Let’s start with this popular excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
This has become one of the most famous passages in english because it resonates with just about everyone. We all have those moments when we are faced with tough decisions and we often don’t have any idea which of our options to choose. Some will quote Frost and say take the road less travelled. Others will may say take the path of least resistance. There really isn’t a clear cut answer that can be applied to all scenarios. It seems we have done our best to create societies with guidelines that help us navigate but at the end of the day it comes down to judgement. Humans are only but so good at making these judgements. We are incredibly complex, having to manage, health, emotions, and perceptions, before we even get to address the facts. Even assuming we know the facts, we often take a lot of time to deliberate on big issues.
Computers are incredibly efficient decision makers, not only because they do not have emotions, or perceive things objectively, but because they have the ability to process all of their knowledge so quickly. A computer never has to sleep on it to make a big decision, it quickly calculates all data, against the desired result and makes creates a solution based on the frame work of the program or operating system.
If our cultures are the programs and our minds are the operating system we have a legal, and social framework to reference when making decisions. The difficulty arrises when we have to make knowledge based decisions when we don’t have all the necessary information. We don’t always have the clarity to know when to make the best choices and it takes us so long to do so when we do.
To illustrate a practical and common everyday occurrence of computer decision making lets look to real-time-bidding (RTB). This is how many ads are sold on websites. With RTB advertisers set budgets for the impressions they want to make and these impressions are bid upon instantaneously to match the highest price with the most appropriate impression. It happens every single time you load a page with these type of web ads on it so quickly you don’t even notice. A computer literally combs through all possible scenarios and delivers a result 100x faster than you can blink your eyelid.
Most of us will spend 3-5 minutes staring at a vending machine trying to decide which flavor of chips to buy and that is a small decision. For big decisions like who to marry, which, job to take or even whether to give someone the death penalty we humans don’t always seem to get it right. We may not be the best at deciding but that is because we are so good at reading our emotions. We may spend time worrying about if we should get married, but we don’t often have to question our feelings of affection, just how we should act upon them in society. We’ve got computers be hands down on emotional intelligence.
So often we see worst-case-scenario science fiction films like The Matrix that show a human vs machine war for supremacy. The funny thing about those films is that humans still need machines even to fight those wars. The man-machine relationship has become so symbiotic at this point that there is no way we can thrive, or survive without them. So why don’t we see more scenarios where the positive extreme is explored? It would seem logical that for as much harm is to potentially be caused by developing better machines, there is as much good. And we should explore a marriage of man and machine as we’ve begun to see with the recent interest in wearable tech.
Certainly there is going to be some trial and error happening. Looking again to futuristic sci-fi, the movie RoboCop provides an interesting less. The cyborg policeman was programmed to have the computer override his human brain in combat situations and that made him a far more efficient an accurate shooter and soldier. The problems arose when we found that his targets were being manipulated based on corruption in the police department. At the end his human mind overpowered the computer mind for empathy and emotions, but he retains the heighten decision making skills when he needs them. Aside from the face that he looks odd, RoboCop ends up achieving a great balance between man and machine.
With cloud computing, all recorded data can be sifted though in an instant in our hand, but what if that knowledge was available directly to our brains. We already rely on technology in medicine, we implant prosthetic limbs to repair bodily injuries, and pacemakers to regulate the heart, what happens if we use the same philosophy to digitally regulate chemical levels in our brain. It would remove the need for synthetic drugs with heavy side effects.
Then deciding which chips to buy is as instantaneous a process as selling a web ad. But not only could we make decisions faster but if we are able to process emotional data as quickly as knowledge we achieve and amazing capacity to heal ourselves from emotional trauma, and synthesize those emotions into the decision making process.
In theory, a cyborg human could not only resolve their own issues of childhood abuse by gathering psychologic data, but accurately apply that data to their own mind. It would mean we humans would have the potential to feel truer emotions that are unclouded by past trauma, or limited empirical cultural dispositions. While we may be annoyed by the guy wearing Google glass today. It is important that we seek to understand how important these small steps are to the possibility of having a brighter future.