Collective Gaming Shows Human Can Still Outthink Computers

April 25, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Humans network, computing

According to the Aarhus University in Denmark, humans spend 3 billion hours gaming away on smartphones and other mobile devices every week. If it is possible to tap into that calculating resource by just one percent, we would be more than a match for the computer.

It is no secret that artificial intelligence is advancing at a rapid rate. One of the most recent milestones occurred in 2015 with the crowning of Google’s computer program, AlphaGo, as the best Go player in the world after it thoroughly defeated a top-ranked human Go champion.

But fear not, the rise of the machines is still far off and humans remain superior to computer intelligence programs — at least in some areas, according to Jacob Sherson, an associate professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Aarhus University in Denmark.

"It may sound dramatic, but we are currently in a race with technology — and steadily being overtaken in many areas,” Sherson said in a press release. “Features that used to be uniquely human are fully captured by contemporary algorithms. Our results are here to demonstrate that there is still a difference between the abilities of a man and a machine."

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According to the university, by combining quantum physics and the computer game Quantum Moves, Sherson and his team at the university’s Ideas Centre CODER used data from more than 10,000 players to get “a glimpse into the shared intuition of humanity” and discovered that it is our ability to take a mental leap of faith that gives us a problem-solving edge over machines.

“Where a computer goes through all available options, players automatically search for a solution that intuitively feels right,” Sherson said. “We behave intuitively when we need to solve an unknown problem, whereas for a computer this is incomprehensible. A computer churns through enormous amounts of information, but we can choose not to do this by basing our decision on experience or intuition.”

According to the university, quantum physics holds the promise of immense technological advances in areas ranging from computing to high-precision measurements. However, the problems that need to be solved to get there are so complex that even the most powerful supercomputers struggle with them.

The laws of quantum physics dictate an upper speed limit for data manipulation, which in turn sets the ultimate limit to the processing power of quantum computers — the Quantum Speed Limit. Until now a computer algorithm has been used to identify this limit, but Sherson’s test group was able to show that humans can break the Quantum Speed Limit by combining the cerebral cortex with computer chips.

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Sherson suggests his study, published in the journal Nature, could have major implications for the future of crowdsourced scientific research, specifically in the area of quantum physics.

"We are at the borderline of what we as humans can understand when faced with the problems of quantum physics,” he said. “By turning science into games, anyone can do research in quantum physics. We have shown that games break down the barriers between quantum physicists and people of all backgrounds, providing phenomenal insights into state-of-the-art research. Our project combines the best of both worlds and helps challenge established paradigms in computational research."

And his findings bode even better for those concerned that the days of robot-fueled mass unemployment or an artificial intelligence takeover are just around the corner.

“With the problem underlying Quantum Moves we give the computer every chance to beat us. Yet, over and over again we see that players are more efficient than machines at solving the problem,” he said. “While Hollywood blockbusters on artificial intelligence are starting to seem increasingly realistic, our results demonstrate that the comparison between man and machine still sometimes favours us. We are very far from computers with human-type cognition."

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