artificial intelligence

Deep Thinking, Out Thought, Human Intelligence and the Earth

In his book, Deep Thinking,,

the former Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov (defeated by IBM’s “Deep Blue”), argues that the combination of even low quality human intelligence, adequate computers and excellent human-machine integration strategy can outperform human geniuses aided by exquisitely powerful machines and a poor interface strategy. His argument is that using machines to augment human thought allows human thought to grow in capacity, which will allow our species to continue to physically and intellectually flourish. It is a compelling argument, but it misses something vital, which looks sometimes like this:

This mid-winter aspen grove is one individual, covering a half hectare of land at Big Bar Lake. She has multiple stems, all reading the weather and barometric pressure, recording it and responding to it. They communicate with each other underground. They carry the chemical communication trails of many thousands of insects and a wide array of peculiar diseases, each with their own networks.

They house birds, insects, owls, hawks, moose, deer and bears, and shelter water. All in all, they form a kind of data collection and storage device, although one that translates poorly to autonomous human minds. Even if you have Celtic heritage, the chances of proposing an intellectual problem to an aspen grove and receiving an intellectual answer are slight. It’s not going to play chess with you.

The Rhine, In Its Celtic Middle Flow

Still, the aspen is a complex environment, especially when you consider that it is just one of thousands of individuals like this, many smaller but many considerably larger, in just one small corner of the Cariboo Plateau, with deep connections to hundreds of other species, animal, vegetable and fungal. There’s a lot of information being gathered, transferred and physically encoded, and it is, despite intellectual appearances, all available to humans.

Aspens in Drought

In response to Kasparov’s proposed human-machine partnership — an extended mind, an Out Mind, so to speak — it is equally legitimate to propose a planet as an Out Mind.

Bowron Lake

It would be one read in quite different terms than Kasparov’s chess-playing machines, and it would likely solve entirely different problems in entirely different ways, but it would solve them and profoundly extend the reach of human intelligence and profoundly impact human well-being. The results would have to be uniquely measured, but that’s no issue. Humans have the capacity to do just that. This Earth Mind  remains there: incredibly complex, incredibly networked, and with profound built-in human interfaces. Our bodies understand this stuff deeply. In fact, so do our minds, which operate in terms set by the planet as well. Here is that aspen grove in the summer.

The communication that is going to happen here is a bodily language, expressed physically. It is to be found in the Earth’s own patterns and substances, as interpreted by human bodies and their needs, and not by human minds set within abstracted cognitive environments. But, despair not. If the goal of Kasparov’s mind-centred strategy is, ultimately, for human bodies to survive, the goal of using the earth and its connections to extend human thought is ultimately to develop and nurture human minds (and to do so by caring for human bodies as legitimate extensions into the Earth.) Foregoing the kind of thinking we could experience when we worked along with the planet would be foolish, especially if all it left us with was AI searches of databases used to augment human thought in profound cognitive environments. Why not use them here?

Why on Earth are we separating our minds and bodies from the Earth they are built to read? (I have some thoughts on that, but that’s a conversation for next week.)

5 replies »

  1. I wonder if we share a deep pessimism about ourselves, one that Kasparov seems to exemplify here. And if we think that the highest form of human intellectual activity is the kind that Kasparov does very well but not as well as chess playing machines then that pessimism would appear justified.
    What you seem to be showing here is an entirely different kind of intelligence based upon an entirely different kind of consciousness. I am deeply grateful to you. Last week when I reflected on Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil’s belief that human destiny is largely digital and probably the destiny of the planet too I was very pessimistic too. Perhaps our planet will become all machine and no life with, perhaps, a memory of the human consciousness that first built the machine within its systems but only the level of consciousness that can solve chess problems.
    It seems to me that either we give in to that pessimism or we learn the consciousness that you display here. The time is coming soon when we will have to choose either one or the other.


  2. I can’t agree with you more about the book missing something crucial, something immense (though I haven’t read it myself). As always, your insight into the natural world and all its ramifications is a pleasure just to be around. I thought the title of the image, “Aspens in Drought” was “Aspens in Thought” for a split second. It could have been. And doing a better job than many of us humans, but not all.


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