Icebergs are common meme used throughout the Internet. You see them everywhere, from depicting social media to human behaviors. They are used to explain knowledge we know, above the surface, and those things we don’t know, below the surface. Icebergs are interesting. They’re secretive. The ten percent we see is the literal tip of what is possible. Below the waterline, just out of sight, are dark secrets. Secrets that are often out of the reach and unusable. That is, until now.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing our the way we live. AI is doing more than just helping us find patterns in data or helping us make better decisions, it’s truly unlocking unexpected insights and extending our knowledge in ways that only humans are capable of doing… capable of controlling. Prior to AI, human beings had to use their minds to harvest knowledge from everyday life events. It’s a hard process. A process that required countless hours of dedication just to discover one new meaningful insight that can lead to massive improvements in our lives. But this is now changing as we begin to rely on new cognitive technologies that generate knowledge for us…knowledge without us.
AI is melting those data icebergs. In essence, it is becoming the global warming of the knowledge age. It’s unlocking their deep hidden secrets. AI is unleashing those hidden insights, producing more knowledge that is then used to melts even more icebergs. It’s an exothermic knowledge activity and that is exponentially generating more insights than used in discovery process. And herein lies a devastating, potentially life ending, problem.
As we rely, over rely, on new cognitive technologies, we lose our ability to discover new knowledge ourselves. The brain as an organ and capabilities are lost when not used. Take for example the Slide Ruler. Most people today do not know what a slide ruler is, let alone how to use one. This simple mechanical device, seen in the hands of most engineers hands in the 1970s, can perform amazing mathematics. With just two opposing rulers, one can do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, logarithms, square roots, n-roots, and more. There’s nothing that can’t be mathematically done on the slider. It requires not batteries, no internet connection, and does not fail. It is brilliant in its complex simplicity. But today nobody knows how to use it. Why?
For the slide ruler example, we have lost this cognitive ability as a society because it has been outsourced it to other systems, like the calculator and the spreadsheet. These are new productivity tools that were invented to help us more efficiently unlock knowledge. But the cost of using them is that we’re now no longer capable of exercising a part of the brain that used to physically discover insights through this mechanical manipulation. Artificial intelligence is now accelerating this kind of cognitive decay.
As humans rely more on AI to discover knowledge, we are slowly losing our own cognitive ability, our own mental capacity, to discover those insights ourselves. Our brain cognitively weakens. AI is in essence creating a mental defect in our executive functioning processes. Unchecked over time, we will become over dependent on AI to identify those new things that will lead to a better life. Eventually evolving to a point where we could literally die without this AI ability. Or even die because of it.
This uncontrolled release of knowledge can be a destructive chaotic process. We see similar outcome with uranium, for example. With the right equipment one can control how neutrons are absorbed in uranium isotopes, producing a stable reaction which generates life-giving energy. left unchecked, however, the same neutron interacting with the same isotopes can produce devastating nuclear events. Controlled reactions lead to life, and control reactions lead to death.
Can humans survive the chaos of a world where AI is unlocking more knowledge that humans can handle? A future world where available knowledge is greater than the questions we can ask? Physics tells us we cannot. History shows us it is unlikely. AI unchecked, ungoverned, can be the nuclear weapon that we use on ourselves that will eventually melt not only every last iceberg, but society itself.