September 7, 2017

What is Artificial Intelligence?

The term artificial intelligence is, in our view, is a very misleading one.  Here is why.

Intelligence is the ability to a) learn and b) solve problems. Human beings have that ability. So do animals. And so do some machines. If a human being, a chimpanzee or a computer can learn, and solve problems, then they all have intelligence. There is nothing artificial about it.     

Humans and animals are intelligent because of their brains. Computers are intelligent because of their hardware (processing units) and their software (algorithms that process data, learn from it, and use it to solve problems or to do tasks).  

History: The British computer scientist Alan Turing devised, in 1950, a test for intelligence in a computer that is used to this day. The so-called Turing test “requiring that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both.” Think of a question. Ask someone. Then ask your computer. Can you tell that the answer came from your computer and not from a human? If not – then the computer is intelligent. 

Alexa:   Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon

 It was introduced in 2014. It talks, answers questions, plays music, makes to-do lists, sets alarms, does streaming podcasts, plays audiobooks, and provides weather, traffic, and other real time information, such as news.  Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. 

Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word; Alexa speaks English and German, but more languages will be added fairly soon.

Writing in the New York Times, [1]  Penelope Green writes:

Since her introduction in November 2014 Alexa has neither devolved into the malevolent intelligence predicted by [science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke] nor ascended to the metaphysical eroticism promised by Spike Jonze (by way of Scarlet Johansson) [ in the movie “Her”].  Instead she has assimilated as a kind of ideal roommate, with none of the challenges of an actual human being. This year 25 million Americans will use an Alexa device at least once a month…..”

Intelligent? With her voice disguised, Alexa can easily answer questions in ways that Alan Turing could attribute to a human being. 

Courtesy of Britannica: “Deep Blue: Computer Chess-Playing System

Watson: On May 11 1997, history was made. IBM developed a super computer it called Deep Blue that knew how to play chess. A match was arranged with the reigning world chess champion, Gary Kasparov. Deep Blue won. 

Was Deep Blue intelligent? Yes and no.  No, because it was simply able to calculate an enormous numbers of possible chess moves in a fraction of a second. Speed is not intelligence.  But — Yes, because it was able to analyze these chess moves and pick the best one, sufficiently well to beat Kasparov. 

That dramatic chess-playing computer sounds a bit frivolous – but it generate enormous interest and massive research and development. In 2010 IBM continued with its viral high-visibility demonstrations of Big Blue technology; an IBM computer and software played the TV quiz game Jeopardy and defeated two of its greatest human champions,  Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, and it wasn’t even close!

Now, IBM has developed a much more useful computer/software system,  known as Watson (“Elementary, my dear Watson”, Sherlock Holmes says often, to his trusty assistant Dr. Watson).  Watson has been taught to understand cancer. It reads 8,000 research papers published every day, and learns their content.  It then answers questions from cancer researchers, often coming up with treatments that even highly experienced and intelligent oncologists do not think of.  Watson has already prolonged human lives, and perhaps even saved some. 

We are at a turning point in the use of “artificial intelligence”, or better, “computer-based intelligence”.  It is now being used to make significant contributions to human wellbeing.   

According to World Net Daily:

“Buckminster Fuller created the ‘Knowledge Doubling Curve’; he noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today things are not as simple as different types of knowledge have different rates of growth. For example, nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. But on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.  [2]

With knowledge doubling every 12 hours, human intelligence and learning will not be able to keep up.  No oncologist can read even a tiny fraction of the 8,000 cancer research papers published every day.  So — we will need the help of computers.      

As we continue crossing the line from theoretical to practical uses of AI, we will continue to see AI impacting more and more aspects of our day to day life.

[1]  Penelope Green, “Alexa, where have you been all my life?”  New York Times, Wed. July 19, 2017, p. 1.


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