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Subra Suresh: Integrated Intelligence — Bridging Humanity and Technology for the World

This week, in a meeting unlike any other of its kind, leaders from across the globe come together to address the reality of transformative change in our world. Political, economic and social change, and the opportunities and repercussions that result, will be among the hefty topics debated and discussed.


Yet no change, in my mind, is more profound than the technological change our world has seen, and will continue to experience in the coming 20 years. To be more specific, people and machines are becoming interconnected in a way that humans only imagined — in the sci-fi sense — was possible a mere 50 years ago. It’s not simply about technological advancement, but the seamless and smart integration of artificial intelligence with human intelligence.

This phenomenon — which we at Carnegie Mellon refer to as Integrated Intelligence — is our reality today. It is unfolding at a blinding pace. And it’s bringing vast new opportunities for governments, business, healthcare and education to significantly improve human life.

For instance, we can now rely on robots to do the most hazardous jobs that would put human lives in danger — wading through nuclear accident sites, exploring active volcanoes, assisting with coal mine rescues, roving the ocean floor. This is in part because we have succeeded in making robots smarter and tougher. They are able to adapt more consistently to unpredictable environments.

Imagine, however, taking these advancements even further, by making robots even more capable of interacting with humans. At CMU, this is the future we are working to realize. Our “extreme roboticist” Red Whittaker works with students from around the world to build robots that really work in the field, by integrating multiple sources of information and diverse capabilities, and then connecting this intelligence with human beings along many dimensions. Robots with more human-like characteristics, and with the faculties to interact, will be increasingly used in areas ranging from assistive care to transportation.

Integrated Intelligence is much bigger and broader, however, than robots. At CMU, for instance, we are developing ways to improve the ability of all students to learn through technologies that are capable of personalizing instruction, measuring outcomes, and then continually looping back to inform the curriculum. This kind of “integrated intelligence” in student learning is the future of education.

Integrated intelligence has manifold benefits for health and healthcare, as well. By combining brain imaging with machine-learning techniques, we are on the way to being able to identify a person’s thoughts and emotions — which opens the doors to a new way of treatment for nonverbal, or non-communicative, patients. Similar brain imaging could also be used to understand and treat disorders like autism and dyslexia.

In sum, the onward advancement of technology alone is not enough. The real possibility lies in designing and integrating technologies that interact with, and assist humans with problem solving — in engineering, the natural and social sciences, the arts, humanities, business and policy. At its core, how do we marry human intelligence with artificial intelligence across every sector to advance human intelligence and elevate the human condition? This is the greatest transformation and opportunity of our future.

Subra Suresh is President of Carnegie Mellon University. 

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