Becoming a Centaur
Published by António Lopes on May 17, 2018

When people tell me they are worried about the incoming robot revolution, I know they’ve probably seen a clickbaity article based on some well-known quote by a famous person (like Elon Musk) in which they predict an artificial intelligence-based doom for humanity. Either that or they’ve seen Ex Machina or the latest episode of Westworld or some other catastrophic movie, tv-show or book on the aforementioned theme.

This is a normal reaction. It’s the same with sharks. Even though they are responsible for a very small fraction of human deaths in the entire world per year (less that vending machines), people still have that image of the relentless killing machine from Jaws. So, the same concept applies to artificial intelligence and the image of the impending robopocalypse.

Then, when I say that that kind of artificial intelligence (the kind that could represent human-level intelligence in all its forms) does not exist and won’t exist in the near future, people will always reply with the usual suspects:

  • “Well, tell that to Kasparov!” (or the more recent advances in the Game of Go)
  • “I can tell my phone assistant thingy to show me pictures of my daughter without me having to say which pictures are those. How does it do that?”
  • “Have you seen the new Google Assistant demo? It even talks like, hmm, a person!”

And, again, these are normal reactions. These are instances of artificial intelligence. But they are very narrow instances of artificial intelligence. Sure, Deep Blue is great at playing chess. But tell it to perform a more creative-based or meaning-detection task and it won’t perform better than my 2 year old son. We humans are not very good with tasks that require high amounts of processing power, but we are great at performing other tasks that require lesser-defined forms of intelligence like asserting the mood of a person or appreciating a fine piece of music.

That’s why this new idea of a centaur emerges to represent the next step of evolution of the human race. Not in the literal way of the old concept of the mythological beings that had the body of a horse and had the torso and head of a human (thus combining the speed and stamina of a horse with the skill and intelligence of a human), but in the application of the concept of an hybrid being to this new era of massive technology advancement. The goal is to merge “transistors with neurons” so that we won’t be conquered by our new robotic overlords… because we will be the robotic overlords.

And if you think that this is a dumb idea that will never work, I recommend that you read this great piece by Tim Urban on Neuralink (the most recent Elon Musk endeavour). Not only will you learn a lot about the way the brain works, you’ll also become acquainted with the state of the art regarding human-machine interfaces based on direct and indirect brain connections.

What about you? Do you like the idea that one day we’ll become cyborgs? What do you think are the consequences to the planet of such a change in humanity? Will this mean that we’ll live forever? Will this mean that we’ll loose the essence of what makes us humans? These are all great questions that are better answered (or discussed) over some drinks 🙂


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