There are even literary references to our fascination with the blinking lights of a computer. I'm left feeling that we humans are as dense as my dog when she sees her reflection in a glass door and thinks its another Laborador Retriever. When she walks to the other side, that other Lab is always gone. We invented all these computers, wrote all that software, and created all that data, but we can't see the results. At least that is what we are left to believe.
However, I stand before you defending the human brain.
Computers are amazing tools. Decades after I started using computers I'm still impressed by even the simple tasks that they accomplish, like word processing. Still more extraordinary is how computers handle in seconds what was once deemed impossible: our daily searches for information located all over the world. Unheard of just over 20 years ago.
So, who designed those machines, including the machines that now design other machines? Humans with brains much more advanced than that of my black Lab.
Cognitive computing, machine learning, and other forms of artificial intelligence may be where we see technology going, however, those advanced technologies are intended to emulate that cursed human brain. They might do it a whole lot faster than we can imagine, but the bottom line is that we want machines to think like us, and solve problems the way we do with that 3-pound brain.
We often lose sight of the fact that our brains are exceptional at a couple of things, multitasking and finding perspective.
Multitasking. Your computer is great at it, right? You type and it displays letters on a digital screen, saving your work as you go, spell checking, suggesting new words, and sometimes highlighting additional online resources, even things to buy.
Yet, your brain multitasks in dozens of distinct ways every second of every day, with no more programming than our parents having taught us to walk, talk, and read.
Consider what happens when we drive or walk even a few hundred yards. Without conscious thought, our brain tells our limbs to move, directing our legs to walk or our hands and feet to operate the car. We have more complicated sensors in those limbs than you will find in any Internet of Things device. Our sensors tell us that the pavement is uneven, and to adjust our gait. Our eyes view not just the path ahead but provide peripheral vision that checks clearances and threats for us. We don't have to think to turn right, we do it.
While our sensors and our limbs help with navigation, our eyes take in a beautiful sunrise. We know it's beautiful because our brain defines beauty for us. Meanwhile, we are thinking about today being Friday, the project that is due, uncooperative coworker X who is a jerk, relaxing at the lake tomorrow, and whether we want a bagel or a donut today. We hear music on the radio and construction noise. We feel the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
Two seconds later, and we are computing on a dozen different tasks.
Perspective. I see this as a result of our constant multitasking. We provide an awful lot of data input for our brains. Estimates of the brain's capacity range from 10 terabytes to 2.5 petabytes. Hmmm, sounds like a big data application.
Perspective sets us apart from computers. We know beauty, sadness, fear, joy, love, and so many other emotions. Those sensations are based on all that data that we take in during each of the 86,400 seconds in a day, 31.5 million seconds a year.
Perspective tells us whether we like that music on the radio or dislike the construction noise. It drives our conscious actions, like changing songs or raising the window to dampen the outside noise.
Our ventures into artificial intelligence are based in large part on giving machines the ability to find perspective in data. We want cars to know when it is safe to move forward. We teach machines to recognize the difference between a cat and a dog. Those are things that we humans "just know" based on the data that we have processed over the years, and the data that we took in a second ago.
We aren't about to stop adding intelligence to machines. In fact, the progress researchers are making with smart machines is remarkable, and I can't imagine what machines themselves will "just know" 20 years from now.
Yet, in the end, machine intelligence is still based on what our brains already do, though machines might do it faster, with greater accuracy, and even outside of our presence. Perhaps they will make us redundant in some ways. But, aren't they still just copying how the human brain works?
So, take a moment this weekend and tip your cap to your brain. It's an amazing machine in its own right.