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Prosthetic intelligence

Several teams are at work to create effective BCI. In the image a thin, flexible electrodes mounted on top of a biodegradable silk substrate could provide a better brain-machine interface, as shown in this model. Image credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

At TED 2017 Apple executive Tom Gruber (one of the guy behind Siri) gave an interesting talk pointing out that we should create artificial intelligent systems to make ourselves more intelligent and he made the prediction that humankind will become smarter thanks to a seamless interaction with artificial intelligence.

Now this is a good point, and we do not have to look into the future to predict human beings can be augmented by artificial intelligence. Just look at the past 15 years: as smartphones have become more and more widespread and access to the world information repository (the Web) seamless we have started to expand our memory first and then our capabilities.

If I need an information it has become second nature to use my phone to get it. It took me years to learn a foreign language, yet in the last years I read papers in Russian, Japanese and Chinese (thanks Google Translator!).

Am I smarter today than I was fifteen years ago? It depends on what you mean by smart, of course. If smartness can be checked through a sort of Turing test, than I would say I am definitely smarter today than I was few years ago. Ask me anything, and I am likely to find an answer, surely much more likely today than I was 15 years ago.

So Tom’s claim is already true today. It will be even more true tomorrow, of course, and by directing our efforts in creating systems to augment our intelligence is going to accelerate the process.

It may also widen the gap between those who will have access to these prosthetics (and to the latest generation) and those who won’t. New issues are likely to surface, particularly as the access to artificial intelligent prosthetics will become seamless and “invisible”.

Brain computer interfaces, although it may be some decades before they can become inconspicuous and work as well as a typewriter…, are being studied more and more (see the latest announcements from Zuckerberg and Elon Musk). The increase effectiveness of communications between our senses and computers will deliver sooner than brain computer interfaces. Google glasses were an attempt in this direction, seamlessly connecting our mouth, eyes and ears with a computer. In a way they failed to win the market but give these kind of technologies a few more years and they will succeed. I have no doubt about this. Think about Newton (do you still remember it?). It failed but ten years later the iPad (and copycats) vindicated the idea.

They may take a different form, a contact lens doubling up as a very private screen or more simply as surfaces all around us that doubles up as information providers, with an aware ambient that “knows” what we would like to know, if we are alone or in a company where that kind of information can be displayed. Smartphones morphing into gloves or sleeves, paper notepads that know what we would like to write on them and take over… Quite a few of the underlying technologies are already available, at least in some research labs. A number of the FDC Initiatives are fostering them, like the Brain, the Digital Senses or the Cloud.

Indeed, the future may come sooner than we expect.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.