The Myth of Artificial Intelligence

Ari N. Schulman writes in The New Atlantis

People who believe that the mind can be replicated on a computer tend to explain the mind in terms of a computer. When theorizing about the mind, especially to outsiders but also to one another, defenders of artificial intelligence (AI) often rely on computational concepts. They regularly describe the mind and brain as the “software and hardware” of thinking, the mind as a “pattern” and the brain as a “substrate,” senses as “inputs” and behaviors as “outputs,” neurons as “processing units” and synapses as “circuitry,” to give just a few common examples.

Those who employ this analogy tend to do so with casual presumption. They rarely justify it by reference to the actual workings of computers, and they misuse and abuse terms that have clear and established definitions in computer science—established not merely because they are well understood, but because they in fact are products of human engineering. An examination of what this usage means and whether it is correct reveals a great deal about the history and present state of artificial intelligence research. And it highlights the aspirations of some of the luminaries of AI—researchers, writers, and advocates for whom the metaphor of mind-as-machine is dogma rather than discipline.

Conceptions of the Computer

Before any useful discussion about artificial intelligence can proceed, it is important to first clarify some basic concepts. When the mind is compared to a computer, just what is it being compared to? How does a computer work?

Broadly speaking, a computer is a machine that can perform many different procedures rather than just one or a few. In computer parlance, a procedure is known as an algorithm—a set of distinct, well-defined steps. Suppose, for example, that you work in an office and your boss asks you to alphabetize the books on his shelf. There are many ways you could do it. For example, one approach would be to look through all of the books and find the first alphabetically (say, Aesop’s Fables), and swap it with the first book on the shelf. Then look through the remaining unsorted books again, find the next highest, and swap it with the book after Aesop’s Fables. Keep going until you have no unsorted books left. This procedure is known as “selection sort” because the approach is to select the highest unsorted book and put it with the sorted books…

Full story in The New Atlantis

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  • Monguin_spirit

    In fact, talking animals and artificial intelligence should swap genres. Talking animals and intelligent animals do exist. Examples include parrots, dolphins, and primates. The idea that brains are like computers is not science, but government philosophy. Global Warming, anti-pollution technology, and evolution-ism are also government philosophies. In science, physics always come first.

  • Monguin_spirit

    In fact, talking animals and artificial intelligence should swap genres. Talking animals and intelligent animals do exist. Examples include parrots, dolphins, and primates. The idea that brains are like computers is not science, but government philosophy. Global Warming, anti-pollution technology, and evolution-ism are also government philosophies. In science, physics always come first.

  • Monguin_spirit

    In fact, talking animals and artificial intelligence should swap genres. Talking animals and intelligent animals do exist. Examples include parrots, dolphins, and primates. The idea that brains are like computers is not science, but government philosophy. Global Warming, anti-pollution technology, and evolution-ism are also government philosophies. In science, physics always come first.

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