A lot of innovation happens at the intersection between two (or more) different fields. You take an approach normally used in a certain field and apply it to another where it hadn’t been tried before, or you take a technology (lasers) and you figure out a way to apply it to your seemingly unrelated problem (storing music).
For example, in the field of biogerontology, the approach used so far was the scientific one. Let’s figure out how things work, and then we can try to solve problems. Aubrey de Grey‘s major insight was to sidestep the whole process by taking an engineering approach; We don’t need to understand the whole system, we just need to learn enough so that we can get the results we want. It’s easier to learn how to repair a house periodically than to learn how to built a house that never gets damaged…
But nowadays, no human can claim to know everything that humanity as a whole knows. Even if we limit it to scientific knowledge, it’s simply impossible. If all you did was speed-read scientific journals 24/7, and you had the training to understand everything you read, you’d probably still be slower than the rate at which new knowledge accumulates.
Even within fields (mathematics, physics, biology, etc), people are becoming more and more specialized, and there are fewer individuals who look at it all from a distance to see possible new connections.
To me that seems to be one of the major benefits that would come from an artificial general intelligence (AGI). Even if we put aside for a moment the fact that when mature its hardware would be much faster than a human brain, and that it would improve itself recursively to become smarter and smarter (the Intelligence Explosion school of the Singularity), just the the ability to store and perfectly recall pretty much the sum of human scientific knowledge would give it a massive advantage over any human scientist or engineer. It would combine the benefits of both specialists and generalists.
How many discoveries are staring humanity in the face right now, but there is no single individual on Earth who possess the knowledge required to connect the dots?
The Internet is already expanding the amount of information that can be accessible to a single person, but that person has to actively look for something (Google it, etc). It’s not the same as having that information ‘passively’ reside in your brain until the right moment when you ask yourself a question and the answer gets formed from a number of elements you already knew.
So while we wait for AGI, we could benefit from having more generalists, or at least, more communication between specialists in different fields.