TED | The Rise of Human-Computer Cooperation

November 8th, 2014

This TED Talk is about “human computer symbiosis”, by Shyam Sankar. Sankar is Director of Forward Deployed Engineering at Palantir Technologies, a software company “that connects data, technologies, humans and environments.” Although the talk is from June 2012, it’s currently relevant to our own ongoing debate here at 10x about how robots and A.I. will influence future human society. Both news and sci-fi media these days are aggressively  sensationalizing the possibility of intelligent machines either replacing humans, or simply not tolerating us as a “dangerous and unpredictable species“. Others, like Sankar (and us), are more optimistic. Sankar is inspired about the potential for cooperative, even mutually inspiring relationships between humans and intelligent machines.

Here are Sankar’s opening statements, taken from the transcript:

I’d like to tell you about two games of chess. The first happened in 1997, in which Garry Kasparov, a human, lost to Deep Blue, a machine. To many, this was the dawn of a new era, one where man would be dominated by machine. But here we are, 20 years on, and the greatest change in how we relate to computers is the iPad, not HAL.

0:34 The second game was a freestyle chess tournament in 2005, in which man and machine could enter together as partners, rather than adversaries, if they so chose. At first, the results were predictable. Even a supercomputer was beaten by a grandmaster with a relatively weak laptop. The surprise came at the end. Who won? Not a grandmaster with a supercomputer, but actually two American amateurs using three relatively weak laptops. Their ability to coach and manipulate their computers to deeply explore specific positions effectively counteracted the superior chess knowledge of the grandmasters and the superior computational power of other adversaries. This is an astonishing result: average men, average machines beating the best man, the best machine. And anyways, isn’t it supposed to be man versus machine? Instead, it’s about cooperation, and the right type of cooperation.

Our own optimism about the future is based in our fervent (and perhaps idealistic) belief in the limitless potential of human creativity to solve any problem.