In this talk we consider a fundamental difference between human and machine intelligence, a ratio between their ability to compute and their ability to communicate we refer to as the embodiment factor. Having suggested why this makes us fundamentally different we speculate on implications for developing narrative structure from data.
Embodiment Factors 
≈ 100 gigaflops
≈ 16 petaflops
There is a fundamental limit placed on our intelligence based on our ability to communicate. Claude Shannon founded the field of information theory. The clever part of this theory is it allows us to separate our measurement of information from what the information pertains to1.
Shannon measured information in bits. One bit of information is the amount of information I pass to you when I give you the result of a coin toss. Shannon was also interested in the amount of information in the English language. He estimated that on average a word in the English language contains 12 bits of information.
Given typical speaking rates, that gives us an estimate of our ability to communicate of around 100 bits per second (Reed and Durlach 1998). Computers on the other hand can communicate much more rapidly. Current wired network speeds are around a billion bits per second, ten million times faster.
When it comes to compute though, our best estimates indicate our computers are slower. A typical modern computer can process make around 100 billion floating point operations per second, each floating point operation involves a 64 bit number. So the computer is processing around 6,400 billion bits per second.
It’s difficult to get similar estimates for humans, but by some estimates the amount of compute we would require to simulate a human brain is equivalent to that in the UK’s fastest computer (Ananthanarayanan et al. 2009), the MET office machine in Exeter, which in 2018 ranks as the 11th fastest computer in the world. That machine simulates the world’s weather each morning, and then simulates the world’s climate in the afternoon. It is a 16 petaflop machine, processing around 1,000 trillion bits per second.
So when it comes to our ability to compute we are extraordinary, not compute in our conscious mind, but the underlying neuron firings that underpin both our consciousness, our subconsciousness as well as our motor control etc.
If we think of ourselves as vehicles, then we are massively overpowered. Our ability to generate derived information from raw fuel is extraordinary. Intellectually we have formula one engines.
But in terms of our ability to deploy that computation in actual use, to share the results of what we have inferred, we are very limited. So when you imagine the F1 car that represents a psyche, think of an F1 car with bicycle wheels.
Just think of the control a driver would have to have to deploy such power through such a narrow channel of traction. That is the beauty and the skill of the human mind.
In contrast, our computers are more like go-karts. Underpowered, but with well-matched tires. They can communicate far more fluidly. They are more efficient, but somehow less extraordinary, less beautiful.
For humans, that means much of our computation should be dedicated to considering what we should compute. To do that efficiently we need to model the world around us. The most complex thing in the world around us is other humans. So it is no surprise that we model them. We second guess what their intentions are, and our communication is only necessary when they are departing from how we model them. Naturally, for this to work well, we need to understand those we work closely with. So it is no surprise that social communication, social bonding, forms so much of a part of our use of our limited bandwidth.
There is a second effect here, our need to anthropomorphise objects around us. Our tendency to model our fellow humans extends to when we interact with other entities in our environment. To our pets as well as inanimate objects around us, such as computers or even our cars. This tendency to over interpret could be a consequence of our limited ability to communicate.
Evolved Relationship with Information 
The high bandwidth of computers has resulted in a close relationship between the computer and data. Large amounts of information can flow between the two. The degree to which the computer is mediating our relationship with data means that we should consider it an intermediary.
Originaly our low bandwith relationship with data was affected by two characteristics. Firstly, our tendency to over-interpret driven by our need to extract as much knowledge from our low bandwidth information channel as possible. Secondly, by our improved understanding of the domain of mathematical statistics and how our cognitive biases can mislead us.
With this new set up there is a potential for assimilating far more information via the computer, but the computer can present this to us in various ways. If it’s motives are not aligned with ours then it can misrepresent the information. This needn’t be nefarious it can be simply as a result of the computer pursuing a different objective from us. For example, if the computer is aiming to maximize our interaction time that may be a different objective from ours which may be to summarize information in a representative manner in the shortest possible length of time.
For example, for me, it was a common experience to pick up my telephone with the intention of checking when my next appointment was, but to soon find myself distracted by another application on the phone, and end up reading something on the internet. By the time I’d finished reading, I would often have forgotten the reason I picked up my phone in the first place.
There are great benefits to be had from the huge amount of information we can unlock from this evolved relationship between us and data. In biology, large scale data sharing has been driven by a revolution in genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic measurement. The improved inferences that that can be drawn through summarizing data by computer have fundamentally changed the nature of biological science, now this phenomenon is also infuencing us in our daily lives as data measured by happenstance is increasingly used to characterize us.
Better mediation of this flow actually requires a better understanding of human-computer interaction. This in turn involves understanding our own intelligence better, what its cognitive biases are and how these might mislead us.
For further thoughts see Guardian article on marketing in the internet era from 2015.
You can also check my blog post on System Zero..
Human Communication 
For human conversation to work, we require an internal model of who we are speaking to. We model each other, and combine our sense of who they are, who they think we are, and what has been said. This is our approach to dealing with the limited bandwidth connection we have. Empathy and understanding of intent. Mental dispositional concepts are used to augment our limited communication bandwidth.
Fritz Heider referred to the important point of a conversation as being that they are happenings that are “psychologically represented in each of the participants” (his emphasis) (Heider 1958)
Bandwidth Constrained Conversations
Embodiment factors imply that, in our communication between humans, what is not said is, perhaps, more important than what is said. To communicate with each other we need to have a model of who each of us are.
To aid this, in society, we are required to perform roles. Whether as a parent, a teacher, an employee or a boss. Each of these roles requires that we conform to certain standards of behaviour to facilitate communication between ourselves.
Control of self is vitally important to these communications.
The high availability of data available to humans undermines human-to-human communication channels by providing new routes to undermining our control of self.
A Six Word Novel 
But this is a very different kind of intelligence than ours. A computer cannot understand the depth of the Ernest Hemingway’s apocryphal six word novel: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never worn”, because it isn’t equipped with that ability to model the complexity of humanity that underlies that statement.
Heider and Simmel (1944) 
Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel’s experiments with animated shapes from 1944 (Heider and Simmel 1944). Our interpretation of these objects as showing motives and even emotion is a combination of our desire for narrative, a need for understanding of each other, and our ability to empathise. At one level, these are crudely drawn objects, but in another key way, the animator has communicated a story through simple facets such as their relative motions, their sizes and their actions. We apply our psychological representations to these faceless shapes in an effort to interpret their actions.
Ananthanarayanan, Rajagopal, Steven K. Esser, Horst D. Simon, and Dharmendra S. Modha. 2009. “The Cat Is Out of the Bag: Cortical Simulations with 109 Neurons, 1013 Synapses.” In Proceedings of the Conference on High Performance Computing Networking, Storage and Analysis - Sc ’09. https://doi.org/10.1145/1654059.1654124.
Heider, Fritz. 1958. The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. John Wiley.
Heider, F., and M. Simmel. 1944. “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior.” The American Journal of Psychology 57: 243–59.
Reed, Charlotte, and Nathaniel I. Durlach. 1998. “Note on Information Transfer Rates in Human Communication.” Presence Teleoperators & Virtual Environments 7 (5): 509–18. https://doi.org/10.1162/105474698565893.
the challenge of understanding what information pertains to is known as knowledge representation.↩