How courage has helped us achieve the impossible — and keep on trying.
A couple of years ago, I shared my thoughts on love and how I believe it’s one of the great human capacities that machine learning will never be able to replicate. Despite all the promise of artificial intelligence (AI), it can’t unravel love. Love is beyond science and technology’s reach; it remains a divine mystery that simply occurs, often without rhyme or reason.
I view courage as a similar human trait — one that will also be tough, if not impossible, for AI to truly reproduce or experience.
Over the course of history, humans have repeatedly made advancements by going places never before traveled and taking chances on things never before done. We’ve failed, tried again, failed again, and continued to try. We’ve faced incredible odds and obstacles yet still overcome the improbable. Just consider these examples:
• Inventor Thomas Edison reportedly tested thousands of theories before finally landing on a successful light-bulb design in 1879. He kept at it despite repeated failure.
• Self-taught engineers Orville and Wilbur Wright spent years refining their glider and then built on that to invent the first powered airplane. Their first successful flight in 1903 lasted only 12 seconds, but it set the stage for modern air travel.
• Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first to land on the moon — “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — in 1969. This endeavor required the knowledge of hundreds of NASA scientists and engineers to accomplish.
• Rock climber Alex Honnold became the first to free solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 2017.
• Olympian Simone Biles, just days ago as I write this, became the first gymnast to land a triple-double in her floor routine, two days after struggling with the move in the first round of competition. She also made history with her double-double balance-beam dismount.
In the face of fear, doubt, and the unknown, we’ve succeeded time and again. This courage to push through — along with an unwillingness to accept defeat — is in large part how we’ve made quantum leaps forward. It seems innate within us.
This gives us the unique ability to set goals that have a greater chance of failure than success — and the perseverance to keep going in the face of that challenge. I also characterize this as thrust: the ability to make things happen with whatever is available, in any circumstance. It’s our aptitude for thinking of how we can rather than why we can’t.
It’s what differentiates us from the very technology we’re developing to make our lives easier: Machine learning, the basis of AI, is the use of algorithms that utilize real-time data and observations to operate and make decisions with less human involvement. When a machine decides not to do something, it’s because logic dictates there’s too great a chance that it can’t or won’t work.
If this form of statistical modeling had existed hundreds of years ago, myriad inventions that benefit our lives today might never have happened. Progress and innovation are the results of people rolling the dice when the odds are against them.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for an analytical mindset; it’s necessary and appropriate in many circumstances. Yet there are countless examples of success in the face of the seemingly impossible — when the “never going to happen” has happened.
In fact, I’m sure each of us can think of examples tied to our own interests and passions. These instances are what inspire us to keep working toward our own next great thing — and potentially the next quantum leap.
It’s courage that makes us willing to try and fail and keep trying again. Because when we do prevail, the satisfaction of that accomplishment is hard to beat. And the smaller the odds of success, the sweeter the victory, regardless of what the machines might tell us.