A number of this week’s milestones in the history of technology demonstrate society’s reactions to new technologies over the years: A discussion of AI replacing and augmenting human intelligence, a warning about the abundance of misinformation on the internet, and government regulation of a mass communication platform, suppressing free speech in the name of the public interest.
On February 20, 1947, Alan Turing gave a talk at the London Mathematical Society in which he declared that “what we want is a machine that can learn from experience.” Anticipating today’s enthusiasm about machine learning and deep learning, Turing declared that “It would be like a pupil who had learnt much from his master, but had added much more by his own work. When this happens, I feel that one is obliged to regard the machine as showing intelligence.”
Turing also anticipated the debate over the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs: Does it destroy jobs (automation) or does it help humans do their jobs better and do more interesting things (augmentation)? Turing speculated that digital computers will replace some of the calculation work done at the time by human computers. But “the main bulk of the work done by these [digital] computers will however consist of problems which could not have been tackled by hand computing because of the scale of the undertaking.” (Here he was also anticipating today’s most popular word in Silicon Valley: “scale.”)
Advancing (and again, anticipating) the augmentation argument in the debate over AI and jobs, Turing suggested that humans will be needed to assess the accuracy of the calculations done by digital computers. At the same time, he also predicted the automation of high-value jobs (held by what he called “masters” as opposed to the “slaves” operating the computer) and the possible defense mechanisms invented by what today we call “knowledge workers”