Machines: putting them in their proper place

Let’s be clear. Computer chess programs are unbeatable. They can beat me, they can beat you, they beat Kasparov.

Now, let me ask you this. Did it mean Deep Blue was more intelligent than Kasparov?

Are computers and artificial “intelligence” really capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Can they ultimately become not just intelligent but more intelligent than us, humans. Can these machines and metal-heads become a threat to our intelligence? Are we creating the superior beings? Are we going to become pets, the dogs of the house?

Scary, uh?

In Fritz Lang’s classic silent Metropolis (1927) the robot Maria incites a full-scale rebellion in a futuristic dystopian world

The Deep Blue-Kasparov chess war opened a new age: the age of metal-heads, in which men began developing the minds of machines.

Today those minds have reproduced in huge numbers, substituting many of the mental functions that men performed in the past (calculus, spelling, accountancy, science, information etc.). All that computer horsepower could be, some believe, put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties. [9]

Some believe.

If you can swallow that idea, and a lot of very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there’s no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators.

Machines turning on humanity and annihilating us? Yeah, right

It’s impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom? the Singularity? [8]) we might one day share the planet.

In Transformers movie (2007) the leader of a pack of robots battling the Decepticons, (another, more evil class of robots) Optimus takes it upon himself to protect the planet Earth and kick some metal ass in the meantime.

There are two ways in which machines could extinguish humanity as they evolve: in fields of war, and as machine-tools, eliminating human workers.

The first and obvious consequence for humanity of the evolution of metal is the extinction of humans in wars. In wars men and machines become enemies, rivals for survival… And weapons always win. The nation with better weapons win wars. The citizens of the other nation become extinguished.

The second consequence which is almost as harmful: the extinction of labor, by the competence of machines. Machines that throw workers out of the eco(nomic)system, causing their poverty and degradation.

The key issue

To me, the real heart of the idea of artificial “intelligence” is this:

Is better intelligence and smarter minds supposed to be developed for us, and in us, humans, or the metal-heads? Who is going to be the Thinker? And who is going to be the Servant?

Can computers and AI help us teach and learn faster and more efficiently (chess, or anything) so we become smarter?

That is the key question.

The state of affairs today, let me remind you, is this: Computers are near-omnipotent cauldrons of processing power, but they’re pretty stupid actually. They are the undisputed chess champions of the world, but they can’t understand a simple English conversation.

Can you learn better how to play chess from the Fritz software (“expert” -> artificial “intelligence”) or a Grandmaster (expert -> human intelligence)?

So what can we learn from the metal(as)s anyway?


  1. Are Computers Playing Games With Us? (
  2. Humans become ‘pets’ in rise of the machines (
  3. The Competence between Humans and Machines (
  4. In War Between Man And Machine, Machine Is Winning (
  5. 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal (
  6. What is Singularity? (
  7. Most Memorable Robots from Movies (
  8. The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence. There are several technologies that are often mentioned as heading in this direction. The most commonly mentioned is probably Artificial Intelligence, but there are others: direct brain-computer interfaces, biological augmentation of the brain, genetic engineering, ultra-high-resolution scans of the brain followed by computer emulation. [6]
  9. Marvin the Paranoid Android, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (2005), is very depressed, a little too smart for his own good, and claims to be 30 billion times more intelligent than a live mattress.
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