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Rebel Chick-Artificial and Natural Intelligence-Is there max quota for species?

Viewed 775 times 2017-10-16 12:00 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life

I was feeding my neighbour’s chickens and putting out some water for them, while they were away on an overseas trip. The chickens had more freedom of movement around their yard when their owners were in. I was instructed to keep them within a smaller stretch which was fenced in. The birds - “Ladies” as I called them, soon got used to my being their carer. They repaid me with eggs. I could sense their working out trying to get their usual privileges from me. The signals they sent out, they were helpless to move the doors or gates but knew enough to try and let me know through their clucking and moves. They missed the usual leftovers they used to get from the kitchen when their owners were in. They appreciated the occasional clump of grass clippings I dropped over for them. While they were handicapped/prevented from looking out for themselves and developing all their native intelligence and skills to their best level, one of them still looked for challenges and tried to sneak past me when I came into the enclosure. She always showed initiative, courage and risk taking. I would have to push her back. She also tried to take me around the enclosure to try and show me something that I could never figure out. It must have been something bothering or interesting to her. She tried her best. She was the ‘rebel chick’. The other chickens sort of resigned themselves to their fate and just lived a more routine, submissive life. I was starting to note that in the evolution of chickens, this one still held out hope for the future of chicken intelligence.


It struck me that our human condition today is not very different from that of these chickens. We just are slaves of a different master - technology. The best example of this I find timely now - AI (or Artificial Intelligence) which has been in the news more and more recently. It has already been a while since Google keeps drafting multiple, sensible and possible responses to the emails I receive and all I need is to click on one and I am done. I shudder to think of the day it actually sends it without my clicking on it. I suppose then we would have two email accounts writing and replying to each other on behalf of their human owners without them even being aware of it!! It may be shocking for those two humans to meet not knowing all the things they have already exchanged in email.


Technology has long made things more convenient, easier, less expensive, more consistently of a higher standard and less error prone for humans to the point where it is no longer acceptable for a human to even try, learn and do things that we were once capable of. Those efforts and chores developed our intelligence and physical skills. There are societies now with more than a couple of generations, particularly in wealthy, developed and supposedly advanced societies who cannot, on the average, add four numbers to figure out a bill, calculate the cost of what they bought at a given stated price, to deal humanely and safely with a spider in their house or yard, to carry water safely in a pot from a well or stream, to climb a tree to retrieve a Frisbee or ball stuck it in, walk a kilometre to the market and bring back a couple of bags of groceries, tell a ripe fruit or good vegetable from a not so good one from a heap at the market, tell a lemon tree from an apple unless the ripe fruits are hanging in front of their faces, mix flour to make a batter or dough. Of course, they can do a lot by ‘Googling’ if there is Wi-Fi and enough battery power on their smartphones. But without their smart phones they are not so smart in many simple life skills.


Let me, upfront, admit that I am not all that good myself in old-world skills myself. I grew up in cities mostly and still do not know a whole lot about country life and details. I am only realizing what all I missed now. But, even growing up in big cities, in India, I had plenty of opportunity to exercise my own imagination, explore, find things around me, figure out things in play or doing chores that were expected of me and of most children my age. I am not sure such is available to the children of today and tomorrow.


Since a few very smart and clever humans figured out how to put complex mathematical calculations at our fingertips, the long term result has been that a large number of humans cannot and don’t see the need to know how to do even simple calculations in simple, day -to-day life. While satellites and drones can give us almost real-time accurate view from above of everything that is happening, most cannot tell what is happening in their neighbourhood or where is North-West by looking around outside. The direction or season of water flow in a nearby creek stumps most unless it is flooding at their doorstep.


So, we have a small set of super-smart, highly knowledgeable humans in any field and a large number who are ‘below average’ of what would have otherwise been in many areas. It seems there is a maximum quota of wisdom or skills that a species can develop. With ‘progress’ it seems new knowledge and old wisdom gets distributed in a different way, that’s all!


Our dependency on technology has been growing to a disturbing extent in my opinion. I remember about 30 years ago, when I returned home from a walk to the shops one weekend, my neighbour’s grandkids - aged mostly in single digits were all sitting glumly on the doorstep.


“Why the glum faces?  I asked.


“We are bored. Uncle!,” said one


“The electricity is out. Can’t watch our favourite TV programs,” said another.


“Don’t know what we can do until it comes back on, Uncle,” said another.


I still remember the shock I felt seeing a bunch of kids all sitting together wondering what to do to pass time!! I was their age not long before and as a kid had never seen a TV. I or my friends could never imagine being bored especially when together, ever. We always found something fun to do.

I remember immediately initiating a mass ‘sword’ fight and ‘rocket launching’ using the fronds from the coconut trees under which my neighbour’s grandkids were sitting. They were surprised but entertained for a couple of hours.


This was in India where TV has just become widespread and affordable for just about a decade then. Those kids are grown now and have kids of their own!


It is not so much for attaining perfection in our products and services or high profits, the human -‘sapient’ as we describe ourselves, needs to constantly be challenged physically and mentally to learn, acquire, retain, use and even flaunt with a sense of pride (while still being humble). While special talents and skills can be rare - advanced juggling, high-level acrobatics, playing the harp or piano or solving complex equations, many of the human skills that brought us to this level as a species or civilization are more widespread and mundane. I think we are in danger of losing them.


The thought of my kids or grandkids just glancing at a bag of vegetables displayed on their virtual reality screen and the AI telling them the exact biological name, weight, expiration date, the price and ordering the whole thing and having it delivered within 30 minutes by drone at our doorstep (or even into our future refrigerators automatically with their backs open outdoors) does not exactly thrill me. Soon there will be not a need for, if not a prohibition on, humans actually driving vehicles. All the skills associated with that will become progressively rare. I hope walking, asking directions, knowing North-South and East-West in one’s neighbourhood becomes fashionable once more as a side-effect!


When asked how things work, most can tell me names and labels - WiFi, Infra-red Scanner, Drone, some WonderApp, but not exactly how? Only a few will ever know. They rarely know what to do if the network is down, if the power is off. How will they go about doing something with what is left? That requires simple, basic skills, knowledge and wisdom that we have had for thousands of years, but are losing rapidly in a few decades. I am sure there will always be the ‘rebel chicken’ equivalent among us humans. They give me hope.


What are your thoughts? Let me know if you think I am being overly nostalgic or pessimistic. I am quite accepting of change, I know it is inevitable.


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