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Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

Posted March 31, 2008 12:01 AM by Steve Melito

"Human", Selmer Bringsjord explains, "is generally a term of biology." Questions such as "What does it mean to be human?" may be important to biomedical engineers, but they don't matter much to artificial intelligence (AI). "Any AI at all is a form of a zombie," devoid of consciousness and emotion, explains the chair of the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). "The best you can do", Bringsjord adds, is to convince people that an AI is a human. That's the very goal of the Turing Test, a final exam of sorts which Selmer Bringsjord hopes to pass as part of a project with IBM called "Engineering Cognitively Robust Synthetic Characters."

But is the Turing Test a true test of a machine's "ability" to demonstrate intelligence?

One of the criticisms of this holy-grail of artificial intelligence is that if a machine can solve a problem that no human being could solve, it would – in principle – fail the Turing test. Alan Mathison Turing, the English logician who devised the test which bears his name, admitted as much. There are limits to the rate-of-speed calculations that humans can perform on-the-fly, and computers win these calculation races hands-down. But what would be really impressive, says Bringsjord, is if the machine took longer than was really necessary and appeared to be "humbled". After all, the speed of numerical calculation "is not at the heart of human intelligence".

Of Men and Machines

The history of science is filled with great men who loved their creations too much, and saw the dangers in them only too late. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and blasting caps, but was shamed into awarding the prize which bears his name after a French newspaper labeled him "the merchant of death". Albert Einstein urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to secure a supply of uranium ore for the United States, but later characterized his letter to the White House as his "greatest mistake". Fortunately, Selmer Bringsjord recognizes the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (AI). When asked if his work could lead humanity down a path which ends in the science fiction world of The Terminator, Bringsjord admitted that "it is a step in that direction".

In George Orwell's book 1984, the citizens of mythical super-state called Oceania are subjected to constant surveillance by an omnipotent figure called Big Brother. Although Orwell's dystopia did not come to pass, real-life moviegoers may remember another 1984 sci-fi event. In The Terminator, a computer system named Skynet dispatches a human-looking cyborg to kill John Connor, leader of the resistance against machines which have nearly destroyed all mankind. CR4 won't ruin the movie's plot, but it's interesting to note that the nuclear war which precipitated the rise of the machines occurred in 1997. Ten years later, in December of 2007, a real-life Department of Defense (DoD) report described the U.S. military's plans to develop a myriad of unmanned systems over the next 25 years.

A Dark Future Is Pretty Simple

As Selmer Bringsjord explains, "a dark future is pretty simple" if humanity keeps "giving destructive capabilities" to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the ones now used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Professor Bringsjord worries about a future where machines are "incentivized to kill", and told CR4's frankd20 and Moose that humanity needs "a form of mechanized ethics" before it's too late. Professor Bringsjord has written extensively on this subject, including an article for IEEE Intelligent Systems called "Towards a General Logicist Methodology for Engineering Ethically Correct Robots". In this article, Bringsjord argues these very points.

So what else did Selmer Bringsjord tell CR4 about logic, ethics, and artificial intelligence? Find out tomorrow in Part 4, the last article in this series.

Editor's Note: Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview ran last week. Part 4 is now on-line, too.

Steve Melito - The Y Files

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#1

Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

03/31/2008 10:20 AM

"Although Orwell's dystopia did not come to pass ..........."

Sure about that?

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#2
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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

03/31/2008 11:21 AM

It's certainly a topic for debate!

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#4
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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 10:52 AM

Shhh! Someone might be listening!

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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 11:17 AM

They may be listening, but do they know what to do with the data?

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#7
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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 1:02 PM

That's the scary part! In a typical engineering scenario, the issue is usually pretty straightforward. For example, in a process, is the temperature too high? Figure out how to lower it. Is the temperature too low? Figure out how to raise it. Obviously, the problem may be complex, but generally there is agreement on the nature of the problem, and discussion about the best solution.

However, in the scenario of someone listening, a la "1984," there may not be agreement on the definition of the problem, or even if there is a problem. Innocent remarks become sedition. Then the person(s) defining the problem also define the solution.

Therefore, I simply echo the words of mark Twain: "Patriotism is loving your country all the time -- and the government when it deserves it." And I say nothing more! ;-)

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#3

Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 10:36 AM

Brazil, a film by Terry Gilliam also came close to the truth, even in parody

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#6

Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 12:53 PM

Automatic responses to threat/attack scenarios have been with us since the beginning of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) treaties of the Cold War. Seismic sensing plus radiation detection assured an automatic launch of land based nuclear armed ICBMs if human intervention did NOToccur.

Now with the advent of video cameras installed nearly everywhere, coupled with facial recognition software, we have a more personal confrontation with AI zombies. In this scenario those deemed "hostile" could be targeted and assasinated by silent lasers in an automatic response to the percieved threat level posed by the individual. Human intervention is already implied in the programmed response.

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#8

Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/01/2008 9:26 PM

To All, For another perspective, please read "The Jigsaw Man" by Larry Niven, and other stories he wrote about the changes that happen in a society that monitors everyone.

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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/02/2008 11:52 AM

Larry Niven is one of my favorite authors and one who scares the living bejeebers out of me at times. I'm glad you reminded me to re-visit "The Jigsaw Man". Its been a few years since I read it last and its in my library somewhere. Thanks, Dragon.

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#10
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Re: Dumb Humans and Ruthless Machines (Part 3)

04/03/2008 12:00 AM

Dear Taejonkwando, Nice to speak to you again. Another good story of his is "The Warriors" an excellent tale about the dangers of a pacifist society. Most of his "Man-Kzin" wars series will keep you awake at night wondering if it is already too late to save humanity from itself.

Respectfully Dragon

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