29 March 2017
Artificial Intelligence. Part (1)
Why Artificial Intelligence will happen
Part 1 - Why Artificial Intelligence will happen
Not long ago there was a discussion on Taraka of whether AI will become a reality. There were a lot of sensible comments, and the consensus seemed to be that it was unlikely to happen. The truth is that most of the agencies, industries and individuals involved in this field are not only convinced that it is imminent, but now are more concerned about how this new reality will impact human society, and are discussing ways to control it so the effects are benign.
What is AI? How may we define it? A good start may be the Wikipedia definition: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. In computer science, the field of AI research defines itself as the study of "intelligent agents": any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal. Colloquially, the term "artificial intelligence" is applied when a machine mimics "cognitive" functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as "learning" and "problem solving" (known as Machine Learning).” As Wiki itself admits this is an inadequate description now. Problems previously thought impossible to be solved by computers have been learned – the games of go and chess, handwriting recognition, optical recognition of faces and structures, self-driving cars and trains, and financial dealings on world markets. In advanced development are military drones capable of taking off and landing autonomously (also from aircraft carriers), finding an optimum path to their destination, and destroying a target they have chosen themselves. In every case the parameters have been pushed further away, and yet have been solved by computer hardware and software. No-one will admit that we are “there” yet, but up to the present most complex human technical functions seem to be able to be done with information technology. What about the “soft” aspects of human endeavour – psychology, emotions, creativity, even spirituality? I’ll refer to them later, after discussing technological convergence.
Why is AI happening? Specifically, why is it happening now? The simple answer is technological convergence leading to a singularity. What is technological convergence? It is where two or more, often disparate techniques are combined to create something new which solves real-life problems in a revolutionary way, and which often change human society. (NB – polskie slowo “konwergencja” nie jest adekwatne - wole “zbieganie sie”). My favourite example is of mediaeval European bell smiths and Chinese festival fireworks – combining the two technologies – high-quality metal casting and gunpowder manufacture, created cannon and firearms that first changed Europe, and then the rest of the world. Most technological revolutions have this component: someone sits down, and thinks: “what if I combine this, with this, and perhaps this...”, and then the world changes. There are numerous other examples - such as gutta-percha from Malaya, European battery and wire manufacturing technology and American inventiveness creating the first world-wide telegraph system between 1840 and 1872, or Renaissance camera obscura techniques combined with early 19th Century chemistry giving rise, in the 1840’s, to the first true photographs.
It may be argued that technological convergence is nothing new, has existed from the beginning of human civilization, and is one of the factors that define modernity. Human society has absorbed these inventions with varying degrees of stress, and life appears to go on. So how is this relevant to our discussion of AI? By the 1960’s there were suspicions, and by the 1980’s there was certainty that ALL advanced research was converging to a single point – not just individual technologies, but everything, and the term “technological singularity” was first used. The term was borrowed from cosmology, where it was used to describe the boundary of a black hole, where the laws of physics broke down and no longer applied.
Statistician and cryptologist I.J. Good (the son of Polish immigrants, and advisor to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey”) had this to say, and I quote Wiki again “I. J. Good speculated in 1965 that artificial general intelligence might bring about an intelligence explosion. Good's scenario runs as follows: as computers increase in power, it becomes possible for people to build a machine that is more intelligent than humanity; this superhuman intelligence possesses greater problem-solving and inventive skills than current humans are capable of. This superintelligent machine then designs an even more capable machine, or re-writes its own software to become even more intelligent; this (ever more capable) machine then goes on to design a machine of yet greater capability, and so on. These iterations of recursive self-improvement accelerate, allowing enormous qualitative change before any upper limits imposed by the laws of physics or theoretical computation set in”. Wiki yet again: “John von Neumann, Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweill define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence. They argue that it is difficult or impossible for present-day humans to predict what human beings' lives would be like in a post-singularity world.”
Part 2 to follow.