Are you smarter than a computer?

It’s a phrase that’s on everyone’s mind. If computers can do everything that people do, how will anyone make a living in the future? Unfortunately, computers and robots can do an awful lot. When solving complex equations, for example, a computer will beat any human brain hands down. Even chess playing, which seems like the ultimate task in higher human thinking, has the computer beating even the best human chess player. It was former world chess champion Garry Kasparov who, in 1997, took on Deep Blue in a match that was called “the brain’s last stand”. Kasparov was beaten by the computer. The best Jeopardy player was also recently beaten by Watson, an expert system. Watson has now gone on to do additional roles in society requiring massive factual knowledge, such as in the medical field.

When it comes to straight-out cognitive tasks, the computer may have the edge. Computers have fast processing speed and expansive memory. But all is not lost, the human brain has additional ways to think that a computer does not. There are three memory types in the brain, and pure cognitive thinking is only one of them. The two other memory types (Episodic and Procedural), were inherited from animals and millions of year’s of evolution.

Our episodic memories for experience allow us to adapt based on intuition and pattern recognition. Our memories for experience can warn us if a berry on a bush is poisonous just because it looks similar to one we have previously experienced. It is a survival benefit that a computer cannot do. If a computer is presented with a task that is ill-defined, it will crash or go into a “continuous loop”.

Our other “procedural memory” lets us memorize skills and build on those skills. This is another area where computers are unsuccessful. And even animals have this ability, which makes their intellect much higher than the best computer. A dog that losses a leg to an injury, can soon learn to hobble around on three legs instead of four. A robotic dog that loses a leg would not be able to function. It would stop working altogether.

To stay ahead of computers, therefore, one has to use “all of their mind.” If you possess a certain degree of knowledge and you use that same knowledge over and over again, you will probably eventually be surpassed by a computer. However, if you constantly study your environment, learn how to adapt and change, and especially always learn new skills, you will probably be able to stay ahead. You need to use your memories of experience and skill-development to find how you can be most productive and “ahead of the curve.” Self-directed learning through life will be your way to stay ahead. Don’t let computers be smarter than you. Use your whole brain and fight back.

Chris Bernat is the author of Individualized Learning with Technology – Meeting the Needs of High School Students – a book about how learning can be individualized for older students, starting in high school and continuing throughout life

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