The intelligence and military agencies of the United States are working on automated systems to replace human analysts in intelligence work. The human brain is a masterful “sensemaking” device, but it is subject to the human weaknesses of fatigue, bias or stress. Therefore, the government is going all in to find a machine that can do the work as well as an human, and maybe better.
Until now, the agency points out, the human brain has remained “the only known example of a general-purpose sensemaking system.” Not for long: Iarpa wants a computer that would mimic human strengths, like analytic reasoning or learning from mistakes, but do it without the accompanying weaknesses. The ideal Iarpa system would first process and explain human sensemaking: why an analyst opted for one hypothesis over another. Then, the computer would improve upon it, by determining whether a decision-maker was affected by ambiguous data, deception, or even denial. Finally, the system would offer its own sensemaking hypothesis – without any extenuating influence – instead.
Iarpa suggests that the system would help out “overburdened analysts with routine, low-level analytic tasks.” But a 2001 report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense points out that sensemaking is most often compromised in high-stress situations, and, for that reason, humans are usually the weakest link.
All this gets me wondering, will there come a day when machines are used to write books, create poetry, works of art and music? Will a computer frame a photograph as well as Ansel Adams? Will 3-D copiers create art to rival Michelangelo’s masterpieces using flesh and blood models or mere mathematical formulas derived from analysis of 2-D items? And, if that day comes, who will the audience be?