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Good enough … intelligence

A couple of bloggers have noted the article at Wired about the Good Enough “revolution.”

After some trial and error, Pure Digital released what it called the Flip Ultra in 2007. The stripped-down camcorder—like the Single Use Digital Camera—had lots of downsides. It captured relatively low-quality 640 x 480 footage at a time when Sony, Panasonic, and Canon were launching camcorders capable of recording in 1080 hi-def. It had a minuscule viewing screen, no color-adjustment features, and only the most rudimentary controls. It didn’t even have an optical zoom. But it was small (slightly bigger than a pack of smokes), inexpensive ($150, compared with $800 for a midpriced Sony), and so simple to operate—from recording to uploading—that pretty much anyone could figure it out in roughly 6.7 seconds.

Within a few months, Pure Digital could barely keep up with orders. Customers found that the Flip was the perfect way to get homebrew videos onto the suddenly flourishing YouTube, and the camera became a megahit, selling more than 1 million units in its first year. Today—just two years later—the Flip Ultra and its subsequent revisions are the best-selling video cameras in the US, commanding 17 percent of the camcorder market. Sony and Canon are now scrambling to catch up.

And it’s happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.

By reducing the size of audio files, MP3s allowed us to get music into our computers—and, more important, onto the Internet—at a manageable size. This in turn let us listen to, manage, and manipulate tracks on our PCs, carry thousands of songs in our pockets, purchase songs from our living rooms, and share tracks with friends and even strangers. And as it turned out, those benefits actually mattered a lot more to music lovers than the single measure of quality we had previously applied to recorded music—fidelity. It wasn’t long before record labels were wringing their hands over declining CD sales.

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To a degree, the MP3 follows the classic pattern of a disruptive technology, as outlined by Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Disruptive technologies, Christensen explains, often enter at the bottom of the market, where they are ignored by established players. These technologies then grow in power and sophistication to the point where they eclipse the old systems.

It’s a lot older than the marketplace, of course.  This is what evolution does in spades — if you think you belong to an evolutionarily successful species, consider the cockroach.  Indeed, the human brain is 10% smaller than the Neanderthal brain.  Are we a Good Enough intelligence?  Probably not exactly: my guess is that we have a Good Trick they didn’t have, but otherwise are less feature-rich.

The same seems almost certain to hold with AI. The huge majority of AIs are going to be just about human level in raw intelligence, because it’s an optimum spot in the spectrum of possibilities.

On the other hand, they will be telepathic with downloadable skills.

2 Responses to “Good enough … intelligence”

  1. peterh Says:

    “because it’s an optimum spot in the spectrum of possibilities.”

    Optimal? Um, no. As the article already said, nothing about us is “optimal” — just Good Enough.

    I expect neo entities to have both completely different platforms and wildly variable proximate definitions of optimal — or rather, “good enough”. If you have near-telepathy-level communication and can download skills, maybe you can be quite a bit slower on the uptake and still be more than “good enough”.

    (OTOH, it’s not all going to be thermal grease and fresh batteries: you might need a lot of warez smarts to avoid bogus skill downloads that actually try to get you to send your upload credits to Elbonia.)

    Anyway, I foresee no remarkable peak near ours looking forward. We do already have vague suspicions about scaling laws. By those rules, the bulk of all “intelligences” should more resemble insects, if not bacteria.

    Regards,
    — peterh

  2. Tim Tyler Says:

    I am not aware of any evidence suggesting that human intelligence is anywhere near optimal. We are evolution’s first stab at building an engineered civilization. The chances of our brains being anywhere near optimal seem pretty miniscule.

    Already we can see a global nervous system taking shape. Such a nervous system seems likely to be associated with a rather large brain – the size of a big data-centre, perhaps.

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