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Confusing Technology with Intelligence

Updated on December 3, 2016


It is December 2014. There are numerous news articles about artificial intelligence and how it will surpass humans in the near future. There may be some truth to these claims but not in the way some people expect. This hub is to explain the difference between intelligence and technology. They are not the same and often confused by some. Technology is great and it improves our lives and it help us work and play more efficiently. However, technology in and of itself is not intelligent. This is my opinion and belief. I can give some examples to support my assertion. Thanks for checking in.

-December 2014

What is Technology?

Technology in a nutshell is anything that man has created to make his life easier. That broad definition encompasses almost everything we have. From fire to the wheel to the internet and all the various inventions and discoveries since man has walked the earth, The fallacies for some is by extrapolating the speed of technological progress, they assume that given sufficient time, technology will surpass our human intelligence. That's where I believe is a false promise. The modern computer is a great example. Ever since the IBM 360 introduced in 1965, computers has grown faster and smaller and more powerful - following the Moore's Law. The transistor will double in density every two years. Yet the most powerful computer today, BlueGene, cannot claim to be artificially intelligent. It may be able to play chess against the world champion or play a game of Jeopardy and win a pot of money, but it cannot think. Even the developers of BlueGene admits that all it does is able to process algorithms very fast and compute all possible outcomes and determine which is the optimum result. This is a brute force method of problem solving. It is not "intelligent" in the sense that it can think of a solution to a complex problem.

IBM BlueGene

What is Intelligence?

To understand what is Intelligence, or in specific, Artificial Intelligence, one must first understand human intelligence. After all, that is what all these efforts are aiming to imitate or replace. I wrote a hub describing my definition of human intelligence. I called it a Hitchhiker's guide to Artificial Intelligence. I also agree with Jeff Hawkin's whose book "On Intelligence" proposes the idea that we need to understand how the brain works in order to replicate it in our machines. This is a dramatically different approach than current AI researchers. Continuing improving current technology will only lead to faster technology but will not yield more intelligent machines.

Garmin GPS

A simple Example - the GPS System

I'm a great admirer of the GPS system. It is a piece of great technology. It took many smart people and working along with the government to develop a system that will help you and me navigate around . The current new versions of GPS has voice command navigation so you can use it hands free. It has traffic alerts that can help you avoid traffic jams. In many aspects, you can almost say it is an intelligent system. Think about it, you tell it where you want to go and it guides you in a friendly voice every turn to get you where you want in the shortest path. Any person could not do any better. Right? Not quite.

Scenario 1: You are driving along and you noticed the road ahead has been closed for construction. You must turn off and find an alternate route. Your GPS starts to recalculate a new route but unfortunately, it is directing you to turn around and go back to where you just turned. The GPS does not know about the road closure. From experience, I know in order to get around this problem, I need to ignore the GPS and keep driving for a while towards the direction of my destination so that a new route can be computed by the GPS.

Scenario 2: You are driving along and you enter a tunnel or an overpass. Your GPS just lost it's signal. Or the weather got overcast and a nasty storm is brewing, and your GPS is temporarily down. What do you do? You get out your map and find the route that will get you to your destination.

Scenario 3: You are familiar with the local traffic pattern and the back roads. You know the best way to get where you are going. You punch in the GPS anyway to get the approx. arrival time. However, the GPS takes a different route based on the best or shorted distance. You ignore the GPS and take the best way you know.

In all three scenarios, the GPS failed it's task. It took an intelligent person to recover and get the job done. It exposes the deficiencies of any technology. It is only as good as the program that is guiding it. Any unexpected events will trigger a malfunction and it will take a human being to assess the problem and correct the situation. This is what intelligence provide. The GPS system is an example of great technology, very helpful to mankind. It is a time saver and it is a tool to help us get around. It cannot replace our intellect.

Recently, Google has acquired Waze. This is a smartphone App that works with the GPS to enhance your driving experience. It can track cars in real time and determine the traffic pattern and also allow drivers to flag potential problem areas. It will re-route your path and suggest better options to save time and avoid jams. It works great. Some will make the claim that this is intelligence. In reality, it is only a great application of data mining. What Waze does is collect streams of data coming from your smartphone and it analyze the data based on some algorithm which some "person" conceptualized and created. It marries this result to the typical GPS calculation to come up with a better path in real time. It is only an improvement to the technology at hand.

I just described a few simple scenarios that may cause a setback to the current GPS system. I can come up with many others that will cause similar problems. Meanwhile, Google and other car companies such as Mercedes are working hard to try to replace the human driver with an autonomous driving car. Personally, I think this is a terrible idea. I will have more to say on this topic in a different hub. The point is, any automated system cannot plan for all events expected or unexpected. There are just too many variables, from defective parts to extreme weather to system overloads. When it is replicated many folds, something bad will happen. It is Murphy's Law.


I hope this hub has enlighten you on this topic. The human brain is still the only intelligent body in our universe. We don't fully understand how it is able to do what it does. It is almost a miracle. An organ merely three and half pound of tissue can process all the gigabits of information bombarding us daily and have it all make sense. That's truly an accomplishment.


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      Enrico 3 years ago

      Kristof raises the same issue that the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and even Sarah Palin have raiesd. Crony capitalism is the problem and it needs to be fixed. The problem is that the solution to the problem is hard to grasp. I think fundamental tax reform would be a step in the right direction, but it wouldn't be the only step we need to take to get rid of crony capitalism.