In the last few months the world’s media have noticed artificial intelligence programmes that can surpass humans at the most complex games like Go, joined in the excitement around driverless cars and helped to fuel fears that robots are set to take millions more jobs.
We now live surrounded by new ways of thinking, understanding, and measuring. Some involve data— mapping, matching, and searching for patterns far beyond the capacity of the human eye or ear. Some involve analysis— supercomputers able to model the weather, play chess, or diagnose diseases (for example, using the technologies of firms like Google’s DeepMind or IBM’s Watson). Some pull us ever further into what the novelist William Gibson described as the “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace.
These all show promise. But there is a striking imbalance between the smartness of the tools we have around us and the more limited smartness of the results.