Cognitive collaboration


Although artificial intelligence (AI) has experienced a number of "springs" and "winters" in its roughly 60-year history, it is safe to expect the current AI spring to be both lasting and fertile. Applications that seemed like science fiction a decade ago are becoming science fact at a pace that has surprised even many experts. The stage for the current AI revival was set in 2011 with the televised triumph of the IBM Watson computer system over former Jeopardy! This watershed moment has been followed rapid-fire by a sequence of striking breakthroughs, many involving the machine learning technique known as deep learning. Computer algorithms now beat humans at games of skill, master video games with no prior instruction, 3D-print original paintings in the style of Rembrandt, grade student papers, cook meals, vacuum floors, and drive cars.1 All of this has created considerable uncertainty about our future relationship with machines, the prospect of technological unemployment, and even the very fate of humanity. Regarding the latter topic, Elon Musk has described AI "our biggest existential threat." Stephen Hawking warned that "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." In his widely discussed book Superintelligence, the philosopher Nick Bostrom discusses the possibility of a kind of technological "singularity" at which point the general cognitive abilities of computers exceed those of humans.2 Discussions of these issues are often muddied by the tacit assumption that, because computers outperform humans at various circumscribed tasks, they will soon be able to "outthink" us more generally. Continual rapid growth in computing power and AI breakthroughs notwithstanding, this premise is far from obvious.