.
So what can natural intelligence tell us about ourselves? That if we follow paths that fit how we evolved and biologically develop, individuals like ourselves can last a long and fruitful time.
Different Forms of Health
Looking at four major components of human health, we can learn a lot about our evolutionary success:
Physical Health – humans appear to be walking machines. Walking improves survival in innumerable ways, from decreased heart disease to fewer colds and communicable illnesses. Sitting itself seems to increase risk for mortality – sit more, live less.
Diet – we appear to be able to eat perhaps 10,000 different plants and animals, and may for a long evolutionary period ingested insects as a protein source. Our omnivorous capacity is so great that many different diets, from Mediterranean regimes to East Asian ones, appear to improve survival. What they have in common is many varied natural ingredients. What presently appears detrimental is processed, artificial food – much as some types of artificial intelligence may someday prove.
Mental Health – individuals and populations that relentlessly seek solutions rather than reiteration of problems do rather well – and enjoy themselves more.
Social Health – profoundly social animals, we survive longer and better with more contacts, friends and acquaintanceships among our own kind – and with our animals.
Spiritual Health – individuals who find meaning in their lives and connections to ideas larger than themselves report greater satisfaction and survive longer.
To follow the natural intelligence of our evolutionary heritage is not conceptually difficult. Yet it possesses practical obstacles. Our inbuilt love of sugar, salt and certain kinds of fats affects our waistlines, physical desirability, and longevity. A fascination with risk may aid the species – we may need daredevils in times of crisis – but may not always benefit the risktakers themselves.
Artificial and Natural Intelligence
Creative fiction usually precedes realistic fact. The many apocalyptic films, novels, short stories, manga and cartoons depicting human annihilation at the hands of machines speaks to our increasing dependence and ambivalence towards our increasingly “smart” inventions.
Can AI work with natural intelligence? So far they cooperate fairly well. But people should remain wary of a numerically defined world of guidelines and algorithms that do not take into account variables not included in their models.
Often those variables – and our values – become the most important components of our future. Evolution has had the luxury of billions of years to learn how to get around obstacles. Human inventions have only had decades. Unexpected consequences of human-machine interactions – from hacked heart defibrillators to non-intelligent traffic control – will became more apparent as they increase.
Skynet expects no less.