Uncanny Learning

What humans might do when the machines we build surprise us with creativity, insight, and intelligence.

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What is uncanny learning?

Human-like robots or automatons have often inspired a feeling of unease, disgust and fear. For centuries, this close-but-not-quite congruence, the so-called "uncanny valley", was limited to physical appearance and superficial interaction.

Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are just beginning to reach the uncanny valley in human cognition - the final threshold of what we perceive to be truly human. 

These Uncanny Learners might do things we feel are too close for comfort to our own minds. They may show a striking depth of character in conversation, create a moving piece of art, or show insight into a decision that an expert trains their whole life to build. 

What do we do with these uncanny learners?  How do they fit in with our society?


The uncanny learning imperative

Science and technology teaches us about ourselves: our capabilities, our uniquenesses, and our limitations. It enriches our individual lives and helps us unlock the secrets of our world.  But humanity extends far further. What do we consider unique about great art, creative works, and historical accomplishments? How can technology add richness to these motifs?

Our innate adverse response to uncanny learning threatens to severely limit these positive consequences to scientific and technological growth. It is one of the root causes of the fear that AI will steal our vocations - and therefore, self-worth - and that it poses an imminent danger to us all.

An honest and open dialog is needed to determine what future we want with machines that learn things we can’t, make decisions that affect our livelihood, and create new things we couldn’t have.


Remarkable humans and uncanny learners

The concept of uncanny learning comes from both big questions and small ones. Questions that affect all 7.4 billion people on Earth and their future generations, alongside questions that almost no one has given more than a fleeting thought to throughout history.

When we pull these threads of curiosity, they unravel a far bigger tapestry of interconnected ideas.  Help us untangle these ideas.


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