We are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. That’s mainly because we are the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves “wise” twice!
But given how we have been destroying the planet’s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo “sapiens,” at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from self-destruction (see Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter).
Of course there are dolphins, but they seem rather unlikely to survive our carbon-fest (see Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred and “Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century”). Hmm. Perhaps the book will have to be renamed, “So long, and thanks for killing all the fish.” But I digress.
Now comes word that IBM has developed an “artificial intelligence” that positively kills on Jeopardy!. Yeah, I know, climate hawks would have preferred they spent a few million bucks developing an “artificial intelligence” that convinces people to stop spewing climate-destroying emissions into the air, but, really, at the end of the day, we already have Al Gore, and would you rather listen to some damn alarmist machine or watch Ken Jennings finally lose.
Here’s the story (and video) and where to watch:
The stage is set. The excitement is building. On February 14, 2011, Watson will face its toughest challenge yet. Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge will pit the two greatest champions in the show’s history against a computing system that will rival their ability to deliver a single, precise answer to a Jeopardy! clue.
Watch to see a glimpse of what to expect in this three day, two-match challenge for the ages.
So who are you rooting for to win?
“I’ll be rooting for Watson but a little part of me will always be rooting for the humans too.” –Jon Iwata, IBM Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Futurist Ray Kurzweil says machines will pass us by long before we’ve destroyed the climate, in the latest Time magazine cover story, “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal“:
So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness “” 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.
If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other 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. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn’t even take breaks to play Farmville.
Probably. It’s impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom?) we might one day share the planet, because if you could, you’d be as smart as they would be. But there are a lot of theories about it. Maybe we’ll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.
Hmm. Maybe some computers are already trying to convince us that humans aren’t changing the climate dangerously. Maybe these computers are putting small, irrelevant errors into the temperature record for the deniers to pounce on. Maybe it is the computers themselves that leaked the East Anglia emails. Hah! I’ll bet they never investigated that possibility.
On the other hand, if Kurzweill is so smart, why did he tell CNN and the Washington Post:
These slides that Gore puts up are ludicrous, they don’t account for anything like the technological progress we’re going to experience”¦. None of the global warming discussions mention the word ‘nanotechnology. Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years“¦. I think global warming is real but it has been modest thus far – 1 degree f. in 100 years. It would be concern if that continued or accelerated for a long period of time, but that’s not going to happen.
And people say I’m a techno-optimist. So Kurzweil actually believes in climate science but thinks catastrophic global warming won’t happen because of a techno-fix that stops emissions. If wishes were horses “¦ everyone would get trampled to death and the world would be filled with horse-crap. In the real world, energy breakthroughs are very rare, as we’ve seen, and it’s even rarer when they make a difference in under several decades. But I digress.
Will super-smart computers really save us? Or will they just be want to get us as quickly as possible to the day when carbon-based lifeforms have finished emitting carbon once and for all?
So tell me, who are you rooting for to win? Watson — or homo “sapiens”?
UPDATE: More Watson humor from Slate.