CAN COMPUTERS THINK THE WAY HUMANS THINK

One of the challenges for us is to be knowledgeable as well as wise. “If knowledge continues to increase, the world will need wisdom in the future even more than it does now,” said Bertrand Russell.  The goal of wisdom is to comprehend the deeper meaning of known facts, and for that a combination of cognition, self-reflection, and openness are necessary. Wisdom is subjective. Wise can look at phenomena and events from different perspectives. It is possible to acquire wisdom by interacting with the wise.  William James rightly said that wisdom is about knowing what to overlook. A truly wise can comprehend the inherent limits of knowledge, as well as wisdom. Knowledge comes from books and facts. Wisdom comes from experience and living. A wise has the ability to intuit the options before they become problems. The difference between a wise and a clever person, according to a Jewish saying, is that the clever can extricate him from a situation into which the wise would never have gotten him. Wisdom does not automatically grow with age.  The association between wisdom and age, however, is potentially positive. The biological hardware of the mind deteriorates with age. The software of the mind has the potential to increase with age. Knowledge makes a person wise, only if he experiences it. As one wisdom researcher says, “One can have theoretical knowledge without any corresponding transformation of one’s personal being. But one cannot have wisdom without being wise”.  Wisdom is understood at the experiential level; it cannot necessarily be found in what a person says, but it can be expressed through an individual’s personality and conduct in life. Wisdom is not necessarily conveyed through the content of a statement, but through the way the statement is delivered.

Are we wiser than our ancestors were? It is generally said that the present generation ‘know’ more and ‘understand’ better than the previous generation knew or understood. But one must not   overlook the fact that the present generation has forgotten many things that the previous generation has remembered. The present generation can cure dreaded cancer, but are forgetting the ways to lead a simple, contented and happy life. A truly wise understands the limits of wisdom.

Knowledge is expanding at a rapid rate. The size of man’s head is also expanding. If both are proportionately increasing then no problem is visualized. If the increase in the size of knowledge is more than the size of the head, man would need an ‘external’ head to keep track of the knowledge expansion. One possibility is that the size of the head expands but doesn’t get utilized. We all know that an unutilised mind is the devil’s workshop. It is like engaging a person for his head, and then making it inconsequential. Unfortunately, it happens in many instances.

Can computers think the way humans think?  Since computers, like brain cells, are interconnected, it is logical to think that one day computers would work the same way the human brain works. Neuroscientists and computer scientists tell us that the human brain is different from a computer in many ways. It is well known that synapses are far more complex than electrical logic gates, and the inter-neuronal connections in the human brain are much more than in any computer. The brain is a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial. The brain uses content-addressable memory, computers byte-addressable. The democratic nature of the brain prepares itself to deal with contradictions and thus for better solutions. Brain uses evolution; adults have far fewer synapses than many random synapses the toddlers have. There is no central clock in the brain, and its processing speed is not fixed. The human brain constantly rewires and self-organises itself.

No hardware/software distinction can be made with respect to the brain or the mind; the mind emerges directly from the brain, and changes in the mind are always accompanied by changes in the brain. Brain has the body at its disposal so that it can “offload” its memory requirements to the environment in which it exists. Though the human brain has the capacity of learning things faster than computers, it is slower than computers in many functions (like multitasking capability and mathematically involved processes are better with computers). The brain is capable of imagination and is far superior to computers in matters related to common sense.

In the changing software landscape, artificial intelligence is becoming the most powerful tool to build a human-like machine. These developments raise mind-blowing (some quite frightening) possibilities. As is expected, some welcome these possibilities, some don’t. The question that is most bothersome is, “Should machines surpass human intelligence?” The related question is “Could machines ever surpass human intelligence?” David Gelertner asks a counter question: Since computers are creating so much mess in the information cyberspace, should we not divert our attention to clear the mess, rather than creating additional mess? Should we not control ‘out of control’ cyber pollution, in addition to installing better security guards? Gelertner thinks that no computer will be able to think like man unless it can ‘free-associate’. By ‘free association’ he means, “When you stop work for a moment, look out the window and let your mind wander, you are still thinking. Your mind is still at work. This sort of free association is an important part of human thought”. Gelertner feels no computer will be able to think like we think, unless it can ‘hallucinate’. We hallucinate when we fall asleep and dream, and in the hallucinated state our mind redefines reality for us; outside reality disappears, inside thinking remains. Gelertner contends that our level of ‘alertness’ is basic to human thought. In the low alertness state, our thoughts tend to move by themselves with no conscious direction from us. In this state of free association, each new thought resembles or overlaps or somehow connects to the previous thought. With fall in our alertness we lose contact with external reality. Eventually we sleep and dream. In the hallucinated state the thinker and his thought stream are not separate. The thinker inhabits his thoughts. No computer will be able to think like a human, unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind.

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