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The Dream of A.I. and the Elixir of Life

Today I read an article about A.I. on NewScientist called “Why AI is a Dangerous Dream”. I thought the article was partially biased. In my perspective the interviewee, a robotics expert named Noel Sharkey has lost faith in AI which can be confirmed by a statement on the article that reads:

“Robotics expert Noel Sharkey used to be a believer in artificial intelligence. So why does he now think that AI is a dangerous myth that could lead to a dystopian future of unintelligent, unfeeling robot carers and soldiers?”

I have dreamed of AI since childhood, creating flooders, scrollers, and chatter bots. I once developed a complete TCP/IP application using the MSNP8 to log on to the MSN Messenger network with a bot that would simulate intelligent talk. I have always been fond of the Turing Test. I even held a small conversation over email once with John McCarthy. I know this does not make me an expert in AI, however, it does make me an AI enthusiast.

There were two segments of the article that really put me off:

Are machines capable of intelligence? If we are talking intelligence in the animal sense, from the developments to date, I would have to say no. For me AI is a field of outstanding engineering achievements that helps us to model living systems but not replace them. It is the person who designs the algorithms and programs the machine who is intelligent, not the machine itself.”

Anything that can be defined as a physical or logical entity or construct can be emulated. Anything that can be emulated could work equally or even be superior to the original. If a machine can emulate the logical processes of the human brain, then it can be said that the machine is intelligent.

Are we close to building a machine that can meaningfully be described as sentient? I’m an empirical kind of guy, and there is just no evidence of an artificial toehold in sentience. It is often forgotten that the idea of mind or brain as computational is merely an assumption, not a truth. When I point this out to “believers” in the computational theory of mind, some of their arguments are almost religious.”****

AI is beautiful. It let’s us, as humans, test ourselves to our limit. It allows us to analyze how the human system works, and attempt to imitate our inner construction, our mind. It allows us to try to break the barriers, and build machines that are capable of so much more than us, and so much faster.

I am aware that AI often becomes somewhat of a cult. Sometimes it attracts the same type of people that follow all of Steve Job’s life events, spam online forums and blogs that post articles against the iPhone, and get hard-ons at a keynote. I am aware that AI can be a “believers” dream, but I am also aware that not everyone is like this. Not everyone takes their beliefs to a “religious” level. I am aware that to accomplish goals you have to be down to earth.

For starters there is Strong AI and Weak AI. When you talk about AI, you should generally make a point as to which type of AI you are talking about. AI related to specific tasks, or AI related to the reproduction of general human intelligence. It makes a huge difference to an article about the topic.

I believe in both. The proper coordination of the different Weak AI segments _can _lead to a fully sentient being. And to study one topic, you must be knowledgeable in all surrounding topics.

If the human mind is nothing more than neurons passing on electric signals which can be described as thinking, and thinking is the mechanism that allows us to communicate, and everything we perform in the world is a form of communication, then why shouldn’t a computer be able to be “intelligent”? A computer after all has a heart (PSU), a brain (CPU & HD), a face (LCD), ears (Mic), a mouth (Speakers), eyes (Camera), and can effectively move and communicate through different mechanisms such as robotic limbs, wheels, and other accesories.

Human beings consistently change their thoughts, ideas, knowledge and personality in the same way a computer program could re-compile itself to meet new standards and “personality” as has been described by Matt Knox in this article about his days as an adware author.

“Ivan Bowman spends his days as a programmer at iAnywhere Solutions in Waterloo, Ontario, in much the same way his colleagues do. He writes code, exchanges notes in other developers’ offices, attends meetings and hangs out in the kitchen over coffee. About the only thing he can’t do is drink the coffee - or touch anything, for that matter. It’s not that Bowman doesn’t have hands or a mouth; they’re just in Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with the rest of his body, about 840 miles (1,350km) away.”

So we have also got that point covered. We can interact hundreds of miles away at an office using a coat rack on wheels as described in this article.

I am aware that these are not true applications of AI as a whole. But we have strived in different areas, creating artificial limbs that move like an animal’s paw or a human’s leg or arm. We have created programs that can re-compile themselves to allow different circumstances to occur, or to “evolve” as we would say. We have created robots that can detect surfaces and objects and go around them. We have stuck computers on coat racks with webcams, microphones and speakers to be able to “live” in an office from hundreds of miles away. We have created chatter bots that are close to beating the turing tests. We have achieved a lot in speech understanding and generation in the past years.

This leads me to say that even though we have not achieved a real strong AI system, we are certainly on the path to producing great results, and who knows, maybe in a few years we will have discovered the pathway that will lead us to develop a remarkable electronic clone of us.

I believe alchemists have ever pursued the dream of living forever. But A.I. has given us the dream of creating intelligent copies of us. I believe that this dream will eventually allow us to download our minds into intelligent beings, technically allowing us to live forever. And while we might have not found the philosophers stone, we will have found the elixir of life.