If neuroscience is an inchoate field riddled with myriad questions and gaps, what of its simpler subset – artificial intelligence? Can an embryonic technology invented by humans suddenly spring to life and threaten mankind? If we cannot fully understand how the human brain works or even define sentience, why are we cutting and pasting plots from sci-fi flicks onto our reality?
There is a hypothetical chance that artificial intelligence does pose a real threat within a narrow spectrum. Poor software designs, rushed developmental processes and mismatched updates to algorithms, among others, can lead to various disaster scenarios. Those involve incidents at chemical or nuclear plants, on the stock market, or with experimental self-driving vehicles. But the prospect of an ominous, sentient AI is an imaginary proposition altogether.
The current fad in AI alarmism may actually be rooted in something more venal and down-to-earth. For it may not be machines that will ultimately revolt against its masters, but rather the hundreds of millions of workers – perhaps billions – who will be displaced by AI before this decade is out. This topic deserves a dedicated commentary on its own, and the human brain provides a reality check to the supposed existential threats posed by AI.
Wonders of the human brain
The nm.org resource provides the following snippet on our thinking organ and its processing capabilities: A fragment of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses. The brain can generate about 23 watts of power – enough to power a light bulb. Information travels up to an impressive 268 miles per hour, while its storage capacity is considered virtually unlimited. Research suggests the human brain consists of about 86 billion neurons. Each neuron forms connections to other neurons, which could add up to 1 quadrillion (1,000 trillion) connections.
No wonder the Psalmist exulted in the fact that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” in “his mother’s womb”. At any one second, the brain coordinates a bewildering variety of functions within itself and the human body in order to maintain organic harmony. It also rapidly compensates any deviation from the norm within the body in the event of a disruption i.e. shifting balance to one leg after another is impaired or activating hemostasis upon bleeding. The human body is therefore the ultimate complex adaptive system (CAS).
While the body’s CAS functions are too vast and technical to be enumerated here, there are some worldly examples on how the brain contrives to protect its host. When you have a “pain in the neck” in a vexatious social setting, that is your brain sending an instruction via your body to seek the nearest exit, thereby avoiding a more serious condition. When you are suffering from snowballing intellectual torpor or depression, that may be the brain’s way of warning you to avoid fake news and the fools who peddle them.