We want to bring artificial and human intelligence to their rightful place and make them work together. In confronting the limits and characteristics of computation and human possibilities, we are led to consider modern computation and what has been called artificial intelligence. Is even artificial intelligence a proper name? It is indeed a very good tool to search data using stochastic methods among other functionalities. But there is still a component missing in order to call it intelligence: prometheic fire.
If we were to use a symbol for the creative potential of our mind, we’d do well using fire: the one element Prometheus stole from the gods and gave to us. Now, how can you really understand fire? Penetrate in its true nature? We can start by the accidental parts and functions.
Fire has served human race for a very long time. Many of the technologies we have today would not be possible without it. Fire can cook, explode, boil, illuminate, heat, sterilize, be used symbolically to describe temperaments, etc. Whatever is touched by fire is transformed and under its domain things assume a new form, they disrupt and evolve into something else.
We use fire to explode rocks and find iron ore. Later, we heat furnaces, put the iron ore in it, coking coal and a few other minerals, which bring about a purified steel, and then we get a new form under which the elements are newly organized. Fire can also burn, destroy, and corrupt many forms, making them lose tension and assume yet other forms. And yet, what is fire? It is, indeed, of a mysterious nature to say the least and not by coincidence associated with the human intelligence.
In the same way that fire blends coking coal and iron ore together, we are able to take concepts, images, experiences, feelings and perceptions and organize them in a new proportion, we boil them down in the intelligence cauldron, and make all these elements become a function of a new normal, a new coordinating law.
A machine can be stronger and calculate better than humans. It extends our abilities to exert mechanical pressure, process information and manipulate reality. All techniques and instruments operate under the same principle: they extend and intensify our abilities to impact and manipulate nature and information. The fundamental principle contained in the act of using a hammer to hit a nail, instead of our bare hands, is the same one behind using a computer to do calculations instead of our own heads. But, of course, each instrument has a different usage, finality and technological level. Machines and techniques were bred and coined in our intelligence and, therefore, they were branded by prometheic fire, but they do not possess it. Such fire is able to provoke qualitative leaps that concatenate distinct elements into a new order, a new coherent unity that was previously non-existent. The glue that pastes these things together is not present in a machine. A computer is able to combine, but never blend. The prometheic spirit has an inner structure nested in the mind and whatever form we want to print into matter, it must first be bred there. Neural and genetic AI technology can come closer and closer to giving precise outputs by cross-referencing thousands of databanks (fed by humans). Out of an enormous quantity of references, it’s able to find the most suited results, a trait that is, at best, only a limited imitation of this fire, for the results will be more precise, but restrict to a given set of information that must be previously sort out and fed into it.
Machines can assemble all possible combinations, but they can never have that original sparkle, that prometheic impulse that gives a coherence, a continuum among the parts composing a whole. There is no such a thing as a machine that wakes up in the morning and has this primary intuition. Artificial intelligence is likewise unable to outsmart anything, for it is forever enslaved by algorithms. Although machine self-learning is a reality, they cannot possibly take distance from a problem and consider an alternative and original route. They miss the improvisation of David against Goliath. Only consciousness has this ability of self-distancing, and in such a manner that we can even outsmart ourselves, we can fool our neurons and break and assemble habits, or take things from a totally different perspective. Machines cannot do any of that and probably never will, for it takes willpower to form or to break a habit; it takes free choice and deliberation. The power of will is a force that, the more it let itself be subordinated to finality and purpose, the stronger it becomes. The more it is aware about the meaning of its objectives, the clearer it acts in the world.
“But what if one day machines are able to have this fire?” one might ask.
Well, for that we’d have to “incarnate” this spirit, this fire, into a computer. The only problem is that no one really understands where this fire comes from, its nature, let alone be able dominate it, maneuver and incarnate it into a binary system. We can only set the conditions for it to take place more often, to stimulate it, like we feed fire with more fuel. Of course, we cannot expect the fire to start on an empty clearing, it is necessary to gather as many logs as necessary. Thomas Alva Edison also knew that. It is not a coincidence that he attributed 1% to inspiration. It is that one sparkle, that no one knows when it comes, if it comes, what it is and where it stems from. It is just like fire: we maneuver it, use it in our favor and see many usage possibilities. But yet, what is fire in its true nature?
Many great inventors, mathematicians, and philosophers had the experience of creating their best invention or conception during an event completely out of their conscious control. All their work came down in a single moment with a qualitative leap that transformed it all. Tesla is a clear example, who, after declaring an excerpt from Goethe’s Faust, had a luminous intuition, took a random wood stick and drew the alternate current motor on the ground. Or Mendeleev, whose periodic table was the offspring of a dream.
We generally lack control of this one factor that will light the fire and burn it all into the brand new steel of our inventions, we don’t know when this one storm will condense and make it rain. We fill in the glass, but remain ignorant of when a drop will cause it to spill. No one of the geniuses had control nor understood exactly how this process worked. Great inventors sharpen their instruments, magnetize intuition and reason, giving it proper tension, and then lay their best effort on a lot of faith.
This quantic transformation is later on explained by reason and transformed into processes and models, not the other way around. We cannot put static and immutable information into a machine and hope that it will suddenly turn itself into an original thinker. The nature of machines is to operate in binary systems that can be evolved considerably, e.g. to neural and genetic systems, but they are still limited by logics and stochastic processes which are basically following patterns and establishing parameters of true and false, zero or one. It is an ex-post process, always posterior to intuition and imagination. It gives order and keeps things in their course; it cannot go further than the things that you feed them.
Although knowledge and information might be in books and databanks, their transformation takes place in an inner forge. There is an inner operation of the spirit and many words indicate that: in-tensity, in-tention, in-vention, in-tuition, in-spiration. If we do not possess an intensive and reflexive action on the content, on the information we receive, it will all remain only stimuli without invention and qualitative leaps, without transformation, meaning and purpose.
When we overflow our spirit with information and extensive data without giving informational contents a coherence then our intelligence might lose itself in that sea, like a ship without a captain. The great professionals and thinkers of the future will be the ones that are able to operate in complexity, but are also able to penetrate in simplicity, to see through the whole and draw a unitary line, connecting past, present and future, able to design rational systems, but also hear the call of adventure, operating both poles of reason and intuition, extension and intention, feeling and precision, sharp tools and high purposes, technology and human sagacity.
Let us not extinguish the flame. Let intelligence be alive and shine its light.