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AI vs. Human Intelligence: Why Computers Will Never Create Disruptive Innovations

02/24/2015 05:36 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2015

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has raced forward in the last few years, championed by a libertarian, tech-loving and science-driven elite. These "transhumanists" pronounce the eventual victory of the machine over nature. First we will become integrated with chips; and then, perhaps, we will be surpassed by them. This AI-inspired future, with echoes of Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, is profoundly depressing for many people, bringing with it a world where human creativity and uniqueness has been replaced by the standardization of robots.

The transhumanist vision is premised on the belief that brains are essentially computers. That AI-fans are inspired by this idea is not surprising, given that many have made obscene amounts of money building silicon-based machines; or the algorithms that run on them. Algorithms underpin the entire business of the internet, powering the might of Google, Facebook and Netflix. They are unique bits of code that make computations. They serve up adverts, content or services to us users based on the results of these computations. AI advocates think that once computers have sufficiently advanced algorithms, they will be able to enhance, and then replicate, the human mind.

However, this seductive belief is rooted more in metaphor than reality.

Humanity has always approached cognition through the rule metaphor of the day. The ancients thought about the mind in terms of humors. Early Modern christians, like Rene Descartes, saw our mind as something intangible, probably to do with God. In the Industrial Age we saw the brain finally becoming a machine. First, a kind of steam engine; then a telephone exchange; and finally a computer (or network of them).

Yet the computer metaphor ignores perhaps the most species-defining characteristic of human beings: That we can create things; and we can do so consciously. Not only can we create concepts, business models and ideas; every single human cell can create itself! Yet no machine, no matter how flashy, has ever been able to do this. No scientific theory has fully explained how life creates itself; and where this creativity comes from. Great scientists like Erwin Schrödinger have expressed profound curiosity about how life can buck the great laws of physics, notably that of entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Mainstream science claims that the universe works according to fixed rules, discovered by Newton, Faraday and Maxwell. This is the universe as machine. Yet here is the doozy: Whilst our most advanced machines, algorithms, make complex calculations according to a series of rules, disruptive innovators and genius creatives -- the kind that birth new business models like AirBnB and new forms of art like Guernica -- break the rules. And we can all enjoy this kinds of rule-defying breakthroughs every time we conquer habit and speak to our lover in a new way; or break free of the past by following a new passion.

So where do those breakthroughs -- these disruptive innovations -- come from? Well, if they came from an algorithmic brain, then surely we would already have been able to access those outcomes in the past? Breakthrough creativity would merely be a re-assembling of what we already know. Yet breakthroughs, by their nature, are unpredictable; whereas algorithms make people rich by being predictable. If breakthrough creativity cannot be fully forecast by past behaviours and beliefs (as many disrupted businesses can testify), then it must come from somewhere other than the past (and our memories of it). The complexity theorist Stuart Kaufmann calls this "partial lawlessness"; a little gap that allows creativity to come out of regulatory. This gap is the paradox of Kurt Godel, who posited that no mathematical system can ever be totally complete or totally consistent. There is always a chink or kink. Ironically, the father of computing, Alan Turing, seems to have come to the same conclusion.

Countless ground-breaking artists -- from multiple Booker Prizewinner Hilary Mantel to Isabel Allende; from Ludwig Van Beethoven to John Lennon -- have made it adamantly clear that they have never been able to predict what creations will emerge next; and indeed, know where they really come from. Additionally, the act of bringing those breakthroughs into the world, usually against enormous resistance from the status quo, is itself a profoundly human talent, driven as it is by narrative, vision, empathy and influence.

For this reason, I am convinced that no computer, no matter how powerful, will ever be able to purposefully innovate an artistic breakthrough like Hip Hop; or a commercial one like Instagram. Breakthrough creativity is fundamentally organic, not algorithmic. Whilst computers and the businesses that run on are breakthroughs; they themselves will never make them.

So rather than using a machine metaphor, even one as elegant as the internet, to understand the brain, I propose we use an organic metaphor. After all, our brain is an organ in a biological organism working to help us survive and thrive in a biological ecosystem. When we see creativity as organic and not mechanic, we begin to glimpse possible ways to account for it, including revelations from quantum biology that suggest some of the functions of our brain may be quantum mechanical in nature... and so conceivably be able to provide us access to all the information in the universe, past or future.

I have spent 20 years investigating how breakthroughs can be created, sustained and communicated. Having led countless breakthrough innovation projects and personal development programs, Breakthrough Biodynamics has emerged. It's a comprehensive framework that aims to support us all to lead transformative change in human systems (whether within individuals, families, businesses or societies). It unites the latest science, with timeless philosophy to uncover the logic of how discontinuous, non-linear breakthroughs can be created and then sustained, so that our brains or businesses do not return to their historical default settings.

At the heart of it is a "J-shaped" curve, the Breakthrough Curve, that appears wherever breakthroughs occur; from enzyme catalysis and narrative arcs to scientific revolutions and political ones. It may even trace the process of the death and birth of universes within a many-worlds interpretation of quantum field theory.

The Breakthrough Curve may be nature's blueprint of creativity; but each breakthrough we human beings have is unique to the context it emerges in. Each involves us blending emotion and reason, rule-breaking and rule-making, as we unleash from within us whatever is seeking to emerge in that matchless moment. No machine will ever be able to mimic our peerless organic nature as inherently, inescapably, beguilingly creative.