In Brief
A new theory pushes people to "think outside the brain" when it comes to AI. The tech might not need to be associated with the brain at all — perhaps, instead, the cell.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) and its corresponding technology all hinge on our human understanding of what intelligence is. One thing that we, however obvious, know for sure is that intelligence is linked to the brain. Whether it is dictated fully by cortical folding or any number of variables continues to be up for discussion. And so, while there are many ways to display and exhibit intelligence, a main goal of developing AI tech is to mimic human brain functionality. It’s been an implied backbone to the entire field. But what if this adherence to imitating the human brain is wrong? What if there’s another way?

Ben Medlock, the founder of SwiftKey, a company that designs keyboard apps with machine-learning framework, thinks so. As someone who spends his days brainstorming and working towards incorporating AI into our everyday tools and apps, he has spent quite a few hours pouring over the possibilities that lie within our current view of AI. Medlock has come to the conclusion that perhaps the brain isn’t the best model for developing AI; perhaps it’s the cell.

Pushing Boundaries

Much more than just a player in the AI game, Medlock has taken a more holistic, philosophic approach to understanding and developing AI. “I lead this kind of double life,” says Medlock. “My work with SwiftKey has all been around how you take AI and make it practical. That’s my day job in some ways.”

Medlock continued, “I also spend quite a bit of time thinking about the philosophical implications of development in AI, and intelligence is something that is very, very much a human asset.”
This led him to deviate from a brain-focused model and explore, allowing him to see the cell as a worthwhile comparison. “I think the place to start, actually, is with the eukaryotic cell,” he said. When a lot of people hear artificial intelligence they hear “artificial brain,” but he thinks that instead, we can view the entire human body as an “incredible machine.”

Could this be a future model for AI developers? Image Credit: LadyofHats (Mariana Ruiz)/Wikimedia Commons

He thinks that the way that machine-learning systems and much of existing AI tech operate is far too neat and orderly. He thinks that this is a result of people starting with the brain when they try to emulate intelligence and ability. Medlock said, “Cells are much more like mini information-processing machines with quite a bit of flexibility. And they’re networked so they’re able to communicate with other cells in populations.”

He also believes that any AI that is created by humans should exist in the physical world: “I don’t believe that we will be able to grow intelligence that doesn’t live in the real world, because the complexity of the real world is certainly what spawns organic intelligence.”

So is he right? It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty. But it is important for those in and outside of the field to take a step back and reevaluate their way of thinking. How do we define intelligence? How is it measured? What type of “intelligence” would most logically suit a machine? Rethinking our approach to AI as a whole will allow us to push past boundaries and roadblocks that narrow-minded thinking creates.