The Technium


We need a better word than smart. Or dumb. I’m trying to come up with the word that we’ll use to describe artificial intelligences that fuel our self-driving cars, or enliven digital assistants. These agents will be incredibly smart and incredibly dumb at the same time. They will be to solve a Rubik’s cube in a blink, but will be unable to tie a shoelace; they will recognize your face instantly, but never get that you wanted to hide from someone; They will crack the lock in a safe in a few seconds but never be able to find the safe hidden in a room; or they will beat you in chess, but always lose any other game your kids make up.

We’ll find this dumb-smartness infuriating. It will drive us crazy. How can it beat me here but be so dumb? There will be comedy sketches about this failure, whole movies based on this paradoxical combination of ultra brilliance and utter stupidity. We have some experience with this state in certain handicapped humans called in the past idiot savants. I find that term for humans degrading. But there is a germ of truth in it for machines. The will be idiot-geniuses. Maybe we call them genidiots.

These everyday AIs will be brimming with dumbsmarts. They will be so dumbsmarten they can actually be smart enough to know they are stupid!  Or stupid enough to not know they are smart. Both at once.

It should be a short word because we’re going to use it in anger a lot. Sad to say, I predict the word will also be used about humans, when they act like a machine this way. It will definitely become an insult. Perhaps languages other than English already have a word that means Dumbsmart. If so post it in the comments.