Humanity’s New Inflection Point
Comfortable mechanical and technological innovations give way to a disruptive cognitive transformation.
The invention of the wheel and axle around 3500 BC changed the course of human history. The ability to create a mechanical advantage by multiplying the force applied to a lever or wheel allowed humans to move heavier objects and increase their productivity. This led to the development of more powerful tools, machines, and weapons, which in turn allowed for the growth of cities and civilizations. The increased productivity made possible by the wheel and axle has had a profound impact on human life and society, enabling us to build empires, explore new worlds, and create technological marvels that thrust humanity forward.
The invention of the bicycle in the 1800s was a major advancement in human mobility. The ability to pedal a vehicle with two wheels allowed people to travel farther and faster than ever before. This led to the development of new transportation systems and the growth of cities and civilizations. The increased mobility made possible by the bicycle has had a profound impact on human life and society by leveraging a mechanical advantage and inject speed and distance into the dynamics of life and work.
The transistor, which was invented in 1947 by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, is a small electronic component that can be used to amplify or switch electrical signals. It’s the fundamental building block of modern electronics, and its invention may be the most conquenocial to date. With the advent of the transistor, humans were able to create smaller and more powerful electronic devices, including computers and smartphones. The ability to miniaturize electronics has led to all sorts of technological advances, from digital cameras to medical implants. Thanks to the transistor, we are now living in a world where its seems that virtually anything can be digitized.
Mechanical and technological innovations have had a profound impact on humanity, enabling us to build empires, explore new worlds, and create technological marvels. They have been human inflection points that have changed our lives. From the wheel to the transistor, each of these innovations has expanded our capacity for unique and specific advantages that incrementally expand our skills.
But there’s another step in the process. Mechanical and technological advances have been largely comfortable, accepted, and embraced by civilization. These tools have come from a similar and critical perspective: the same, but better. We can run, but now we can run faster. We can add, but now we can calculate quicker.
The next step — an inevitable step — is a cognitive change. Thinking is the new domain of technology and it lies at the top rung of our human skill set. Above this, and perhaps even included in it, are only the ethereal aspects of human transcendence. The black and white innovations of the bicycle or the handy calculator are being replaced by something much more colorful. But in an ironic twist, push us into an unchartered gray zone.
The inculcation of AI into humanity fundamentally changes the innovation ladder. AI rips the process apart—from a comfortable and accommodating adoption process—to something that is no longer functional and pragmatic but based upon the unique spark of human cognition. As anyone who has climbed a ladder knows, there’s a warning at the highest point: DANGER! DO NOT STEP OR STAND HERE!
The transition that artificial intelligence is creating may not be best defined by a measured step or quantum shift at all. Perhaps there is no top rung on the latter to be occupied by a technological construct. Aspects of human thought and mind may be impermeable by AI and exist as a new techno version of the blood-brain barrier. AI may may construct a digital heart, but it may never know love outside the realm of zeros and ones.
As human cognition and artificial intelligence race to the top, they both may remain asymptotic; inexorably close, yet infinitely apart.