In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a landmark event. The media heralded the victory as proof that AI could match, and perhaps exceed, human intelligence. In 2011, IBM followed-up to its Deep Blue showing when Watson won the game show Jeopardy. The newspaper headlines boldly proclaimed that machines could finally outthink humans!
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
—Arthur C. Clarke
But in between these two events something else happened that may eventually be much more representative of the future applications of AI. In 2005, Playchess.com hosted a “freestyle” tournament in which combinations of humans and computers were given the opportunity to compete. Amazingly, even the best computers easily lost to an average human chess player with an average laptop. Success wasn’t about man versus machine. The winner was the individual best able to harness computing to achieve a desired goal.
It is becoming very clear that the most promising applications of AI are not in machines that think like humans, but in AI that can complement human efforts—a field called Intelligence Augmentation (IA). Today there are no true applications of General AI, i.e., computers that possess a human-like breadth of cognitive abilities. However, there are certainly lots of high-value examples of Narrow AI, i.e., computers that carry out well-defined, pre-specified tasks often in conjunction with a human-in-the-loop.
The AI behind Deep Blue and Watson did not in any way recreate human creativity, ingenuity, intuition, or common sense. Garry Kasparov famously stated that it was intelligent in the same way that “your programmable alarm clock is intelligent.” This characterization is not intended to marginalize the capabilities of narrow AI. But it teaches us a great deal about how Narrow AI applications can best add value to our work and lives. Indeed, computers can do certain things that even the smartest humans can’t and average humans can easily do many things that even the best supercomputers can’t.
It is the symbiosis between man and machine where Intelligence Augmentation delivers the greatest gains for society and industry. JCR Licklider predicted Intelligence Augmentation decades ago, when he aptly stated:
“Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking. . . The symbiotic partnership will perform intellectual operations much more effectively than man alone can perform them.”