The Language of ‘Intelligence Augmentation’

Examining human and computer interdependence

Robin Tricoles, Bob Demers photo
Computer scientist Mihai Surdeanu speaks at the College of Science lecture series in Centennial Hall.

Rest easy, people. The recent revolution in artificial intelligence won’t be spawning computers hell-bent on doing in the human race. Instead, artificial intelligence, or AI, will be working with us and not against us, in what Mihai Surdeanu terms “intelligence augmentation,” or IA.

Surdeanu, a University of Arizona associate professor of computer science, touched on the differences between AI and the human mind — and where AI is headed — in his talk titled “The Minds of Machines.” The talk was part of the College of Science 2018 lecture series, “Humans, Data and Machines,” which delved into various aspects of the revolutionary social change now underway with the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds. 

Surdeanu said that one of the starkest differences between the human mind and AI was noted by 20th-century philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose work focused on what it means to be.

“Essentially, what Heidegger is saying is that what we are, and what the world is, are mutually interdependent,” Surdeanu said. “There’s no objective world apart from our experiences of it, just as our experiences cannot be separated from the world in which they occur.”

In other words, “Existence is interpretation, and interpretation is existence,” Surdeanu said.

In fact, Heidegger went to the trouble to coin the word “Dasein” to describe humans’ self-conscious existence and capacity for self-interpretation. Computers lack these, which limits their capacity for humanlike intelligence.

For example, when it comes to learning human language, AI has a limited ability to grasp syntax, sarcasm or metaphor. Another example is decision making. Artificial intelligence can make decisions, but it can’t yet explain why it made the decision it did, Surdeanu said.

“We shouldn’t trust in decisions without an explanation of why they’re happening,” he said. “In the future, we will have systems that have the ability to explain themselves, which is better than most of us can do.”

Of course, AI can help humans with monumental tasks, such as quickly mining and sorting data that humans can later use for research that only humans can do.

That’s why Surdeanu said he prefers “intelligence augmentation” to “artificial intelligence.” After all, artificial intelligence originally was designed to complement us, not to replace us.