So many Hollywood blockbusters have made us sit and shiver at the thought of impending doom. We feared alien attack, the impending collision with a meteor, a deadly virus invasion or a forthcoming ice-age; but we have managed to survive them all so far. Human resilience has been a remarkable force that has braved many impending dooms and has survived against the most vicious odds.
The next big shock can come from our own home-grown technological advancement. World over, scientists from different streams are working towards a major common objective—of replicating human intelligence. It’s a race against time and eventually someone will crack the intelligence code and trigger an uncontrollable chain-reaction.
Modern science is headed towards a possible marriage between its two extremely powerful streams—computers and biogenetics. Its offspring could very well be the next generation of biologically enhanced humans or humanized machines.
Computer scientists believe that the working of human mind is like a computer chip and if we keep enhancing the speed of the microchip, one day we will match the computational power of the human mind. Bio-geneticists hope that one day they would find the wonder gene that controls human intelligence and they would be able to replicate and improve upon that gene to create biologically upgraded humans.
Many companies engaged in creating Artificial Intelligence (AI) are trying to train their machines and software to make them communicate like humans and pass the benchmark Turin Test. Many others in the biotech arena are trying to engage in genetic research to isolate genes that are believed to govern human intelligence and behaviour. Michael Crichton’s latest book “Next” talks about transgenic orang-utans and parrots that talk like humans. It’s the ultimate fantasy of every biotechnologist but it is as Utopian as the idea of recreating human intelligence itself.
Both computers and biogenetics are trying to recreate human intelligence along their own designs, but both these models contain a major structural flaw. Nobody really knows how human intelligence works. So without a basic theoretical model to work on, both these streams are trying to recreate human intelligence on the basis of trial-and-error alone. Computer science is betting on the stupendous power of its microprocessors to process language modules and voice modulations till a simulation of human language and verbal skills is achieved. Biogenetics is aiming to use its ultimate weapon someday—cloning, to recreate intelligent humanoids.
Both these models are bound to fail, eventually, because machines cannot match the flexibility of human use of words and phrases and biogenetics can replicate humans genetically but not human intelligence because intelligence is not genetic.
If language skills were genetic, as Michael Crichton fancied, then humans would not have been able to learn multiple languages. A child born out of French parents should have been speaking French only, not German or English. A Vietnamese child adopted into Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt family should be naturally speaking Vietnamese, not English. The same analogy would prove true for their Cambodian and Ethiopian adopted kids.
Similarly, if intelligence were genetic, children born out of illiterate parents would not have topped their classes and landed plum jobs. And children of intelligent, well-placed parents would not have flunked their classes. Children born out of same parents would not have been different so much in intellectual skills and kids of workers would not have found managerial berths.
The whole Darwinian idea of Natural Selection perpetuates the false notion that virtues like intelligence, money, fame are owned within a family and are passed genetically. The worker’s son should remain a worker and a wealthy businessman’s son is bound to inherit his genetic and material fortunes.
The truth is, intelligence is not in our genes. We only have a unique capability to learn different motor and functional skills. An individual’s intelligence depends on his capacity and propensity to learn and the opportunities available to him for the same.