Augmenting Human Intellect Nugget

“The process of developing this conceptual framework brought out a number of significant realizations: that the intellectual effectiveness exercised today by a given human has little likelihood of being intelligence limited–that there are dozens of disciplines in engineering, mathematics, and the social, life, and physical sciences that can contribute improvements to the system of intellect-augmentation means; that any one such improvement can be expected to trigger a chain of coordinating improvements; that until every one of these disciplines comes to a standstill and we have exhausted all the improvement possibilities we could glean from it, we can expect to continue to develop improvements in this human-intellect system; that there is no particular reason not to expect gains in personal intellectual effectiveness from a concerted system oriented approach that compare to those made in personal geographic mobility since horseback and sailboat days.”

I found this paragraph to be one of the most thought-provoking in Engelbart’s essay. He makes the intriguing observation that we have not yet reached the limit of our intelligence. Due to persistent advancements in technology, we are continuing to learn new ways of making our brains work faster and perform better. Being a psychology major, this is fascinating to me because of its connection to the human mind.

It seems as though every time we think we’ve reached the limit of the human body or the capacity of the human brain, a new innovation or “artifact” as Engelbart calls it, emerges to challenge that notion.

Most of our inventions and innovations, however, have augmented the power of the human body and made doing physical work faster and easier. Tools for hunting, harvesting, travelling and communicating have all made work more efficient. The number of technological advancements that improve our mind power seems severely lacking in comparison.

Perhaps the most dramatic innovation to affect the human mind is the computer, precisely as Engelbart had predicted it would. This paragraph is important because he realizes that technology will continue to advance and improve upon itself exponentially. By acknowledging this point, Engelbart successfully predicts future advancements in computing technology like laptops, computer networks and the Internet.

And as Nicholas Carr’s article suggests, the Internet may actually be changing the way we read, think and take in information. Carr questions whether it is truly an improvement or not but regardless, there is no question that our minds are adapting along with our technology just as Engelbart predicted.

I find it unlikely that we will ever reach the developmental limit of our human-intellect system but there is a point in time after which we cannot even fathom what life will be like. The Singularity  would have most likely seemed light-years away in the minds of Engelbart and his colleagues but today many experts predict that it will happen within a hundred years.

What will we find over this event horizon? Will we ever reach the limit of our augmentations to human intellect?

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