Computers can accelerate our collective intelligence to an unheard degree — but will that be a good thing?

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Over at, Tim O'Reilly has a must-read essay about the symbiosis between humans and computers. We're already propagating our knowledge and our culture at a much faster rate than in the past, he argues, and the next step is computers that can learn from "the activity of human teachers" but then notice things the humans wouldn't. He cites the example of Google's autonomous vehicle, which beats other self-driving cars because it can draw on all the experience of "millions of road miles put in by human drivers building the Google Street View database."

O'Reilly adds:

This is the future: massive amounts of data created by people, stored in cloud applications that use smart algorithms to extract meaning from it, feeding back results to those people on mobile devices, gradually giving way to applications that emulate what they have learned from the feedback loops between those people and their devices.

In the best case, we see a creative symbiosis of man and machine. However, it's easy to get the balance wrong: we have only to look at the financial market excesses of the past decade to see the danger of algorithms gone wild in the hands of rogue companies and individuals seeking only their own advantage.

The global brain is still in its infancy. We can raise it to help us make a better world, or we can raise it to be selfish, unjust and short-term in its outlook.

The whole thing is well worth reading. []