We have come a long way, indeed. From the making of simple tools to constructing the wheel, building ships, sailing across the ocean, mingling in America, blending cultures, founding nations, inventing nachos. With the afore mentioned arbitrary murders and plunder, rape and omnipresent cruelty in between.
And the way has never been shorter: from the bag into the bowl over to the couch; delicious snacking has never been easier.
But as for the future, the way might get even shorter. For now, it is still the task of man to get the bag out of the storage shelf, empty it into the bowl and carry it over to the couch. The cleaning of the bowl afterwards is already taken care of by the dishwasher.
And in a while, maybe a little robotic household helper will get the bag for you, maybe he`ll even poor it into a bowl in advance.
Robots, devices, artificial intelligence – machines are getting more and more complex. And they`re taking over more and more complex tasks. By now most of these assignments merely consist of the execution of discrete steps, repeating them over and over, longer and faster than any human could ever hope to perform. Or in managing big amounts of data, searching and analyzing on the grounds of given parameters. With all of these, a machine only does what it has been told to do in advance. It follows a strict set of rules and orders.
In this way, machines are helping to construct, to calculate, to clean, to produce. What they took over from human hands are tasks which are monotonous, repetitive, clearly structured. Weaving wool, washing dishes, assembling parts.
Even a modern pc basically simply follows a strict set of rules. A very, very large set of rules, but a fixed set nonetheless. There is some decision making a pc does on its own; still: it is all again based on a strict set of rules and parameters, which are given in advance.
But we are living in interesting times. And those times, they are a-changing indeed. Because of the arrival of a new kind of machine, a new kind of design. A machine designed to learn. On its own.
A machine with a complex, ever changing network at its core, not at all that different from the neuronal network which makes up our own thinking apparatus, our brain.
Computer science has long struggled to create self-learning algorithms and programs, but it seems as finally things are coming together. And are really hitting it off.
Google is rushing into the new era head first: Google Brain has demonstrated fascinating examples of self-learning software and used them to improve their own services (e.g. Google Translate). See for yourself.
So far, the roles had been clear: machines were those stupid things stubbornly following their given set of commands, while us humans, we liked to see ourselves as something far above: the somehow divine makers, who had the genius and the power to shape their own thoughts and ideas. The thing a machine would never do was doing something it was never taught to do, coming up with an original idea of its own. The “creative spark” seemed to be a magical power reserved to humans. Maybe some of us even drew the line right there: this is what separated us from simply working machinery.
Well, we might need to draw a new line somewhere else soon: with the ability to learn and to grow by itself, machines are able to generate their own original solutions to problems, coming up, in a way, with their own ideas. And their own new original ways of looking at the world, which is, in a sense, what art and being creative are about. “Google Dream” has even sold pictures on an art show.
So what will it be like, the future? Will we have a powerful A.I. some day to give us all the answers to life`s questions? Maybe it will not be a human who comes up with the cures for cancer, aids, with a solution for peace in the middle-east or an optimized kind of toast which always lands on the right side when falling off the breakfast table. Maybe the Deepthoughts and Cortanas will win the Nobel Prizes of tomorrow.
Maybe. But there is one thing that will always remain a mystery (at least to some basic degree): the future. Because who knows, maybe the people of the future find pleasure in just getting their nachos themselves.