Joined Intelligence: The Machine in the Monkey...

Dan’s thoughts about the future co-existence of natural and artificial intelligence.

Natural Intelligence

Biological brains feature an unprecedented computing power while maintaining remarkable energy efficiency. This is a product of evolutionary trials and errors, mutation and natural selection, that took place over a timespan of hundreds of thousands of years. In mammalian brains, the evolution of the neocortex increased the voluntariness of actions, improving social harmony within the species and enabling the development of culture and technology.

Our species maintains the most elaborate form of general intelligence, performing particularly well at higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, and language (Kriegstein 2011). This natural intelligence is, however, limited by the rate of cerebral metabolism, neural interconnectivity and the generations-spanning bio-evolutionary development.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is (currently) based on integrated circuit computing. It utilizes time multiplexing to simulate a level of interconnectivity and parallelization, beyond the underlying integrated circuit’s actual capabilities.

Integrated circuit computing grew exponentially, but will eventually face physical limits (Brock 2005). With ever-decreasing transistor sizes finally requiring the mass production of single-atom transistors, the current platform for artificial intelligence could sooner or later cease to grow in efficiency.

Joined intelligence

Due to fundamental differences in architecture and modus operandi, these two types of intelligent agents are best characterized and compared by recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses. Natural intelligence masters the art of general cognition, but is regularly beaten by artificial intelligence in terms of speed and precision for mathematical operations. Artificial intelligence is a champion of calculus, yet it routinely fails at cognitive tasks considered simple for natural intelligence; for example, anticipating behavior based on sentience and emotions or unsupervised learning of concepts from small data sets.

Together, natural and artificial intelligence surpass each other’s limitations. Joining the powers creates a joined intelligence, with capabilities beyond the sum of both. By reasonably integrating one with the other, where it makes sense and seems ethical, we can go all the way from physical co-existence to deeply integrated co-operation of bio-mechanical and electro-mechanical machines.

Joined intelligence is about further blurring the already permeable boundary between natural and artificial intelligence. Three recent socio-technological developments indicate that we are moving towards joined intelligence:

  • Delegation of human thinking to narrow intelligent systems.
  • Freeing robots from their safety cage, creating a co-operative human robot workplace.
  • Integration of smart medical devices into human bodies.


Hand-sized devices, with the computing power of last-decade’s room-filling super-computers, complement our biological brains daily. We have expanded our minds and outsourced some of our thinking to the mobile computers in our pockets, often reaching out to the even more powerful intelligence that is the cloud (Kurzweil 2012). We delegate information processing and decision-making to digital assistants and services. They advise us whether we should take the bus or the train to get from A to B, remind us to take an umbrella before leaving home in the morning, or make reservations at our favorite restaurant based on calendar appointments. Human natural intelligence expands its capabilities by delegating thinking tasks to one or many artificial narrow-intelligent agents.


New generations of industrial robots become more aware of their surroundings than their predecessors. They evolve from working alongside humans to employing a real co-operative paradigm, not only supporting human workers with strength and precision but also adapting to changes and learning through physical feedback and guidance. Some of these gentle giants have been freed from their safety cage, and more will follow as their cognitive capabilities increase. Human-robot co-operation redefines workflows in factories and workshops, enabling natural and artificial intelligence to work towards a common goal by using their different strengths to eliminate the other’s weaknesses.


Integrating external entities into the human body is nothing new. Essential mitochondria, the organelles often described as the powerhouses of the cell, do not share our DNA, offering strong evidence for a cellular symbiosis established millions of years ago. Insulin pumps and artificial cardiac pacemakers also form a special symbiosis with the human body as these smart devices keep patients alive, while patients take care of software updates and recharge their batteries. One of the deepest forms of integration is the cochlear implant. Over time, the brain adapts to the implant’s electrical signals by physically rewiring neurons. The data pre-processing artificial intelligence and natural intelligence put forth a combined effort to enable the higher function of hearing (Mauger 2014). Modifying the human body with devices containing artificial intelligence is at the beginning and not restricted to medical applications.


Joined intelligence is a powerful yet dangerous concept. At the heart of every joined intelligence stands the alignment of goals. It would be a catastrophically naïve move of any natural intelligence to join forces with an artificial intelligence of orthogonal goals.

In a future of deeply integrated, joined intelligence, we will be the machines and the machines will be us.