As a parent, watching an infant as he or she begins this journey of life, can be an amazing experience. If each day we take time to really watch them. To watch them watching us, trying to mimic the movements we make as we talk to them, trying to communicate with us without yet being able to form words. It’s an exercise in sheer wonder and sometimes in utter frustration. After a time, you learn which cry means hungry, or sad, or angry, and as the child grows, they experiment with how they can make you react to their needs. It’s a great dance.
You may be wondering what this has to do with computers, so hang in there, I am about to explain. I was reading a post in Technology Review about where computers are headed in the future. It was fascinating. Much of the initial post was about something they called Deep Learning. It explains the process of teaching machines to think and process information independently from the process of programming. And it made me think of how wonderful, and powerful the human brain is. I think about how it has taken years and years to teach a computer deep learning, and the amount of new technology and software advances that are necessary to allow a computer to mimic human behavior.
Then I look at my son. He is almost a year old now. When he was born, before my wife and I had the chance to “teach” him much of anything, he was already tracking to the sound of our voices. He instinctively knew to cry when he wanted, or needed something from us. He could grasp my finger in his tiny hand. Neither of us had to teach him how to know when it was time to feed or sleep. He just came out knowing all of these things.
When we changed him, his body would get little goose bumps if he was cold. Making a sweet face at him would cause a smile to come to his face. Watching him learn to crawl and interact with us in the everyday is something we love, but also take for granted. We measure the milestones and are pleased as he achieves each one. It’s only when we stop and really look at how far he has come in such a short period of time that we marvel at how amazing this all is.
As a tech person, I do that same thing when I see how far computers and robotics have come. But then I stop, think of my son, and take a moment to let it sink in what amazing beings we are.