Human Brain Versus Computer Intelligence

Human knowledge and intelligence are quickly becoming obsolete. In the TED Talk, “Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all“, by Ken Jennings published in 2013, Jennings makes a speech pleading a case to people interested in Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and techno skeptics lobbying for the importance of human knowledge and intelligence over A.I. knowledge. Jennings was a computer programmer and a lover of trivia and knowledge when he became a guest on the trivia game show ‘Jeopardy’. Now he has the title of being a 74-time ‘Jeopardy’ game show champion. He eventually completed and lost on ‘Jeopardy’ to an IBM supercomputer named Watson, in a showdown of artificial intelligence versus human intelligence. Jennings makes a point during the Ted Talk that as computers become smarter, we are becoming dumber because we are no longer exercising our brain for the task of learning through gathering and processing information and knowledge. In the Ted Talk, “Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all“ Jennings discusses the experiences he has had as a “know-it-all” on ‘Jeopardy’ and his knowledge of A.I. and computer programming technology to make appeals to his audience regarding the facts that A.I. is detrimental to every human's future because it takes away human's thirst for knowledge, it is stripping away each person's uniqueness gained through individualized human knowledge and experience, and that A.I. makes human knowledge and intelligence obsolete.

The goal of this speech is to persuade the audience that human knowledge and intelligence are better than artificial knowledge and intelligence because as A.I. becomes smarter, we as humans are making a choice to become dumber, and eventually this choice will lead to human knowledge and intelligence becoming obsolete. At the time of Jennings Ted Talk, some companies were outsourcing jobs as new technology was emerging. Media outreach on this topic brought the issue to the forefront of the middle class and many people were concerned that they could be replaced by A.I. Jennings tries to convince his audience that they are the ones who will make the choice of who will be leading the future, A.I. or humans.

One of Jennings main points is that it will be detrimental to humans if they no longer have a desire to seek knowledge, and as a result, they will fail to exercise lower brain functions. Jennings states that “we make that choice by being curious, inquisitive people who like to learn… we should have this unquenchable curiosity for the world around us”. He goes on to say that with all the answers at our fingertip’s humans may no longer feel the need to search for or retain answers. Jennings appeals to his audience’s emotions by referencing the potential of machines having dominance over humans and humans no longer finding value in knowledge. This is an appeal to pathos, as many people fear new technology and the possibility that machines could one day, in fact, take over the world. Jennings, further, makes an appeal to logos by stating that there is a type of “use it or lose it” evolutionary evidence relating to the hippocampus and spatial relationships. If we fail to exercise and engage our brains for the task of sensing direction and rely only on tools like GPS, eventually the hippocampus will “physically shrink and atrophy” and become smaller and dumber.

Jennings asserts another point that A.I. strips individuals of the knowledge and gathered information that makes them unique. A.I. can compile vast amounts of data, but it is information and knowledge that we have learned from our experiences, the things we can recall from our minds without having to look them up online that makes us unique as humans. Jennings appeals to his audience’s logic as he states that “there is power in one fact, one remembered fact in exactly the right place at the right time”. This is an attribute of humans where Jennings feels that humans have some advantages. He reinforces this appeal to logos with a true story about a young girl who saves many lives during a Tsunami because she remembers and applies a fact that she had learned in science class. Jennings also appeals to pathos by suggesting that humans have another unique characteristic regarding knowledge that A.I. does not. This characteristic is the knowledge of shared cultural heritage and social situations where humans can form unique bonds and connections with each other through the common associations that are shared within their culture. Jennings uses this appeal to argue that this unique characteristic, something that makes humans special, would be lost in the future if humans allow A.I. to take over.

Jennings also suggests that humans can become obsolete in the future in their knowledge and thinking if that is what they desire. One example of Jennings position is that human jobs, like auto factory workers, or paralegals and pharmacists are being replaced by A.I. technologies. In many cases the new technology is faster and more cost-effective than a human worker and, in these jobs, human intelligence has become obsolete. He argues the point that although A.I. may be faster and less costly, A.I. is not as “clever or creative” in completing the task. Jennings appeals to pathos by implying that in the future if A.I. is taking over some of the more burdensome tasks that humans will have more leisure time. Jennings makes another appeal to pathos by sharing his personal story with his audience of how he felt obsolete after losing to Watson, the IBM supercomputer, on ‘Jeopardy’. He uses these examples and stories to convince his audience that it is important to realize that they have a choice in the future of whether they want to become obsolete or not. They can choose what their future will look like.

In the TED Talk, “Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all” Jennings argument does have some flaws. Jennings does show some negative bias towards A.I., perhaps he is still holding on to the fact that Watson had beaten him on ‘Jeopardy’. However, he appeals to intrinsic ethos and garners credibility for human knowledge and intelligence as he is explaining that it took “IBM pouring tens of millions of dollars and its smartest people and thousands of processors working in parallel” to be able to do the same thing that he could do as a single human, accessing his gained knowledge and intelligence. Jennings argument is weak regarding humans being unique because of their knowledge. There was insufficient evidence presented to decide that A.I. cannot process vast amounts of data and can apply data informationally. Over time it was proven that Watson was able to take the large amounts of data that it had gathered and stored and recall and apply it situationally to the game show questions and in fact, A.I. did beat a human.

Overall, Jennings makes a good argument for the fact that we as humans are making a choice of what our future will be. He clearly used the tools of logos, pathos, and ethos to appeal to his audience and lobby his case. By presenting the information he is giving his audience the information so that they can take into consideration the facts that they have a choice to decide if they want to continue to thirst for knowledge, and they have a choice to retain their own uniqueness attributed to human knowledge and experience they have gained, and that they have a choice to refuse to become obsolete, and most importantly that they have a choice in what their future will be.  

16 December 2021
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