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Knowledge and Wisdom – If Humans Can’t Do It Can Machines?

March 14, 2011

To the people of Japan, please accept my deepest sympathy for the horrific tragedy that ravished your life, family and land. My prayers are with you, my heart beats in pain for you. I give you these words by Sri Chinmoy to gain the strength to endure the many dark days ahead.

“Hope abides; therefore I abide.
Countless frustrations have not cowed me.
I am still alive, vibrant with life.
The black cloud will disappear,
The morning sun will appear once again
In all its supernal glory.”
This discussion has less to do about renewable and sustainable energy then it does with the underlying question of how technology can better serve mankind. In many years working on the forefront of new technologies and industries, it became readily apparent that meaningful advancements concerns interplay between knowledge and wisdom. In this sense, “KNOWLEDGE COMES FROM FINDING THE ANSWERS, BUT UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING OF THOSE ANSWERS IS WHAT BRINGS WISDOM.”

Keeping this guiding principal in mind, it is fair to ask if our collective knowledge has provided the necessary wisdom to steer us in the right direction. This is not meant to discredit our achievements to master our environment. Rather is it meant to ensure that preemptive thought is given to the price paid for our endeavors? While this may take the path of analysis by paralysis where nothing gets done, it goes much deeper than that. This takes into consideration underlying motives and realities. There is no roadmap in doing so other than to be sufficiently open-minded to challenge what we know and the wisdom for doing so. We will get back to this point.

These salient points of knowledge, wisdom and doing the right thing can be illustrated by the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.  During the initial years of electricity distribution, Edison’s direct current (DC) was the standard for the United States. Tesla, a disgruntled former employee of Edison, devised a system for generation, transmission, and use of AC power. In order not to lose all his patent royalties, Edison carried out a vicious campaign to discourage the use of alternating current, including publicly killing animals. He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being “Westinghoused.” After DC had lost the “war of the currents,” in 1902, his (Edison’s) film crew made a movie of the electrocution with high voltage AC of a Coney Island circus elephant which had recently killed three men. His desire to disparage alternating current led to the invention of the electric chair.

Taking this a few steps further, the 2011 World Hunger report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states that “925 million people worldwide went hungry in 2010.”  Though the number of hungry people is down from last year, the number has increased since 1995-97. According to the United Nations, about 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes.
With all our modern day wizardry, one would think that sever hunger resulting from extreme poverty could be improved by effective programs of education and health care as well as localized projects to reclaim barren land through affordable water and energy.

Now with the dawn of 21st century another force of our own doing may rival mankind himself. That is the machine, the computer, with all its ever growing intelligence, now contends to shape our very own future.  A March 2011 article in “the Atlantic,” by Brian Christian, “Man vs. Machine,” brings forth this very question.  Brian states: “In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person. In his own quest to beat the machines, he discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.”

A few key excerpts:

“Since 1991, the Turing Test has been administered at the so-called Loebner Prize competition, (to develop an) utopian future, where unemployment rates are nearly 100 percent and virtually all of human endeavor and industry is outsourced to intelligent machines.”

“The test is named for the British mathematician Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, who in 1950 attempted to answer one of the field’s earliest questions: can machines think? That is, would it ever be possible to construct a computer so sophisticated that it could actually be said to be thinking, to be intelligent, to have a mind?”

“Turing proposed an experiment. Several judges each pose questions, via computer terminal, to several pairs of unseen correspondents, one a human “confederate,” the other a computer program, and attempt to discern which is which. Turing predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30 percent of human judges after five minutes of conversation, and that as a result, one would “be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

“Turing’s prediction has not come to pass; however, at the 2008 contest, the top-scoring computer program missed that mark by just a single vote.”

It is strongly recommended to read the article in its entirety; please visit

In closing, if man’s knowledge is sometimes eclipsed by the lack of wisdom, how will the machine ultimately fare. Can the computer show us the way to peace and tranquility. Should the computer be human at all?  Without exception, our knowledge has alleviated pain and suffering. But without exception, that very technology has been used to cause pain, suffering and death.  Who then should teach what to think and do? Possibly nobody! The less we interfere the more we may learn. Not sure if this in its own right is ethical and wise.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 8:43 AM

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