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Machine Intelligence and Human Stupidity (The Turing Test Revisited)

(See also my slide presentation for Turing's centennial Machine Intelligence vs Human Stupidity: Are we making smarter machines of dumber humans?)

(And this became a chapter in "Demystifying Machine Intelligence")

  • The Turing Test asks when can we say that a machine has become as intelligent as humans.
  • The Turing Test is about humans as much as it is about the machine because it can be equivalently be formulated as: when can we say that humans have become less intelligent than a machine?
  • The Turing Test cannot be abstracted from a sociological context. Whenever one separates sociology and technology, one misses the point.
  • The Turing test is about deciding when a computer has become intelligent: the assumption is that this "Turing Point" will be achieved when/if the behavior of the machine will be indistinguishable from the behavior of a human being
  • The original idea was that it takes a smarter machine.
  • But there's another way to pass the Turing test and reach the Turing Point: make dumber humans.
  • If human intelligence declines, it won't take much smarter machines to pass the Turing Test.
  • Humans have always become dependent on the tools they invented. When they invented writing, they lost memory skills. On the other hand, they gained a way to store a lot more knowledge and to broadcast it a lot faster. Ditto for all other inventions in history: a skill was lost, a skill was acquired.
  • In practice, however, we cannot replay history backwards and we will never know what the world would be like if humans had not lost those memory skills. Indirectly we assume that the world as it is now is the best that it could have been. In reality, over the centuries the weaker memory skills have been driving an explosion of tools to deal with weak memory. Each tool, in turn, caused the decline of another skill. It is debatable if writing was worth this long chain of lost skills.
  • This process of "dumbization" has been going on throughout society and accelerated dramatically ("exploded") with the digital devices. The computer caused the decline of calligraphy. Voice recognition will cause the decline of writing. In a sense, technology is about giving dumb people the tools to become dumber and still continue to live a happy life.
  • Human intelligence is not "exploding" but "imploding"
  • Using a device to find a location is to using the brain to find that location what taking the elevator is to walking up the stairs. Both the device and the elevator do the job, do it faster and better. Over the long run one screws up your brain, the other one screws up your body.
  • What can machines do now that they could not do 50 years ago? They are just faster, cheaper and can store larger amounts of information. These factors made them ubiquitous.
  • When will we see a robot that is capable of crossing a street with no help from the traffic light? It will probably take several decades. When will we get to the point that the average person is no longer capable of crossing a street without help from the traffic light? That day is coming much sooner (witness any Western tourist in a chaotic capital of an underdeveloped country).
  • Machines are not getting any smarter (just faster) while humans are getting dumber; hence very soon we will have machines that are smarter than humans but not because the machines got smarter.
  • Machines enabled humans to digitize huge amounts of knowledge. That knowledge originally came from someone who was "intelligent" in whichever field. Now it can be used by just about anybody who is not "intelligent" in that field. This "user" has no motivation to actually "learn": it can just "use" somebody else's intelligence. The "intelligence" of the user decreases, not increases.
  • The Turing Test is a self-fulfilling prophecy: as we (claim to) build "smarter" machines, we make dumber people.
  • The combination of smartphones and websites offers a glimpse of a day when one will not need to know anything because it will be possible to find everything in a second anywhere at any time. One will only need to be good at operating that one tool. That tool will be able to access an almost infinite library of knowledge.
  • The tool/machine per se will not be particularly intelligent. The user of the tool will be even less intelligent.