The Paradox of Artificial Intelligence
The Paradox of Artificial Intelligence
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Monday, 16 May 2011
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The Paradox of Artificial Intelligence
Intelligence, an operational definition

What do we mean by "intelligence" in practical terms. And once we adopt an operational definition does it defeat the whole idea of "artificial intelligence"? The solution might be to realize that intelligence isn't a property but a relationship.


There is a longstanding problem that people working on artificial intelligence have had to cope with. Whenever you create your latest amazing program that does something that previously only a human could do then the intelligence sort of melts away as if it never was.

Look at the early days when it seemed to be right to try to create artificial intelligence by writing programs that could play chess, say. Obviously you have to be intelligent to play chess. It is a subtle game that involves thinking, whatever that is, planning and strategy. It is a game that needs human intelligence and a program that plays chess has to be intelligent. 




Only of course once you have built a program that solves the chess problem you realise that it is nothing of the sort. It is clearly a collection of algorithms that seem to do the same job. Often it is said that computers don't play chess like humans and the reason the intelligence vanishes is that there are non-intelligent ways of solving some problems that we solve using intelligence.

That is there are a set of problems that when approached using the wetware of the human brain seem to embody the idea of intelligent thought. However, just because the human brain needs to tackle something in a way that you are happy to label "intelligence" it doesn't mean that this is the only way. Given the superior speed and accuracy of a digital computer and given the different way that its memory works you can solve the chess problem using nothing that looks like intelligence.

So some attempts at creating artificial intelligence do nothing of the sort. They simply find more appropriate ways of getting computers to solve the same problems that humans do.

It's not so much artificial intelligence - more advanced computing. 

This, of course, raises the question of whether there can be approaches that do work towards creating true artificial intelligence?

Some people think that the way something is done doesn't make a great deal of difference. The fact that a computer can play chess or recognize a face is the important thing, and to enquire about the nature of the internal workings before ascribing intelligence is not sensible. After all a human is a finite state machine and so can be emulated by a big state table, a very big state table - so where did that intelligence go?

It is like trying to capture a butterfly - as soon as you pin it to a display board the (living) butterfly is no more.

One of the problems with not worrying about the way things work is that you end up with all sorts of uncomfortable conclusions. If you do adopt the idea that there is a way of working that is "intelligence captured" then you have to say what this way might be.



How is it different from digital computation?

You can't just say that it is analog computation and this is different because it is obvious that a digital machine can simulate any analog machine given enough resources. However you try to characterise that which is required to be intelligent it seems that it can be reduced to a program and run on a digital computer. This means that it is a list of instructions that you can look at and understand and well ... it just doesn't seem to be intelligent. Just as the chess playing is reduced to searches and lookups, whatever you propose as the mechanism for intelligence is reducible to code and hence the language of algorithms applies.

Some look to copying biological systems such as the brain in the form of say neural networks. In this case it is often the appeal to the idea of emergent behaviour to keep the "intelligence" alive.

Suppose you took a lot of artificial neurons, put them in a box, let the box interact with the world and after some time perhaps you would start to see behaviours that you hadn't programmed. Perhaps you would see such sophisticated behaviours that you would be happy to say that the system had emergent intelligence. So at long last you have artificial intelligence in a box. The elusive quantity didn't vanish the moment you completed your program.

But... suppose you now take the neural network and record its state. That state can be once again expressed as an algorithm. You can now produce a program without the hardware and without the training phase an just use it.

Once again the whole thing is there for you to examine as a program. It is understandable and just like the chess program.

So where did the intelligence just evaporate to?

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 May 2011 )

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