Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Skeptical View of AI

Five years ago Skeptic published A.I. GONE AWRY: The Futile Quest for Artificial Intelligence by Peter Kassa. It's pretty good. Three paragraphs near the beginning:
Duplicating or mimicking human-level intelligence is an old notion — perhaps as old as humanity itself. In the 19th century, as Charles Babbage conceived of ways to mechanize calculation, people started thinking it was possible — or arguing that it wasn’t. Toward the middle of the 20th century, as mathematical geniuses Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Alan Turing, and others laid the foundations of the theory of computing, the necessary tool seemed available.

In 1955, a research project on artificial intelligence was proposed; a conference the following summer is considered the official inauguration of the field. The proposal is fascinating for its assertions, assumptions, hubris, and naïveté, all of which have characterized the field of A.I. ever since. The authors proposed that ten people could make significant progress in the field in two months. That ten-person, two-month project is still going strong — 50 years later. And it’s involved the efforts of more like tens of thousands of people.

A.I. has splintered into three largely independent and mutually contradictory areas (connectionism, computationalism, and robotics), each of which has its own subdivisions and contradictions. Much of the activity in each of the areas has little to do with the original goals of mechanizing (or computerizing) human-level intelligence. However, in pursuit of that original goal, each of the three has its own set of problems, in addition to the many that they share.
The article has sections for each of those three areas. The conclusion:
With admirable can-do spirit, technological optimism, and a belief in inevitability, psychologists, philosophers, programmers, and engineers are sure they shall succeed, just as people dreamed that heavier-than-air flight would one day be achieved.88 But 50 years after the Wright brothers succeeded with their proof-of-concept flight in 1903, aircraft had been used decisively in two world wars; the helicopter had been invented; several commercial airlines were routinely flying passengers all over the world; the jet airplane had been invented; and the speed of sound had been broken.

After more than 50 years of pursuing human- level artificial intelligence, we have nothing but promises and failures. The quest has become a degenerating research program89 (or actually, an ever-increasing number of competing ones), pursuing an ever-increasing number of irrelevant activities as the original goal recedes ever further into the future — like the mirage it is.
The article's followed by 89 footnotes, many with one or more like.

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