Will evolutionary intelligence outpace human control?: A conversation with Russ Neuman

May 21, 2024

    Title of podcast episode

    In this episode of our podcast, we welcomed Russ Neuman, Professor of Media Technology at New York University and founding member of MIT Media Laboratory to discuss how human intelligence will co-evolve with digital technology to revolutionise how we think and behave.

    The term AI has been around for over 70 years and it's been a long story for it to get to now where it is something that impacts the daily lives of millions. For decades AI wasn't taken seriously outside of very niche academic communities and now it's hear there's almost a fear of what the future of AI will look like.

    Russ talks us through the interesting history of AI, how it all began, our fears of being overtaken in capability by a machine and the social, political and economic impacts AI is already having on our day to day lives. Russ explains what he considers the most important developments humanity must make as we learn to co-evolve with AI by our side.

    Listen to the full episode below:


    AI in the beginning

    You could communicate with a computer and if you couldn't tell if it was a human or a computer, the computer had achieved AGI or this concept of human-like artificial general intelligence.

    Russ takes us through the early days of AI when it was a barely defined concept in the 1950's. He begins by highlighting the struggles, failures and eventual successes, of AI researchers and explains how the field has changed of the past 50 years, including it's place in pop culture over the decades and the hype over generative AI and machine learning.

    The journey towards achieving AI was fraught with difficulties. Despite initial enthusiasm, many AI projects failed to deliver on their promises, leading to periods of reduced funding and interest. These setbacks were primarily caused by the limitations of technology and understanding at the time, complex tasks like natural language processing and common-sense reasoning proved to be much harder than anticipated.


    Evolutionary intelligence: Us & AI

    Think of this when we're making decisions in our lives, an advisory system that draws on knowledge from all around the world and the internet to give us advice.

    Russ Neuman introduces the idea of evolutionary intelligence, which differs from traditional notions of AI by focusing on how AI can complement human intelligence rather than replicate it. He explains that evolutionary intelligence aims to fill gaps in human cognition and capabilities, rather than compete with or surpass human intelligence.

    Russ goes onto explain that while humans evolved to survive in competitive environments, AI has no such evolutionary basis. This fundamental difference means that computers can assist humans without the competitive, survival-driven motives that define human behaviour.


    The social, cultural and economic impact of AI

    The individual needs to develop new skills and hopefully they will be more intellectually challenging because the routine things that we have been relying on people to take care of are handled by AI processes.

    Russ explores the broader implications of AI on society, including potential social, cultural, and economic changes. He addresses concerns about job displacement due to AI, while also acknowledging the creation of new roles and opportunities.

    Effective regulation and policy are crucial to managing the economic impacts of AI. he discusses the need for thoughtful regulation that balances with ethical considerations. He critiques regulatory approaches and calls for more nuanced strategies that recognise the complexities of AI technology.


    Trust and transparency in AI

    When we think about how to regulate AI or  technology, we're  thinking about the role government plays, which I think should be collaborating with business rather than killing business. Organisations should help people to leverage technology to make their lives better.

    The episode discusses the importance of maintaining trust and transparency in AI applications. Russ stresses the need for clear communication and ethical guidelines to ensure AI is used responsibly.

    He highlights the importance of user consent and control over personal data. Users should be informed about how their data is collected, stored and used by AI systems.

    He supports mechanisms that allow users to opt in or out of data collection to retain control over their personal information.


    What does the future hold? Empowering us through AI

    Wouldn't it be nice if there are various ways in which intelligent systems and wearable computers can advise us as we go through our daily lives?

    Russ concludes with a positive note on how AI can empower humans, enhancing their abilities and contributing to personal and societal growth.

    By leveraging AI responsibly, Russ believes that society can unlock significant benefits and drive positive change by supporting better decision making, improving productivity and addressing complex challenges we currently face. Russ' vision of the future of AI is one defined by collaboration and augmentation rather than apprehension or fear of change.


    Key takeaways


    • The history of AI: The history of AI is characterised by ambitious goals, significant challenges and remarkable achievements. From it's beginnings in the mid 20th century to the sophisticated machine learning systems of today, AI has gone through many cycles of disappointment and breakthrough.

    • Our relationship with AI: The concept of evolutionary intelligence is a forward-thinking approach to AI development focusing on creating AI systems that enhance human abilities by providing real-time insight and support to decision making. Instead of competing with AI we should be sure it's helping to advance us as individuals and as a society.

    • The impact of AI on society: There is a dual nature to AI's potential, it can displace or eliminate jobs but also create entirely new ones. It can also enhance human capabilities but requires oversight to avoid bias and misuse, transparent communication and inclusive policies will be key to making sure AI has a positive impact on society.

    • Trust and transparency: These are key in the successful adoption and integration of AI technologies. Clear communication, ethical practices, user consent and control must all be a focus for organisations looking to deploy Ai systems.

    • What the future of AI holds: AI technology enhances human capabilities and contributes to human societal progress. With the right ethical development and regulations AI can be a powerful force for human empowerment and innovation.

    Article and quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

    This post was written by: Matthew Hearfield, Marketing & Content Coordinator