Whatever forecasts are made for the moment when machine intelligence exceeds the power of human intelligence, one can be sure that the hypesters will be out ahead of the science, babbling of capabilities achieved before they have even been thought through properly. An early example of this phenomenon can be found on a blog created by change consultants Frost & Sullivan. Its author claims that increasingly sophisticated research tools are going to enable us “to search greater numbers of documents and sources and pull out greater insight more quickly”.
We should add this word insight to the lexicon of terms over which care must be taken in navigating the evolution of machine intelligence: words like consciousness, reflection, wisdom – even intelligence itself. Insight is wisely seen as a penetrative understanding of the true nature of something set in a potentially fathomless context of complexity. Maybe algorithms will one day be capable of plumbing the depths of such complexity, but it’s way too early now to be talking of “Insight-on-Demand”.
Tellingly, this blog refers clumsily to an early example of intelligent search software as being “a canary down the mine for researchers”. The context suggests that what is meant by the metaphor is “pre-cursor” to better software, when in truth the canary in history served as a warning. The danger in assuming too much about algorithmic search, however sophisticated, lies in the potential for suspending critical thought out of deference to software that, however intelligent, is not yet sufficiently wise.