There are many interesting ideas in the paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis” by C. R. Licklider. It is a visionary paper give it was written in 1960. I have chose to focus on the ideas that apper at the ed of section 3 of the paper:
“It may be appropriate to acknowledge, at this point, that we are using the term “computer” to cover a wide class of calculating, data-processing, and information-storage-and-retrieval machines. The capabilities of machines in this class are increasing almost daily. It is therefore hazardous to make general statements about capabilities of the class. Perhaps it is equally hazardous to make general statements about the capabilities of men. Nevertheless, certain genotypic differences in capability between men and computers do stand out, and they have a bearing on the nature of possible man-computer symbiosis and the potential value of achieving it.
As has been said in various ways, men are noisy, narrow-band devices, but their nervous systems have very many parallel and simultaneously active channels. Relative to men, computing machines are very fast and very accurate, but they are constrained to perform only one or a few elementary operations at a time. Men are flexible, capable of “programming themselves contingently” on the basis of newly received information. Computing machines are single-minded, constrained by their ” pre-programming.” Men naturally speak redundant languages organized around unitary objects and coherent actions and employing 20 to 60 elementary symbols. Computers “naturally” speak nonredundant languages, usually with only two elementary symbols and no inherent appreciation either of unitary objects or of coherent actions.
To be rigorously correct, those characterizations would have to include many qualifiers. Nevertheless, the picture of dissimilarity (and therefore p0tential supplementation) that they present is essentially valid. Computing machines can do readily, well, and rapidly many things that are difficult or impossible for man, and men can do readily and well, though not rapidly, many things that are difficult or impossible for computers. That suggests that a symbiotic cooperation, if successful in integrating the positive characteristics of men and computers, would be of great value. The differences in speed and in language, of course, pose difficulties that must be overcome.”
C. R. Licklider acknowledges the apparent differences between man and a machine (computer). He essentially says that man is a slow, unreliable, imprecise creature with limited memory, but has the ability to come up with ideas by associating images that were digested through his senses and are now stored in his brain ain a dynamical type of memory and accessed through thousands of channels at the same time. Machines, on the other hand, are precise and fast with almost unlimited memory, but can only do what the program tells them and therefore are limited in therms of generating ideas. Around 1960, this was very precise description of the state of affairs. I believe this still holds true in today even with all the recent advances in artificial intelligence. The main problem Dr Licklider is trying to address here (and also in the whole article) is how to take these two very different systems (man and a machine) and unite them into a system that will become much more than just a sum of the two. The ideal of this would be the concept of a bionic man, part man part machine, whose capabilities would be far superior to an ordinary man both intellectually and physically, and these two part would be interlinked in such a way that one cannot exist without the other. Even today, this is still a pure fantasy. The main obstruction is the effective communication between the two. The author points out that the communication between two men, and a man and a machine are very different. The machine only understands a very precise but limited language suited for mathematical computations but not at all for communicating and solving real life problems. Yet many important steps have been achieved in between 1960 and 2014. New higher level programming languages have been developed (such as Java, C++), touch screen technology is a hype. We are being annoyed by speech reconnection software every time we try to call our bank or insurance company. But these are only very small steps toward the goal. One way to overcome communication problem is to connect devices directly to the brain. Now-a-days there exist artificial limbs that connect directly to the nervous system of a person. One can use eye movement to play a video game (or fire a missile). All these developments are also closely monitored by the military due to their interest to construct an ideal soldier. Recently a robotic exoskeleton that enhances physical capabilities of its wearer (but not mental capabilities – of course, increasing those may not be priority for military :)) has been successfully tested.
Ideally, these technological advances would be used for peace purposes and given the mature of man, it is more likely that the first application of a bionic man will be military warfare. (We did, after all, created atomic bomb before an atomic power station.)
A photo from the World’s First Underwater Nuclear explosion.
And in the country that survived two nuclear explosion, projects are underway to create an ideal wife.
Since most people in robotics are men, women will have to still wait for a while for the counterpart of the Geminoid F. Meanwhile, they can take comfort hugging the adorable Paro :):):).
Some of my classmates are worried about more serious problems. almahmouda worries that he may become a cyborg :).
Blurpity, who analyses the same nugget as almahmouda, is also not happy and is concerned that sharing equally may not necessarily result in sharing fairly. Since already two people were not happy with the same nugget, here it is for you to judge:
“It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a “thinking center” that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and the symbiotic functions suggested earlier in this paper. The picture readily enlarges itself into a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire services. In such a system, the speed of the computers would be balanced, and the cost of the gigantic memories and the sophisticated programs would be divided by the number of users.”
Jala, on the other hand, is not worried about becoming a cyborg or a slave to the Google glass. She welcomes it as an extension of her body and hopes that in the future she can also have an extension of her brain. But, she is a bit confused of how it will feel :). Well, I am in a real need of a brain extension right now and I would get it no matter how it feels! Paria is “slightly terified” by technological progress due to viewing too many futuristic movies, but welcomes the power of Google in her life, especially as a useful tool for conducting a medical diagnosis :). Justin, in his blog asks a rhetorical question if a human brain is the world’s most efficient computer? He also mentions my favorite cartoon character whose picture is reveled at the end of this blog. He hopes that “fifty years later we would be more morally developed and have moved past using advancements in science and technology to harm others.” Given that dark ages were after the Old Greece, I am not so optimistic and, in my opinion, we may be nearing to a dark age that has no parallel in the known history of man. Sarah thinks that in the future “computer will dominate man.” Well, I think that this is a lot better scenario than the one have in mind. I fear that in the future (some) man will dominate (other) man.
I end this blog with an image of a person that C. R. Licklider may have in mind when he wrote his paper because we all love him, don’t we?