This blog looks at a current debate in the Artificial Intelligence research community that questions whether an Artificial Intelligence needs to mimic a human to be considered intelligent.
Birds and Airplanes
A common analogy used in the Artificial Intelligence community is the phenomena of flight. No one can deny that human engineered aircraft fly, but they are also clearly very different to birds and insects in the way they achieve flight. In many ways human engineered flight is superior to that which evolved in nature such as being able to travel faster and carry vastly larger payloads, whilst naturally evolved flight is extremely efficient and seems to be achievable with a very small level of computational power (i.e. Beetles can do it).
Human intelligence and Artificial Intelligence can be compared in the same way. There are many things that Artificial Intelligence can already do much better than humans such as vast mathematical calculations, controlling activities at the sub-second levels such as trading stocks and rendering CGI to produce life-like animation. Similarly, humans do many things in a vastly superior ways to Artificial Intelligence including what I am doing right now which is reasoning and constructing an argument to express an opinion, something which I would propose is a hallmark of what we think of as Human Intelligence.
In the field of research into Artificial Intelligence there are various camps (see AI Battle) who are proponents of the idea that Artificial Intelligence needs to be the same as Human Intelligence and because we have a very poor understanding of how Human Intelligence actually works then they maintain that what we currently have is not intelligence at all. Others believe that Artificial Intelligence need not work in the same way as Human Intelligence in order to be useful and be considered a real form of intelligence and that insisting on precisely recreating Human Intelligence in machines is as practical as insisting that helicopters should have 6 legs, antennae and a shiny Chitin exoskeleton to be considering a flying machine.
I think that there is real value in pursuing Artificial Intelligence for the sake of creating useful and novel solutions to things that Humans can’t do or don’t do as well. In the process we will continue to learning about Human Intelligence through analogy and the insights gained as every more powerful solutions are created. The field of Artificial Intelligence has historically been multi-disciplinary with Engineers and Computer Scientists working alongside Neurobiologists and Linguists, to name a few, borrowing and extrapolating from each other’s disciplines to create new understanding of biological intelligence and practical applications of the principles in new products and solutions.
As with any form of investigation into the way the Human body and mind works, the greatest benefit will come from a better understanding of disease and dysfunction. Of particular interest should be deeper insights into mental illness which is a scourge on the lives of those who suffer from it and their families and loved ones, not to forget the heavy cost on the medical system it imposes on every country. We are pretty much in the dark ages with diseases like Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse Addiction and understanding how the human brain works will likely enable far better treatments and perhaps cures for these aliments that are still feared and treated with superstition even in developed countries. So ongoing work to understand Human Intelligence by using research into Artificial Intelligence has a strong philanthropic aspect in that it will inevitably help those who are suffering.
Artificial Intelligence is Here to Help
Building machines that use Artificial Intelligence to accomplish tasks that are dangerous, tedious or too difficult for Humans is also highly beneficial to society. Rescue robots are becoming more and more common place and with their ability to go into places that would be fatal to humans if they are exposed to for long periods of time, such as a nuclear reactor leakage sites, means that they are becoming indispensable in certain situations.
Pick and place assembly machines are doing a job that would be impossible for humans to manage on any sort of scale. The manufacturing of the ubiquitous smart phone would not be possible without these smart machines with a physical dexterity and a capacity to repeat minute and precise tasks with perfect accuracy.
New smart prosthetics are emerging that use Artificial Intelligence to interpret the neural signals transmitted down the remaining parts of damaged limbs and then transforming these into instructions to control mechanical joints and fingers. The potential to have these artificial limbs provide natural feedback through artificial skin which has sensors that generate electrical signals which are in turn used to stimulate the nerve fibres in a wearer’s limb will further enhance the return of natural capability to them, and underlying this type of prosthetic such as the Luke Skywalker Arm is a powerful application of Artificial Intelligence.
Carer-bots in ageing demo-graphics such as Japan are emerging as a necessity as the demographic pyramid inverts and there is not enough younger people to both support the economy and look after the elderly. These machines will not only need to be able to cater for the physical needs of the elder, helping them move about and accomplish simple daily tasks but they will also need to be responsive to voice commands and the emotions of their elderly charges in order to provide them with care that supports their dignity and enhances their quality of life. To that end, research is ongoing that looks into the interpretation of Human emotion by Artificial Intelligence and novel ways of achieving this is being accomplished by looking at the development of emotion in babies and the differences in expression of emotion in different societies. For example, in Western society disagreements can be expressed out loud and the opponents may argue until a compromise is reached and they shake-hands and make-up. In the East such confrontations are avoided as the resulting “loss of face” can mean irreparable damage to a relationship that cannot be resolved by a hand shake and a shared drink at the pub.
Human Emulating Intelligence Not Required
Clearly, there are many cases where the value and utility of Artificial Intelligence does not hinge on whether or not it is the same as Human Intelligence and whilst insights into Human Intelligence will have far reaching benefits, any particular Artificial Intelligence capability can and will add value and stand on its own merits and need not be part of a larger Human emulating intelligence.