Travel with me on a little thought experiment. We'll pack up just two electronic devices and head back to New York in 1843. We can take my Macbook Pro and iPhone.
New York is a humming bed of industry and commerce, but supposedly nearing a plateaue of invention as the Patent Office Commissioner, Henry Ellsworth, told congress that they were nearing "that period when human improvement must end." So, New York is at a peak of technology.
We draw a group of startled ladies and gents around us and engage them. We begin a demonstration of the capabilities of the two devices. We show a movie, like Star Wars, play a little Minecraft, chat a bit on Facetime, each of us on separate sides of the street, and let them examine the machines closely.
What would the reaction of the public be? We would be gods, my friend. We would posses the impossible and wield magical powers. Few would ever believe our story that humans could develop such things in the future. Their minds would not be able to grasp such a leap.
Back from the journey now, it becomes fairly easy to answer the title question, especially if you are familiar at all with AI advancements in recent years, months. Given time, provisions, and imagination, history has proven that there are few things humans cannot create.
Already projects are coming close to language in AI, and on TechRadar.Computing, Jamie Carter writes interestingly of Narrative Science's program Quill. The abilities of Quill are thrilling, but she questions, pejoratively, whether AI will eventually take over journalism. An interesting question, but the approach to the quandary troubles me.
At the core of Carter's question, humans are pitted against technology, as if we were somehow entirely separate. The precedent has always placed us much closer than adversaries. Take this passage from Carter:
Journalism isn't complicated. The popularity of online news stories can be tracked – and therefore the importance of news easily ranked – while almost everything is written using the inverted pyramid structure. Since automated writing software can already do most of that, are we looking at the last generation of human journalists?
Think of the task and the technology both in terms of human evolution. We are talking about the most complex skill in history - the ability to use language to communicate. Journalism is complicated, but Carter contends here that if a computer can do it, the task must be easy.
This follows in line with thinkers who belittle the task if the actor is not human. Similar thoughts are expressed when remarkable abilities of animals are discovered. "Well, if a chimp can do it, the task was not very difficult in the first place."
Carter also implies that if computers can do the work, people will be out of a writing job, which is a dubious presumption.
However, why should we pit technology against humanity. If Quill, or another program succeeds at journalism, this in no way diminishes humans nor makes them obsolete. And, in defense of journalists, it does not diminish their work. In fact, the technology has the potential to empower them.
The article handles the issue more effectively when it steers toward collaboration rather than competition:
"No one should be worried about automated writing systems," says Hammond. "As with our technology they are designed for writing into spaces where no one else is writing, and working in coordination with other writers and analysts.
Whether journalists are replaced is of little importance because it is so exciting to contemplate what writers will be moving on to at that point. As humans are freed of lower level tasks, we are allowed to attain greater achievements.
New technological powers provide stepping stones to greater heights, provided we are smart enough not to wipe ourselves out in the process. Writing will certainly be different, but I doubt that the human element will be left out.
Carter ends her article with a surprisingly grand vision of AI interacting with humans, participating together in both the creation and consumption of stories.
Humans and AI sharing the writing and reading experience is a miraculous image.
You might be interested in these science related articles:
- Smart tech dumbs us, says the Wall Street Journal: Find out how to power your brain instead
- How storytelling software simulates the human brain
- How to use cognitive science to crush writer's block
- How the study of language sparked the cognitive revolution
- 5 Reasons why social media are increasing intelligence
Share with us! What are your thoughts on the role of technology in human life?