Why humans beat computers at jumping into the unknown

Monday 1 February 2021

Two trends are intersecting that are causing humans to doubt their intelligence. Firstly, the increasing application of mathematical techniques to a growing number of fields traditionally outside the reach of maths departments. Secondly, the increasing ability of artificial intelligence to solve mathematical challenges. Together, they are increasing concern that, at some point in the future, artificial intelligence will be able to make better decisions and understand the world better than human brains ever could. 

Two economists, John Kay and Mervyn King, are pushing back on this line of thinking and arguing that while artificial intelligence will be better at solving mathematical puzzles, human minds will always be better suited to the radical uncertainty that exists in the broader world.  They argue that human minds will always be better at understanding context outside strict mathematical frameworks and will be better at making decisions when so much is unknown. In the absence of precise and complete data sets, they argue there will always be a role for human intelligence and decision making, regardless of how powerful artificial intelligence becomes. 

As these two economists write: 

“The idea that our intelligence is defective because we are inferior to computers in solving certain kinds of routine mathematical puzzles fails to recognise that few real problems have the character of mathematical puzzles.”

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