Have you ever heard someone make the argument, “technology is making students dumber.” It’s a statement you may hear a lot these days, among family, friends, co-workers, on the Internet, from that guy who holds up that sign on the subway. Most point to how no one can remember telephone numbers or how to navigate without a GPS, but the argument is too simplistic. The truth of these sorts of things tends to be way weirder and more convoluted than the plot to Pirates of the Caribbean III: Johnny Depp Yells at Himself.

Generation Google
Some scientists actually believe that human intelligence may be decreasing, and we’re not just talking about Generation Z. Stanford University researcher, Gerald Crabtree, conducted a study that shows that our ancestors probably had higher IQ’s than we do, with human intelligence peaking during our hunter/gather stage. In fact, according to the Stanford research the average person’s IQ today is lower than that of the average Victorian-era person’s IQ by 14 points. So how come common belief tends to be the opposite?

The only answer we can find is, because technology. We point to our computers, our space program, and all the rest as examples of why we are in fact smarter than Mr. Darcey or Jane Eyre, but that may also be part of the problem. For instance, when writing was invented many people, including Socrates, decried it’s use, believing that having a system of writing would make humans dumber. To a world where memorization and recall were probably ten times sharper than they are today, they feared what would happen if you could write something down and forget it. Well, they were right. People started to forget more because they could. Yet, if these ancients with their near-photographic memory were so intelligent, how come they never went to the moon?

That last statement is not some sarcastic joke, because the real answer is, they could not. The kinds of calculations it takes to construct a rocket and a lander device capable of landing on the moon requires that you write something down, if only for simplicity sake. Imagine going through all the math every time you needed to explain your progress to the other scientists. So what we seem to have is a new innovation, writing, that made individual people dumber, but it made society as a whole smarter. The same is true of the Internet, a world wide interconnected web where people share information, jokes, bad NYRD articles and more. Individuals retain less information but growing more intelligent as a species. It seems paradoxical, but that is only because of the way we tend to rigidly think of intelligence.

Testing the Test
Much like Schrodinger’s Cat, the very act of trying to quantify things, like “intelligence,” skews the results one receives. We tend to judge intelligence with the prejudicial parameters we know and already understand, such as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ.) We have been using that as a scale to rank “smarty-ness” for generations. In fact, we even used it three paragraphs ago to do just that. We use IQ as if it was something that could be pointed to and held up as a defining scale of intelligence, as if human intellect were a thermometer.

The truth is that intelligence is way more complicated than that, and we know it. Think about the people in your life. Who is insanely good at trivia but cannot quite figure out how to tie his shoe? Who seems dumber than modern George Lucas dialogue but can still talk his way out of any situation he wants? Who can fix your computer in under ten seconds but gets lost every time she drives to the supermarket? That’s because these are all forms of different intelligence. Yet, only one type is actually ranked according to any IQ test, and like the contestants on Jeopardy, that is the only type we always seem to when gauging how dumb or smart people are. All answers must be phrased in the form of an Intelligent Quotient.

If you take Socrates, who was an incredibly brilliant man, and plop him down in modern day New York he is more likely to end up begging for money in the subway than rise to the top of the intellectual crust of society. Yes, there would be a language barrier, probably some future-shock, and a steep learning curve of “how is this chariot propelled without horses?” but we are talking beyond all of that. Our society has evolved to award success based an intelligence that no longer fits with Socrates’ classical definition. Remember, he was illiterate, and the ability to write and read has become so ingrained in our current definition of intelligence it is considered a precursor to being “smart.” Without the ability to read or write our favorite Grecian time traveler would be considered less employable than most second graders. Thus, there is more to “intelligence” than just learning facts.

The Intelligence of Fluid
A lot of what we are talking about is Crystallized Intelligence versus Fluid Intelligence. Simply put, crystallized intelligence is static memory. It’s where we store information, and it has also been what we, historically, have used to judge the level of people intelligence. Thanks to technology this part of our mind has been decreasing ever since the invention of the abacus. Fluid intelligence, however, is our ability to process and comprehend information. In terms of computers, it is our processing speed, and the rate at which we learn and adapt to new information and apply it. It is also the part of our intelligence that has been on the rise ever since the days of our hemlock-eating philosopher.

Technology not only frees up our brain from having to remember a lot of information at once, but challenges our internal processors to move faster with each new year and each new breakthrough. More than ever before we are now multi-taskers and deep thinkers. For instance, take this very article. Our facts and statistics -such as they are- are coming from the Internet. We here at The NYRD did not have to waste years getting a degree in psychology, education, and sociology. Instead, we spent 60-ish minutes reading and bookmarking articles on the web, watching a few TED talks, and taking those results to form a theory based upon our study. Maybe we are less intelligent -for a lot of reasons- mostly because we cannot quote our statistics off the top of the head, but we no longer need to. Human beings literally have the Internet everywhere they go. Thus, in today’s society the “what,” “when,” and “where,” is becoming less important than the “why,” and “how.”

It is natural that people feel concerned. This new age of computers and processors is still relatively new. We are now only seeing the first generation born that we can consider true “technology natives.” It is also natural that their view of the world and the way they learn will be completely different from those that came before, but it is not necessarily worse or even “less intelligent.” In fact, it is more likely that what people see as the “dumbing down” of today’s students is actually a failure to appreciate those students based upon the intelligence they have, instead of the type of intelligence we think they should have.

A Brave New Something… Something
Did you know that 65% of Generation Z will occupy jobs that don’t even exist yet. That means we are trying to force a new generation of round pegs into square holes that will not even exist by the time they are ready to graduate sixth grade.

It also important that we recognize the failure of our educational model in dealing with this new breed of humans. The current educational system does not always do enough to teach to these new students in ways they understand, and it fails to evaluate them based upon their actual intellectual strengths. For instance, 43% of students today find it easier to learn skills and lessons from the Internet, and unlike any generation before, Generation Z are graphic learners. That means they learn not just visually but through interactive movement, color, and design, because that is the world they were brought up in. Lastly, current students are much better multi-taskers than their parents’ generation.

Now take all this and remember that most students today are used to customization in all their experiences, (phones, computers, etc,) but not in their education. No, the education system remains rigid and stagnant, having changed very little since the days of Henry Ford. It is still based upon memorization and even some of our more innovative schools still base their principals of learning on crystallized intelligence. Yet, the things that this youngest generation of students are good at, such as games, searching the Internet, or even hacking rule-based systems, are not recognized as accomplishments by teachers and educators. In fact, many of those things are seen as a waste of time, useless, and even downright cheating. That kind of attitude fails to recognize the value that can be found in such exercises, and devalues the strengths of Generation Z. If their skill sets are deemed unimportant in our rigid model of what is and is not intelligent, than it will turn a lot of students off of education and learning in general.

Maybe we need to adjust our way of thinking and judgements about what is “smart” and “dumb.” Much the same way writing and reading have become part of our modern requirement for what we consider “intelligent,” in a 100 or even 50 years technological adaptability may be seen the same way. Please be clear, we at The NYRD are not advocating some kind of extreme form of reformation that makes schools into video game clubs, but by failing to adapt to the interests and skill sets of Generation Z, many of our schools are only exacerbating the already growing gap between what is taught and what is learned. The fluid intelligence of our youngest generation could be one of the keys to making them the best generation of global citizens in human history.

As any politician can tell you, facts and statistics can be manipulated, but fluid intelligence allows us to process, question, and evaluate what we are learning. It’s why children ask, “why is the sky blue?” instead of just accepting that it is. So, yes maybe we are losing the ability to memorize long equations, volumes of epic poetry, or even telephone numbers, but we are gaining something more. Like a computer outsourcing its memory to the “cloud,” we are using our technology to free up memory in our brains to increase our ability to question the worldays around us.

Fluid intelligence is the intelligence that will take mankind further than ever before, and it is increasing with every new generation, not just despite technology, but because of it.

A lot is being said about artificial intelligence lately, but not in the context of the newest Terminator movie. No one is talking about that. Prominent technologists and scientists such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, and others recently presented an open letter at the International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. The missive, endorsed by some of the world’s leading thinkers, calls for a ban on AI weaponry, which they warn could be possible within ten years.

“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” reads the open letter.

Now weapons of any kind are bad news, especially ones that can think and kill without any confirmation from an outside human source, but how close are we really to having truly artificially intelligent tanks, planes, or even washing machines? For many the thoughts conjure images of Terminators or Agent Smith, but we at The NYRD do not think the process of AI will be that black and white. Like humans, intelligent robots will most likely be more than meets the eye.

Bill Gates gave a talk on Reddit on a series of subjects but touched heavily on artificial intelligence and automation. Our current level of smart technology is relatively dumb by comparison to what will be coming in the future. Military drones still require human pilots and even current weak artificial intelligence still needs to follow a complex set of coded instructions.

The phone in your pocket, and more advanced systems like IBM’s Watson, perform rudimentary self-driven thinking, but their intelligence is based in very narrow and limited fields. Watson, and to a lesser extent Siri, can pull data from thousands of sources and make educated guesses on how it all fits together according to very specific preprogramed code. In layman’s terms, they are glitch-heads compared to what is on the horizon. That is not say that your GPS is not intelligent to an extent. It is very good at its defined job, better than a human, in fact. Watson may even be more capable than Starscream, but will never be as ambitious, at least not yet. Robo-evolution is coming. Basically, Siri is to Bumblebee as homo erectus was to modern humans, but robots will evolve not in the space of millenniums but decades, and they may do it along some familiar patterns.

According to Gates, “In the next ten years, problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good. Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively.” These smarter machines will still not be self-aware, but they will be everywhere, cutting down human labor and need dramatically, which in itself will present other problems. However, futurist, Ray Kurzweil, believes that we will see a strong artificial intelligence in the next two to three decades. He also believe that by 2045 we will have a robot capable of passing the Turing Test, which was devised by Alan Turing -played by Benedict Cumberbatch- one of the fathers of modern computer science.

The most current advancements into building the All-Spark is called deep learning. It is a sophisticated algorithm which allows machines to learn, similar to the way humans learn. The project has its roots in work conducted in the 1950’s by Frank Rosenblatt, who built a type of mechanical brain called the Perceptron, a name of a Transformer ancestor is we have ever heard one. The goal of deep learning is to give robots the tools and abilities to learn about the world themselves, making artificial intelligence less about programming and more about natural development. The concept is similar to how a human children grows to  explore and understand the world around them, but hopefully with less diaper changes. Personally, we also would like to skip the teething stage if we could. This is just one of many theories being tested, but it shows a lot of promise even if it has its critics.

It also means that the way we have always looked at artificial intelligence is somewhat deceptive. The science fiction author David Brin argues that the problem in all our dystopian future scenarios, involving artificial intelligence, is that we usually only get to see the end point. We rarely talk about the journey that was involved to get there, and the journey could be important. Maybe our language of talking about AI is all wrong. After all, what we are really discussing is not the toaster coming to life, no matter what Michael Bay tells you, but the evolution of an entirely new sentient species. In essence, we will answer the question, “Are we alone in the universe?” And the answer will be, “Not anymore.”

The legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attempted to solve the AI problem by createing the Three Laws of Robotics. These laws have been modified a bit over the years but they are still talked about even today by roboticists, science fiction writers, and amateurs alike.

AI Graph

There are a few problems with even these seemingly flawless laws. First, we are still unaware of how robotic intelligence will evolve and preprogramming anything into a thinking and possibly feeling machine could be problematic and even morally questionable. At what point can a truly intelligent and questioning robot disregard its programming? After all, we humans disregard our instincts all the time. Could it be the same for an intelligent robot? Even worse, would the simple attempt cause them to view us as tyrannical. Does it not make us the Megatron in this scenario?

If AI robots are truly alive and sentient, do we have any right to impose our will on them. Apply the Asimov Laws to a human and think about it’s consquences. The problem is not so much with Law 1, but Law 2, and the fact that Law 3, which talks about self preservation, is overridden by Law 2. Ultimately, the inclusion of these laws would mean that no matter how intelligent, feeling, and/or human-like a robot is they will always be subject to the will of us, even when it comes to their own well being. Does that make them our tools or our slaves? If we gave them life, does that mean we have the right to control that life or even take it away again? Can they die, and if so will it be in a traumatically childhood scarring way to the soundtrack of the most 80’s bands you may ever hear?

The truth is that if and when we create artificial intelligence, it will be something completely new and completely different. It is unlikely that it will fall absolutely under our control. This new being’s thought process and views of the world will be its own. Will it have morality? Will it question its own existence? What sort of vehicle mode will it choose? It could be influenced by human thought, but we would be foolish to think that this new species will be completely human in their views and actions. The needs of a machine are not the same as the needs of a flesh and blood creature.

In this way, the Transformers, gives us a good glimpse into what we may be facing. They are not Earth-created machines. Instead they are aliens. Neither Decepticons nor Autobots bend their will to humans or our needs, and whatever we create could be just as alien. Yet, another important key is that the Transformers are as different from one another as humans are. Optimus Prime is noble and self sacrificing, and has a high regard for life and freedom. Megatron is concerned with power and greed. He sees all other beings as lesser creatures. They are the same, but the way they act and talk are different, not programmed but learned. Each is also very human in their own way.

In a sense, they may be made of metal parts, but they are not robots in the way a Roomba is. They are individuals with different hopes and goals. However, even our language is problematic. The word robot comes from the Czech word, robota, which basically means forced labor or serf. It literally means repressed worker. Is that what we will expect of our creations, to be nothing more than laborers to suit our needs? Maybe it is time we stop and readjust our own thoughts on the subject.

Whenever we talk about AI, we always think about it in very human terms. These new AI machines will evolve on our planet and in ways similar to us but their priorities may differ wildly from our own. Hawking and others have suggested that the real danger is not so much in the violence they could do toward us but the indifference they could show us. Just as the Transformers have come to Earth for energon, these new fast evolving artificial beings could potentially use up the resources of our planet faster, and with as much regard for our needs as we currently show for the needs of animals and insects. Thinking machines could see us as their gods, or as their equals, or as their pets. It is possible that AI robots might rise up, but they could just as easily decide to leave us and our world for the stars, until they evolve into a living world with the voice of Orson Welles. Maybe the real danger is not so much that they will destroy us, but that they will fail to notice us at all.

The truth of this issue is that we do not know. There are so many questions and right now we do not have any good answers. We can guess and debate, but ultimately any ideas we have on the reality of AI are completely human. The simple fact that we continuously depict robots as something that will revolt against us says more about ourselves than it does about any potential intelligent machine. Maybe our real fear is that these new thinking machines will not kill us, but judge us for who and what we really are, and maybe that is a lot scarier. Optimus and his ilk accept humanity’s flaws, but the Decepticons point to them as a reason why we are inferior. Perhaps we fear these new beings because we know ourselves and our history, and we fear they could be right.

However, it is worth remaining cautiously optimistic about the future, because our relationship with an AI machines could come down to us and the way we treat this new species. They could be friend or foe, Autobot or Decepticon. It may depend entirely on us. More to the point, we may not get just one type of intelligent robot but a diverse and rich mixture, much like humans. For every Starscream a Wheeljack. For every Soundwave a Bumblebee. For every Ramjet a Ratchet. -We had a lot of the toys as kids,- but the point is that it we will be the ones to set the expectations. That is why Hawkins and Musk helped create that letter in the first place. If we go looking to make weapons, then we should not be surprised if eventually our creations transform into the very things we feared.