Augmented intelligence or just intelligent augmentation?

Gareth Kershaw

Thursday 7 March 2019

Technological change is now so rapid that it’s difficult just knowing what’s coming next, never mind preparing for it. Yes, the opportunities and benefits are growing, but how best to exploit them? And by ‘humanising’ the technologies in question – making machines more ‘feeling’ by adding human ‘senses’ – do we in some way risk dehumanising ourselves? Either way, playing humans and machines alongside one another, to their relative strengths, looks to be key, says Gareth Kershaw…  

Okay, so every second tech article these days seems to begin with words something along the lines of: “the world is changing faster than ever before”.

I realise this. And that that probably makes ‘change’ the biggest cliché out there.

That doesn’t mean that change isn’t a big deal though, does it? Because, truth be told, it really is. Honest. Particularly within the realm of intelligence. Machine learning. AI. Augmented Reality. Chatbots. They really are all the rage right now. And it seems it’s likely to stay that way.


You can hardly visit a website, read the news, or take part in a vote these days without a constant stream of reminders – online service bots, creepily intuitive click-baiting and data aggregation. Cambridge Analytica.

Machines are big news elsewhere too. In production automation for instance where, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), there are now something north of 74 robotic units per 10,000 employees on a worldwide average. That’s a steady if unspectacular uptick from 66 in 2015, but a massive one next to the figures just a few years before that.

Then there are projects like the University of Manchester’s SpiNNaker – a supercomputer with a million processing cores and 1,200 interconnected circuit boards that, together, operate like a human brain.

Short for ‘Spiking Neural Network Architecture’, SpiNNaker “rethinks the way conventional computers work” according to project member and University of Manchester professor of computer engineering, Steve Furber.

The world’s largest neuromorphic computer, it is reportedly able to simulate more neurons in real time than any other computer on Earth, and is playing a key role in the EU’s Human Brain Project, whose aim is to construct a working virtual human brain.

Want some numbers? SpiNNaker can apparently perform 200 quadrillion actions simultaneously. Not bad eh?

Comfortingly, that’s still a mere fraction of what the brains of even thickos like me can manage, and while it ‘thinks’, it still can’t quite think ‘for itself’. (Not that I’m quite sure I understand the distinction.) But still…

We’re as busy as ever trying to push back the boundaries of what’s possible
at Lenovo too; adding elements such as touch and feel into the virtual reality universe, for example.

We also, incidentally, own more supercomputers than anyone else in the world. Located in Barcelona, our MareNostrum High Performance Computer (HPC), is the world’s largest next-generation Intel-based supercomputer and is currently capable of almost 13.7 trillion operations per second.

The age of the super-brained, super-slick, super-fast supercomputer really is with us then.

Does the fact that this is happening – and seemingly happening so quickly – make the growing paranoia about machine intelligence understandable? Or just, well, paranoid?

On one hand, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, we shouldn’t get so pre-occupied with whether or not we can that we don’t stop to think whether we should.

But on the other, surely there must be a way to avoid a dystopian future without taking our clogs off and throwing them into the looms? Not arbitrary, unchecked change – evolution for evolution’s sake – but something more balanced?

At Lenovo we call it Intelligent Transformation. In fact, it’s an idea very close to our hearts and one of our central points of strategic focus.

What is Intelligent Transformation exactly? Listening to Art Hu, Lenovo’s Chief Information Officer it essentially boils down to ensuring two things: delivering the competitive capabilities that enable us to move forward and win today, whilst simultaneously tapping into the intelligence that allows us to keep evolving through tomorrow. New thinking. New devices. New modes of interaction.

Humans and machines working together, in tandem, to their relative strengths.

The end game? To benefit not machines, but people. Humankind. And it is an ideal to which Lenovo is committed absolutely.

As Art puts it, there is opportunity to do so literally everywhere.

The world really is changing faster than ever before. But far from taking matters out of our hands, it will be the machines, and through them Intelligent Transformation, that help us make sense of change, and to embrace it, control it, and exploit it.


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