Human and Computer Cognition

Human and Computer Cognition Sean Fernandes


Sep 7, 2016

In my mind, the future is not in how we interact with computers, but how computers interact with us, and how lifelike we can make the series of connected artificial intelligence that will become a part of our daily lives.

What do I mean by Artificial Intelligence?

My view of AI is a program capable of some level of autonomy and intelligence, not a super-intelligent system of the sort Elon Musk seems to fear appearing in the near future. That level of intelligence, a true simulation of the human mind, is probably impossible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that our machines do not and will not ever have any degree of intelligence. In the words of Alan Turing, “May not machines carry out something which ought to be described as thinking but which is very different from what a man does?” That is, just because a computer’s thought won’t resemble that of a human doesn’t mean that it won’t be, on some level, intelligent. Machine intelligence is already superior to human intelligence in recall, math, and logic, so we should see it as a parallel to human intelligence rather than a replacement for it.

What will that look like?

Already people are becoming accustomed to the ease of use an intelligent system can provide. After just a few days of using the Amazon Echo, a voice-enabled wireless speaker, trying to change music with anything else feels clunky and unusable by comparison. In the future, we will likely see technologies like this extended onto entire houses, with interconnected appliances controlled by a user’s voice and capable of learning from that user’s routines and daily actions. Obviously privacy and security are major concerns, but not the focus here.

Cognitive Control

As part of my summer internship, I was tasked with attempting to fly a small consumer drone using an $800 cognitive headset. Weeks of experimenting with third party software ended with me only able to direct the drone forward and backward, and not with any real precision. Other attempts at cognitive control of remote vehicles seem to have been largely successful only when the pilot was trained in meditation or other cognitive discipline. I did have the chance to demonstrate the headset on a coworker’s young son, and he had no difficulty at all using multiple inputs to interact with a simulated object. While the technological limitations are clearly the largest hurdle that still needs to be overcome, the mental limitations of the user cannot be disregarded. Perhaps younger generations, growing up with easy access to this technology, will have an easier time interacting with it, but either way, I believe that widespread cognitive control is still many years away.

Can Cable Contribute?

Most intelligent products today are dependent on an internet connection. The Amazon Echo, for example, quickly becomes a fancy paperweight without a constant, strong connection. Any additional connected device will only increase the homeowner’s bandwidth usage. If these intelligent devices eventually achieve mass adoption, we will need much more powerful and reliable networks than we have today.

The Big Picture

Artificial intelligence has the potential to radically improve our standard of living across the board. Robots are already replacing humans in menial production tasks, so why couldn’t an AI eventually replace an accountant or data analyst? The obvious fear this sort of thinking creates is that we eventually end up in a world similar to that envisioned by Aldous Huxley in his famous novel “Brave New World,” one in which humanity has become a race of technicians, maintaining machines that produce their art and music. Personally, I don’t think we have anything to fear, at least in terms of our total replacement by machines. In the words of Thomas J. Watson Jr, the namesake of IBM’s famous Watson supercomputer,

“Computing will never rob man of his initiative or replace the need for creative thinking. By freeing man from the more menial or repetitive forms of thinking, computers will actually increase the opportunities for the full use of human reason.”

Artificial intelligence will never be able to fully replace our creativity, spontaneity, and compassion, much in the same way that no human will ever have the same instant recall and data analysis abilities of a powerful computer. As such, the AI of the future will work in concert with us, its unparalleled computational power combined with our creativity and problem solving.


Sean Fernandes is currently in his third year of undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia majoring in Cognitive Systems, a mixture of Computer Science, Psychology, and Philosophy, exposing him to a number of perspectives on the future of our interactions with computers and their implications.