Making a Difference

My Personal and Professional views

Do We have AI Yet? Or is the Answer Still 42?

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I recently had a conversation with a young friend who asked me if I thought modern day computers could support Artificial Intelligence. “Well” I said, “This all depends on how you wish to define intelligence.”


The text book definition is: Intelligence is the ability to adapt one’s behavior to fit new circumstances. Now with this definition in mind we could argue that we are already there. The Google car has the ability to adapt to changing circumstances: traffic, detours, pedestrians, and it also has the ability to learn by observing outcomes based on decisions and sharing these discoveries with the central computer.

So with that definition of Intelligence we seem to already be there. What people are really talking about when they speak of AI is often presented this way, “Can a computer think like a human?” Well that is an entirely different conversation and one best served by the thinking of Alan Touring, one of the fathers of modern computer science.

In 1950 Alan Touring authored the Touring Test. ”This is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine that is designed to generate human-like responses. . The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result would not be dependent on the machine’s ability to render words as speech.  If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human (Turing originally suggested that the machine would convince a human 70% of the time after five minutes of conversation), the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely answers resemble those a human.”



The clever part about this is that Touring is avoiding the whole notion of whether or not a computer can think. The test proves whether or not the computer can imitate a human and fool another human, thus The Imitation Game.


The fact is that if you were blindfolded and placed in the back of a self-driving car I doubt you would assume you were being driven by a robot. The car can successfully imitate a human driver, albeit one that observes all traffic laws but a safe human driver just the same.


My point is that before we can have a healthy debate about AI and whether we can achieve it, we really need to define what AI is. If it is the ability to fool a human into thinking the computer is a human than I am sad and happy to say we are very nearly there. Sad because it’s not that hard to fool humans and happy because, well we can do it.


The bigger question is when do we develop a program that achieves: Learning, Reasoning, Inferences, Deduction and thus working intelligence that rival’s human thinking? This again is not too far off. We have immense amounts of compute and storage we just need really smart software. Now getting to a point where a computer can tell you the meaning of life and how to achieve it? Well we all know that will take a very large computer and why bother because the answer is: 42.


Now if you get the Apple or the 42 reference let me know.




Written by Jim McNiel

August 3, 2016 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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