Intelligence Is Over-Rated

Intelligence Is Over-Rated May 31, 2023

There is a lot of alarm over Artificial Intelligence, with some people thinking computers will become so intelligent that they will take over the world and possibly exterminate human beings like parasites.

Others worry that AI will eliminate the need for “knowledge workers.”  Someone has commented that few of those worriers seemed much concerned when technology eliminated working class jobs, but now that their professions seem threatened, they suddenly recognize what it feels like to be replaced by a machine.

Dominic Pino has written a piece for National Review entitled A Reality Check on Artificial Intelligence.  He cites a conversation about Artificial Intelligence between economists Russ Roberts and Tyler Cowen on the podcast EconTalk.

Cowen says this on the doomsday predictions, referring to the views of human nature held by free market thinkers Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek, plus philosopher Michael Polanyi  (read the Wikipedia article about his thought):

I think they’re radically overestimating the value of intelligence. If we go back, as I mentioned before, to Hayek and Polanyi, pure intelligence is not worth as much as many people think. There’s this philosophy of scientism that Hayek criticized. And, the people who are most worried, as I see them, they tend to be hyper-rationalistic. They tend to be scientists. They tend not to be very Hayekian or Smithian. They emphasize sheer brain power over prudence. And, I think if you take this more Adam Smith-like/Hayekian worldview, you will be less worried.

Roberts said this, drawing from his book Wild Problems (my bolds):

Most of the problems of the human experience are not solvable. They involve trade-offs. I come back to our classic — the dictum of our profession — “No solutions. Only trade-offs.”

And, trade-offs therefore require judgment. And, ChatGPT will never provide that, unless you believe in a social welfare kind of approach that you alluded to earlier.

And so, I think the belief that, quote, “smarter and smarter” computer tools will help us solve more and more problems is simply incorrect. It will solve many problems, and some of them will be quite important, potentially avoiding an asteroid. But many of the problems of the human experience are not due to a lack of intelligence. And I think that’s an understanding that you and I are trained in our bones from being economists, as both students and teachers, over the years. And, I think it’s very alien to the computer-science community.

I would add that intelligence is only one faculty of the human mind, and not necessarily the most important.  The notion that a computer or interconnected computers will acquire so much intelligence that they will attain consciousness is, as we have blogged about, absurd.  Intelligence–or, rather, computing power–has nothing to do with consciousness.  Nor does it have anything to do with other aspects of the mind, such as emotions, sensory experience, volition, imagination, selfhood, or. . .you name it.

Nor will a machine, however “intelligent,”  have ambition, egotism, resentment, or a will to power.  I think many “smart people” are projecting their own personalities, including their flaws, onto the “smart machines” that they fear.

Nor will an artificially intelligent machine do all of the work that needs to be done by human beings.  Someone told me about a student who had been planning a career in journalism, but changed course due to his fear that he would be replaced by Artificial Intelligence.  Instead, he is becoming a fire fighter.

Well, Artificial Intelligence as we see in ChatGPT will not go out and seek the news.  It is dependent on the vast sum of information on the internet, but someone has to dig out that information and then post it online.  Those who get their news from the internet instead of a newspaper are perhaps not aware that the news they are reading comes from the plethora of newspapers that are online, including those that exist only online, and the paid journalists who write for them.  I am pretty sure there will still be journalists.

But I think being a fire fighter may be an even more noble vocation.  Artificial Intelligence won’t put out the fire if your house is burning, nor will it haul you out of the flames.

Maybe if “smart jobs” become somewhat obsolete, due to “smart machines,” that will bring back and re-enchant the art of working with one’s hands and other human faculties, the various forms of which deal not with virtual reality but actual reality.



Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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