Instead of dozens of geniuses trying to program an AI in a university lab, there are billion people training the dim glimmers of intelligence arising between the quadrillion hyperlinks on the web. Long before the computing capacity of a plug-in computer overtakes the supposed computing capacity of a human brain, the web—encompassing all its connected computing chips—will dwarf the brain. In fact it already has.
Pascal kept a room full of “Rainmen” — idiot-savant math geeks — as human calculators. He could have done the problems he threw off to them himself, but they saved his time for the work they could not do.
While we will waste the web’s ai on trivial pursuits and random acts of entertainment, we’ll also use its new kind of intelligence for science. Most importantly, an embedded ai will change how we do science. Really intelligent instruments will speed and alter our measurements; really huge sets of constant real time data will speed and alter our model making; really smart documents will speed and alter our acceptance of when we “know” something. The scientific method is a way of knowing, but it has been based on how humans know. Once we add a new kind of intelligence into this method, it will have to know differently. At that point everything changes.