Unthinkable Thoughts

Augmenting Human IntellectHuman Computer Interaction

How do we think? What is the process of developing new thoughts? Moreover, how can we think new thoughts quicker and understand a body of knowledge faster?

Just as a to-do list helps us remember, and a notepad helps us perform calculations, computers can help us immensely when it comes to thinking previously unthinkable thoughts.

What does it mean to think the unthinkable?

I should clarify, what exactly what unthinkable thoughts are. Richard Hamming phrased these limitations best in The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics with the following:

Just as there are odors that dogs can smell and we cannot, as well as sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot, so too there are wavelengths of light we cannot see and flavors we cannot taste. Why then, given our brains wired the way they are, does the remark, "Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think," surprise you?

―Richard Hamming

Traditionally we create tools to augment our own faculties. We wanted to fell trees, so we created the saw. We wanted to combine pieces of wood, so we created the hammer. However, we can also augment how we approach those problems in the first place, this is what it means augment human intellect.

Previously unthinkable thoughts is perhaps a more accurate term. As we increase our own intellect thru new tools or methodologies we are able to go out in the world and solve problems that were previously unsolvable. The goal of computers is to think thoughts that were previously unthinkable, irregardless of what domain those thoughts apply to. This is also a virtuous cycle, the more we can think new thoughts, and discover new things, the more we can improve our tools to think better thoughts.

Computers open up a whole lot of new possibilities. The tasks that the computer is good at - boring, repetitive, mindless tasks - humans loathe doing, as spend an immense amount of time getting around doing them. The tasks that we enjoy, are incredibly difficult for computers to complete. J.C.R. Licklider spoke of this relationship in the Man-Computer Symbiosis .

Its important to remember that computing is in its infancy. There are an infinite amount of improvements we can make, and they're all out there. The way in which we interact with computers today will be immensely different from how we interact with them in a year, or 5 years.