The other Sunday, I was sitting in Sightglass, chatting with a friend and having coffee. It is what I usually do on the weekend, talk to friends in real life. He stepped away for a few minutes and all I heard between the strains of rock music, the constant rhythmic noise of the belt of the coffee roaster. It was a very mechanical and sweet sound. It was only a few seconds, but I was immediately taken back to when I was six years old.
I started thinking of my grandpa, how he and I would take our big sack of wheat and go to a neighborhood flour mill in our decidedly sleepy middle-class neighborhood in Delhi. We would sit outside the mill, usually enjoying the warmth of the winter sun, and the machine made flour out of our sack of wheat. We would talk. The belt of the flour-mill would go -thwack, thwack. Just like the “thwack, thwack” if the belt on the coffee roaster.
It would take about an hour to get it all done, but that probably was the best hour I spent with my grandfather. We would then pack all the flour in a sack made of cloth, and load it up on the bicycle, and walk home. It was one of my sweet childhood memories.
I have not thought about my grandpa in a long time. But it was just a random sound - the “thwack thwack” of the belt acted as a trigger for a memory from 45 years ago. Everything came rushing back images, location and even snippets of conversations. I didn’t realize it was all stored in my brain.
And then I started to think about our collective conversation around artificial intelligence and how it will change everything. We should be scared of it, and it will take control of our actions, or so say the experts. Maybe, maybe not. But to me, AI as we know it is nowhere close to having the intelligence of the human mind. I suspect my brain took random bits of metadata stored in my mind and constructed a good enough memory to bring a tear and a smile to my face. The neural connections that brain made to do that don’t exist in the machine at present.
Yes, sure we have seen machines gain an ability to best humans in games such as Go and Chess. On a more human level though, our social systems such as Facebook can’t distinguish between a dead person and someone alive. We can program machines to keep following foolish routes that someone thought was the right way to get to point A to point B. We can teach computers to spot anomalies in large data sets and do it better than any human.
But when it comes to complete randomness of the human mind, its ability to make connections where there aren’t any obvious — we are still quite ways away from it.
December 3rd, 2017, San Francisco
The big question is – will AI ever match randomness of a human mind? Let me know what you think!