Artificial Stupidity: The Next Big Thing

There has been a lot of hype about artificial intelligence over the years. And recently it seems there has been a resurgence in interest in this topic in the media. But artificial intelligence scares me. And frankly, I don’t need it. My human intelligence is quite good, thank you very much. And as far as trusting computers to make intelligent decisions on my behalf, I’m skeptical to say the least. I don’t need or want artificial intelligence.

No, what I really need is artificial stupidity.

I need software that will automate all the stupid things I presently have to waste far too much of my valuable time on. I need something to do all the stupid tasks — like organizing email, filing documents, organizing folders, remembering things, coordinating schedules, finding things that are of interest, filtering out things that are not of interest, responding to routine messages, re-organizing things, linking things, tracking things, researching prices and deals, and the many other rote information tasks I deal with every day.

The human brain is the result of millions of years of evolution. It’s already the most intelligent thing on this planet. Why are we wasting so much of our brainpower on tasks that don’t require intelligence? The next revolution in software and the Web is not going to be artificial intelligence, it’s going to be creating artificial stupidity: systems that can do a really good job at the stupid stuff, so we have more time to use our intelligence for higher level thinking.

The next wave of software and the Web will be about making software and the Web smarter. But when we say "smarter" we don’t mean smart like a human is smart, we mean "smarter at doing the stupid things that humans aren’t good at." In fact humans are really bad at doing relatively simple, "stupid" things — tasks that don’t require much intelligence at all.

For example, organizing. We are terrible organizers. We are lazy, messy, inconsistent, and we make all kinds of errors by accident. We are terrible at tagging and linking as well, it turns out. We are terrible at coordinating or tracking multiple things at once because we are easily overloaded and we can really only do one thing well at a time. These kinds of tasks are just not what our brains are good at. That’s what computers are for – or should be for at least.

Humans are really good at higher level cognition: complex thinking, decisionmaking, learning, teaching, inventing, expressing, exploring, planning, reasoning, sensemaking, and problem solving — but we are just terrible at managing email, or making sense of the Web. Let’s play to our strengths and use computers to compensate for our weaknesses.

I think it’s time we stop talking about artificial intelligence — which nobody really needs, and fewer will ever trust. Instead we should be working on artificial stupidity. Sometimes the less lofty goals are the ones that turn out to be most useful in the end.

12 thoughts on “Artificial Stupidity: The Next Big Thing”

  1. A well written post. However, who would have dreamnt 15 years ago that computer would be able to recognize semantics! Dream leads to innovation..I would even contend that “finding things that are of interest” isnt much of a stupid task – recommendation and personalization are still tough problems to crack.
    As your title mentions the next web is definitely is getting machines to handle our stupid tasks .. Hail Roomba!

  2. Artifical Stupidity v Artifical Intelligence

    Nova Spivak makes a great point. Here’s a snippet but be sure to read his entire post.There has been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. But artificial intelligence scares me. And frankly, I don’t need it. My human intelligence

  3. I agree that smart systems need to help us deal with the stuff that they’re good at and we’re not. In that sense, they’re not AI. However, more generally, as soon as a task that was considered “hard” for computers is “solved” (e.g. chess), suddenly it’s no longer AI. Maybe we’re getting better at defining AI or maybe we’re just biased by the lofty goals of AI that were passed down to us…

  4. Ray Kurzweil will have you know that machines will replicate and pass human intelligence in this century. Reading up on the singularity paints a grim outlook of the future. If anything, a semantic web will greatly aid in this transition.
    The covered wagon was necessary in helping people move west but like any tool, eventually it will be seen as obsolete. The semantic wave is necessary to progress forward but once robots take over the earth, RDF will be seen as a waste of code.

  5. While this might me a worthwhile endeavor such complicated tasks may one day elicit the creation of A.I. to deal with the evolution of the more complicated tasks computerization of everyday life will inevitably bring within a continually cyberized world? is not you twine program designed to serve that very purpose? at what point does a level of programming surpass the threshold of simple instruction into the realm of conscious discretion?

  6. Love it. This, in fact, was the basic premise behind my recent book (with Neil Raden) called “Smart (enough) Systems”. While others research truly “intelligent” systems, what mot of us need is systems that are just smart enough. Smart enough to point out drug interactions, smart enough to detect fraud, smart enough to route an email appropriately, smart enough to see how likely someone is to be who they say they are.
    It’s a great book, though I say so myself!
    JT
    James Taylor
    Author, with Neil Raden, of Smart (Enough) Systems
    Blog at http://www.smartenoughsystems.com/wp

  7. This is really the way to approach the issue. Makes a lot of sense to me. There is a semantic difference between intelligent and smart! The next web is more about smart agents rather than AI.

  8. Very interesting… I suggest a twist to your perspective which I believe will be more digestible.
    In my opinion, even doing routine things you mentioned require some artificial intelligence. For e.g. “organizing emails” require some basic intelligence. I do agree that rather than focusing on higher level intelligence like chess game etc, we should *first* focus on simpler things and move upwards to higher level stuff.

  9. Very interesting… I suggest a twist to your perspective which I believe will be more digestible.
    In my opinion, even doing routine things you mentioned require some artificial intelligence. For e.g. “organizing emails” require some basic intelligence. I do agree that rather than focusing on higher level intelligence like chess game etc, we should *first* focus on simpler things and move upwards to higher level stuff.

  10. Hmmm. Sounds like you need a secretary or a wife, someone to do all the annoying things you don’t want to do. As I recall, we call this folks interns…or recent college grads? While we underestimate the challenge and sticktoitiveness required to address the mundane.

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