Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Man's quests in the information age

Will machines dominate mankind? How will business quests look like in an era of artificial rationality? Yes, I think it is about rationality and not intelligence: machines don't understand nor manipulate concepts, they don't invent, they don't paint and they don't weave relationships... not yet at least. Welcome to the dawn of the information age.

As the latest edition of a man-machine chess game shows, it's increasingly difficult for man to beat machines in the field of pure rationality. Chess master Kramnik lost against Deep Fritz a mighty machine that is capable of calculating 8 to 10 million chessboard combinations per second. Artificial rationality is here to stay and will become more and more present in our lives (if we don't blow the planet before that). The rise of artificial rationality and some day of artificial intelligence, will radically transform our universe. It will either multiply our capabilities or subject us to a terrible form of totalitarianism. Assuming AI multiplies our capabilities, what are the implications in terms of business quests? Machines are already vital in many professions like for instance traders. What is the role of man is such contexts? Could we imagine a world of almost totally automated markets? Perhaps machines will take care of activities that are either repetitive or can be assessed in probabilistic terms and people will specialize in activities requiring intuition, creativity and artistic talent? What if all those activities (writer, artist, singer, painter, sculptor, dancer, actor...) often considered as decadent in conservative societies of the industrial era were to become our main focus in the coming decades? What if the current rise of the social dimension of the web and the adoption of technological enablers for human relationships were only the first steps in the direction? What if a creative class was to rise?

Many science fiction writers imagined future worlds characterized by ubiquitous computing and a permanent contest between humans and machines, sometimes leading to wars (Hyperion, Endymion, Foundation, Robots, Matrix, Legends of Dune) and the rise of post-machine worlds (Dune). Sometimes science fiction describes political systems (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), environmental degradation (The Precipice, Earth) and fictional business quests (Moonrise). I think science fiction is a good source of inspiration aside from being a great way to take some rest.


  1. Machine intelligence was supposed to rise automatically out of the internet, because the millions of interconnected computers would act as brain cells. So far, the only things that has rised are virus, worms and spam.
    When my computer will start to negociate with me whenever I want to shut him down, when he will be able to touch my heart, make me doubt and change my mind, I will call her "intelligent" ;-)
    For now, thanks to sci-fi, I can contemplate this possibility in creations like 2001's HAL 9000.

  2. Ah! But you already know that your computer is a "she"... Perhaps her intelligence is of such a nature that it actually negotiates only with your subconscious about shut-downs and even about what software you are to conceive :-)
    Seriously, the vision of a global brain wired by the Internet is conceptually interesting and we are not quite there yet. Beautiful things happen on the web in the way of co-creation and yes quite often we are seeing some pretty ugly things too. I don't know whether machines will ever be able to touch our hearts, but I guess that would be a good test for humane artificial intelligence, which is very different from artificial rationality... To tell you the truth I am quite happy that machines aren't quite to the point of negotiating ON/OFF hours and forming unions :-)