Intelligence is not Artificial

Why the Singularity is not Coming any Time Soon And Other Meditations on the Post-Human Condition and the Future of Intelligence

by piero scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")

A Premise to the History of Artificial Intelligence

Surprisingly few people ask "why?" Why did the whole program of A.I. get started in the first place? What is the goal? Why try and build a machine that behaves (and feels?) like a human being?

There were and there are several motivations. I believe the very first spark was pure scientific curiosity. A century ago an influential German mathematician, David Hilbert, outlined a program to axiomatize mathematics as a sort of challenge for the world's mathematicians. In a sense, he asked if we can discover a procedure that will allow anybody to solve any mathematical problem: run that procedure and it will prove any theorem. In 1931 Kurt Goedel proved his Theorem of Incompleteness, which was a response to Hilbert's challenge. It concluded: "No, that's not possible, because there will always be at least one proposition that we cannot prove true or false"; but in 1936 Alan Turing offered his solution, now known as the Universal Turing Machine, which is as close as we can get to Hilbert's dream procedure. Today's computers, including your laptop, your notepad and your smartphone, are Universal Turing Machines. And then the next step was to wonder if that machine can be said to be "intelligent", i.e. can behave like a human being (Turing's Test), can have conscious states, and can be even smarter than its creator (the Singularity).

The second motivation was purely business. Automation has been a source of productivity increase and wealth creation since ancient times. The rate of automation accelerated during the industrial revolution and it still is an important factor in economic development. There isn't a day when a human being isn't replaced by a machine. Machines work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, don't go on strike, don't have to stop for lunch, don't have to sleep, don't get sick, don't get angry or sad. Either they function or they don't. If they don't, we simply replace them with other machines. Automation was pervasive in the textile industry way before computers were invented. Domestic appliances like dishwashers automated household chores. Assembly lines automated manufacturing. Agricultural machines automated grueling rural chores. That trend continues. As i type, machines (sensing cameras hanging from traffic lights remotely connected to the traffic division of a city) are replacing traffic police in many cities of the world to direct traffic (and to catch drivers who don't stop at red lights).

A third motivation was idealistic. An "expert system" could provide the service that the best expert in the world provides. The difference is that the human expert cannot be replicated all over the world, the expert system could. Imagine if we had an expert system that clones the greatest doctors in the world and then we could make that expert system available for free to the world's population (rich or poor), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Paraphrasing something that Douglas Hofstadter wrote in his book "Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies" (1995), there are two types of research on "intelligent" machines. One approach (the engineering approach) is interested in practical results, and will use whatever technology works to get the same result as the result obtained by humans, or an even better one. The other approach has little to do with practical results and instead studies the nature of intelligence and creativity. The engineer simply builds a machine that solves the problem, like the printing press and the steam engine. These are inventions that change the lives of millions of people. They do not pretend to simulate the human mind. The student of human intelligence, instead, wants to discover how we think. Our brains are slower; and they need to eat and sleep; and they get sick and get distracted; and they need to pay bills and taxes; but they still find their own way to solve a problem. For example, Hofstadter emphasized that "computer chess programs have taught us something about how human chessplayers play - namely, how they do not play". Nonetheless, these programs can beat any chess champion, hence they achieve the desired result; but they don't tell us much about how a chess champion can play chess so well without having the colossal database and the processing speed of a computer.

In particular, raw speed is not the point: you can build machines that do the same things that we do and do them better but that don't do it the way we do it. Airplanes fly faster than birds, but airplanes don't flap their wings like birds do. What is the goal? To build a machine that does something better than humans? That's what just about why every machine was invented. If you want to call it "machine intelligence", then you have to also call clocks and dishwashers "machine-intelligent". Or is the goal to build a machine that is "intelligent" the way humans are, i.e. that exhibits human intelligence? In that case clocks and dishwashers don't qualify as "intelligent", and it is not clear if anything other than a human being would.

"The best material model for a cat is another cat, or, preferably, the same cat" (Arturo Rosenblueth , cofounder of cybernetics).

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