AI should complement – not replace – serendipity and dumb luck

AI biomedicine
Image credit: Elnur /

While the debate about whether AI will lead us to destruction or not continues, one recent insight is worth reporting.

A lecture on the progress in finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease in Edinburgh is not the place where you would think you would be struck by insights into AI, but it was.

The reason that there has been so much progress in the search for cures for Parkinson’s and other horrible diseases is, according to lecturer Professor Alan Lees, a mixture of “blind luck, serendipity and chance meetings”.

Of course, science, big data and AI will play their important roles, but it is also true that the leaps, the step changes, the so-called ‘aha’ moments do not come incrementally.

Someone once said (rather rudely, some would say) that if you had asked an engineer if you could build a bridge across the Firth of Forth, the answer would have been ‘no’. Yet someone saw the vision, said “Aha!”, and two very clever engineers set to work.

This must be why AI and all the advances in robotics and other leading-edge technologies must be slaves to the human brain. If they are not, then we will lose the ‘aha’ moment, the serendipity that is fueling the race for cures to crippling diseases, the completely illogical conversations that make us human (have you ever transcribed a conversation that you taped and thought it was going in a logical straight line?). [All the time. – Ed.]

If we rely on AI being right (“The computer says ‘no'”), then we rely on incremental advances and decisions being made based on what is available to computers – all completely logical, but logic is but part of the solution.

While the three superpowers use AI to create robotic armies and symphonies are conducted by robots, the professors, data scientists and neurosurgeons who are pursuing medical breakthroughs should set the computers to research the patterns and trends, leave the office, lock the doors and go to the bar. And see whether serendipity drops in.

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