Humans Are the World's Best Pattern-Recognition Machines, But for How Long?
Not only are machines rapidly catching up to — and exceeding — humans in terms of raw computing power, they are also starting to do things that we used to consider inherently human. They can feel emotions like regret. They can daydream. So what is - exactly - that humans still do better than machines?
Quite simply, humans are amazing pattern-recognition machines. They have the ability to recognize many different types of patterns - and then transform these "recursive probabalistic fractals" into concrete, actionable steps. If you've ever watched a toddler learn words and concepts, you can almost see the brain neurons firing as the small child starts to recognize patterns for differentiating between objects. Intelligence, then, is really just a matter of being able to store more patterns than anyone else. Once IBM could build machines that could recognize as many chessboard patterns as a chess grandmaster, the machines became "smarter" than humans.
Artificial intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil was among the first to recognize how the link between pattern recognition and human intelligence could be used to build the next generation of artificially intelligent machines. In his latest book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Kurzweil describes how he is teaching artificially intelligent machines to think, based on the stepwise refinement of patterns. According to Kurzweil, all learning results from massive, hierarchical and recursive processes taking place in the brain. Take the act of reading – you first recognize the patterns of individual letters, then the patterns of individual words, then groups of words together, then paragraphs, then entire chapters and books. Once a computer can recognize all of these patterns, it can read and "learn."
The same is true for other fields of endeavor as well, where human "expertise" has always trumped machine "expertise." In a brilliant piece for Medium, Kevin Ashton recently analyzed “how experts think." It turns out patterns matter, and they matter a lot. A star football quarterback needs to recognize all kinds of patterns – from the type of defense he's facing, to the patterns his receivers are running, to the typical reactions of defenders. All of this, of course, has to happen in a matter of nanoseconds, as a 300-pound lineman is bearing down on you, intent on ripping you limb from limb.
The more you think about it, the more you can see patterns all around you. Getting to work on time in the morning is the result of recognizing patterns in your daily commute and responding to changes in schedule and traffic. So here come the Google driverless cars, which are able to recognize all of these traffic and schedule changes faster than humans. Diagnosing an illness is the result of recognizing patterns in human behavior. And now that IBM Watson is getting into medical diagnosis, machines will do it better. The same goes for just about any field of expert endeavor - it's really just a matter of recognizing the right patterns faster than anyone else, and machines just have so much processing power these days it's easy to see them becoming the future doctors and lawyers of the world.
The future of intelligence is in making our patterns better, our heuristics stronger. In his article for Medium, Kevin Ashton refers to this as "selective attention" - focusing on what really matters so that poor selections are removed before they ever hit the conscious brain. While some – like Gary Marcus of The New Yorker or Colin McGinn in the New York Review of Books, may be skeptical of Kurzweil's Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind, they also have to grudgingly admit that Kurzweil is a genius. And, if all goes according to plan, Kurzweil really will be able to create a mind that goes beyond just recognizing a lot of words.
One thing is clear – being able to recognize patterns is what gave humans their evolutionary edge over animals. How we refine, shape and improve our pattern recognition is the key to how much longer we'll have the evolutionary edge over machines.
[image: Human intelligence with grunge texture / Shutterstock]
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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