Posts Tagged ‘neo-symbiosis’

True Human Machine Symbiosis

February 6, 2020

A mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups: a perfect mother and daughter symbiosis. This is a definition of symbiosis plus an example. The concept of symbiosis and a slight enhancement of symbiosis, neo-symbiosis has occurred in previous healthymemory posts. This particular post was inspired by the Conclusions chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Hooper writes that in 2016 and 2017 there were unprecedented breakthroughs in the understanding of the ancient game of Go. An artificial intelligence (AI) called AlphaGo competed against the world’s top human players, and crushed them. It played moves that had never been seen before in the game’s three-thousand-year history. The best humans in the world at this game upped their game. Lee Sodol of South Korea, and Ke Jie of China changed and improved the way they played because of what they had learned from AlphaGo. Jie said, ”After my match against AlphaGo, I fundamentally reconsidered the game, and now can see that this reflection has helped me greatly. Although I lost, I discovered that the possibilities of Go are immense and that the game has continued to progress.” Jie then went on a twenty-two-game winning streak.”

Dennis Hassabas the cofounder of Google DeepMind, the London-based lab that developed AlphaGo, and its even more impressive successor AlphaZero said that the response of Jie and Sodol shows want AI can do for humanity. We fear that AI will take our jobs, but this is misplaced. AI show us who we can be.  Hassabas says that human ingenuity augmented by AI will unlock our true potential.

We should examine what AI can tell us about other realms of endeavor besides games like this.

Why Don’t Our Brains Get Bigger?

December 12, 2018

This post is based on an article by David Robson titled “A Brief History of the Brain” in the New Scientist Collection titled “Becoming Human.”

The question raised in the title seems to be reasonable. Most developments are based on our brains aided by technology. Some even raise the fear that technology will outsmart us and take control.

Here is the answer provided in Robson’s article. Perhaps the most obvious answer is that we reached a point at which the advantages of bigger brains started to be outweighed by the dangers of giving birth to children with big heads. Another possibility is that it might have been a case of diminishing returns.

Our brains burn 20% of our food at a rate of about 15 watts, and any further improvements would be increasingly demanding. Simon Laughlin at the University of Cambridge compares the brain to a sports car, which burns ever more fuel the faster it goes.

For example, one way to speed up our brain would be to evolve neurons that can fire more times per second. However, to support a 10-fold increase in the “clock speed” of our neurons, our brain would need to burn energy at the same rate as Usain Bolt’s legs during a 100 meter sprint. The 10,000 calorie a day diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps would pale in comparison.

The size of our brains ceased increasing around 200,000 years ago. In the past 10,000 to 15,000 years the average size of the human brain compared with our body has shrunk by 3 to 4 percent. However, size is not everything, and it’s possible that the brain has simply evolved to make better use of less grey and white matter. That seems to fit with some genetic studies, which suggest that our brain’s wiring is more efficient now than it was in the past.

It appears that further development depends on humans developing a neo-symbiotic relationship with technology. See the Healthymemory blogpost, “Neo-Symbiosis and Transactive Memory.”

Neo-Symbiosis and Transactive Memory

November 8, 2009

Prior to the development of the personal computer, the psychologist J. C. R. Licklider introduced the vision of Man-Computer Symbiosis. He said “That men and computers so supplement each other…and that jointly they possess the capabilities to think and comprehend, to decide upon effective action…in a way totally beyond present realization…are the primary means on which we base our hope.”1 In Man Computer Symbiosis2, Licklider chose the fig tree and the insect Blastophaga grossorun as his example of symbiosis. The larva of the insect lives inside the ovary of the fig tree where it gets its food. The tree cannot reproduce without the insect; the insect cannot eat without the tree. Together they constitute not only a viable, but also a productive and thriving partnership. The cooperative living together in intimate association, or even close union, of two dissimilar organisms is called symbiosis.

When I was a graduate student I was deeply impressed by Licklider’s vision. Unfortunately, I believe that this vision has been lost. All too often the goal is to replace humans with technology rather than to view technology as a tool for leveraging human potential. I tried to resurrect Licklider’s vision and to make it more politically correct in my paper “Beyond Usability: The New Symbiosis.3 So I termed it human-computer symbiosis. I also placed the human in the superordinate position in the relationship.

This blog has three themes. One is on human memory itself. Although human memory is quite remarkable, it is fallible and error prone. With perhaps the exception of some idiot savants, this is true of all humans. Moreover, as we age, there can be a deterioration of memory and in pathological cases this deterioration can be quite severe. The second theme focuses on memory techniques that not only offer improvements, but also provide mental exercise that can foster brain health. The third theme, transactive memory, concerns with the potential of technology not only for ameliorating memory decline, but also for providing for memory growth.

So think of computer technology as a means of leveraging your human potential. Think of it as a tool with the potential of not just maintaining and supplementing your memory, but of also enhancing and growing your memory. Think of the computer as a partner. You cannot remember everything, but if you know where to access information, you are leveraging your memory. If you cannot access information, but knows that it exists, then you can search for it. The information available on the internet is enormous, much more than one could learn in multiple lifetimes. It is like being at an all-you-can-eat gourmet banquet. Although there is much too much to sample, you can still avail yourself of a reasonable amount you can accommodate.

1Brate, A. (2002).  Technomanifestos:  visions from the information revolutionaries.  New York:  Thomson Texere.


3Griffith, D. (2005). Ergonomics in Design, 13, 30-31.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.