Artificial Intelligence: That’s the myth

AIMythThe holy grail of artificial intelligence is the creation of artificial “general” intelligence. That is, an artificial intelligence that is capable of every sort of perceptual and cognitive function that humans are and more. But despite great optimism in the early days of artificial intelligence research, this has turned out to be a very difficult thing to create. It’s unlikely that there is a “silver bullet”, some single algorithm, that will solve the problem of artificial general intelligence. And an important reason why, is that the human brain, which gives us our intelligence, is actually a massive collection of layers and modules that perform specialised processes.

The squiggly stuff on the outside of the brain, the neocortex, does a lot of the perceptual processing. The neocortex sits on a lot of “white matter” that connects it to the inner brain structures.  Different parts of the inner brain perform important processes like give us emotions, pleasure, hold memories, and form the centre of many “neural circuits”. Even though the structure of the neocortex is quite similar in all areas over the brain, it can be pretty neatly divided up into different sections that perform specific functions like: allow us to see movement, recognising objects and faces, provide conscious control and planning of body movements, and modulating our impulses.

Until we see an example of an intelligent brain or machine that works differently, we should probably admit that replicating the processes, if not the structure, of the human brain is what is most likely to produce artificial general intelligence. I’ll be making posts that discuss specifically some different approaches to artificial intelligence. These posts will mostly be on the high-level concepts of the algorithms and their relationship to “intelligence”. Hopefully these posts will be generally accessible and still interesting to the technically minded. I think there is benefit in grasping important concepts that underlie human intelligence that could direct the creation of intelligent machines.

If people are still looking for that silver bullet algorithm, they should probably be looking for an algorithm that can either create, or be generally applied to, each of these brain processes. If you know of someone that has done this, or has rational grounds for disagreeing that this is necessary, let me know. Then I can stop spreading misinformation or incorrect opinion. 🙂

To conclude with some philosophical questions, if we are successful in reproducing a complete human intelligence (and mind) on a computer, some interesting issues are raised. Is an accurate simulation of a human mind on a computer that different from the “simulation” of the human mind in our brains? And how “artificial” is this computer-based intelligence?

These questions might seem nonsensical if you happen to think that human intelligence and the mind are unassailable by computer software and hardware. Or if you think that the mind is really the soul, separate from the body. First of all, if you believe the latter, I’m surprised you’re reading this (unless you were tricked by the title :)). If you read later posts, I hope to discuss some evidence against both of these points of view in future posts, and I welcome rational counter-arguments.

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Mind the Leap: Introduction

BlogIntroIt’s been a long time since I created this blog.  I wrote a lot of draft posts, but never edited or posted them; until now.  The best place to start is probably a more detailed description of the things that I want to cover in this space.  Hopefully it will not only inform potential readers of what they might expect from this blog, but also keep me on track to writing on the main topics I want to share ideas on.

First: My day job (although I’m not currently getting paid) is postgraduate research on robot intelligence.  As one of the few PhD students who hasn’t become jaded after working on the same research topic for years, I still find studying robotics and artificial intelligence really engaging and enjoyable.  A part of this blog will be devoted to talking about these topics, but usually at a non-technical, conceptual level.

Second: Intelligence is such a fraught term though, that I have spent a lot of time looking into the underlying neuroscience and thinking about biological intelligence, consciousness, the mind and the brain.  This continues to be a big influence on my approach to robot intelligence.  While the some additions in the path to the evolution of the human brain might not be necessary for functional robot intelligence, people are the primary example of the general intelligence we want in our robots.  Some of this blog will discuss how neuroscience and cognitive science might translate into AI and robotics.

Third: As the brain becomes less of a mystery, the soul is no longer a necessary hypothesis.  Physicalism, the belief that the world is only matter and energy and without a spiritual dimension, is a starting point a lot of my thoughts about the world.  A significant amount of what I would like to discuss is more philosophical in nature.  While I usually try to have a scientific underpinning—or use a thought experiment as an intuition pump—philosophical, moral and ethical issues often remain disputable.  Nonetheless, I think about these issues, and I think they are important enough that another voice can’t hurt.

Those are the main themes and topics this blog will cover.  The style of writing is something I want to be conscious of too.  There are a fine lines between entertaining and obfuscating; informative and long-winded; and concise and plain.  Many of my drafts were possibly drifting towards long-winded attempts to be entertaining.  With a personal credo of trying to improve at all things I do, I’ll look for a balance.  Humour, like morality, is subjective.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways of doing these things better.  Potential readers beware: there’s no telling what you’ll be subjected to.  Even, sentences that a preposition they end in.  Yoda would be proud.  Or really disappointed.  Or just confused… I’m not sure.  ( Lame grammar joke, Star Wars reference, and smiley face: check. 😀 )