Intelligence is a very difficult concept to define let alone reproduce. We know it when we see it, even in animals but what it is exactly has eluded philosophers and scientists for millennia? Human intelligence is the biggest mystery of all? How is it that humans are capable of advanced mathematics, Quantum Physics or memorizing Pi to 22,500 places? Even the infinitely malleable Darwinian explanation, which can bludgeon anything into the Natural Selection straight jacket, which simultaneously explains everything and nothing, is no longer taken seriously as the explanation for the rise of human intelligence by a growing cohort within the field of Cognitive Sciences.
Artificial intelligence is an attempt to reproduce this undefinable quality of “intelligence” in machines. In 1958 Walter Cronkite narrated a “Twentieth Century” television documentary about computers and artificial intelligence. Computer technology was in its early stages and capabilities were limited but the program assured the audience that “intelligent computers” capable of thought were just around the corner and within a few years would be part of everyday life and that thinking machines would soon be relieving humans of all sorts of mundane tasks. In 1968 Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey” included the character “HAL 9000,” a sentient computer which was not only capable of thought; HAL even became afflicted with mental illness caused by moral qualms. In 1969 an IBM hardware engineering executive assured me that IBM could “build HAL today” if the government would just put up the money. Such claims have continued to be made regularly for the past fifty years and the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has developed from the efforts to actually build these thinking machines. Unfortunately despite high hopes and almost daily predictions of breakthroughs AI seems even more distant now than it did in 1958. In the 1960’s it was concluded that progress in AI was not being made because the “right questions” were not being asked. In the 1980’s it was concluded that “the right questions were not being asked because the questions were not being framed properly.” In the 1990’s until now it is acknowledged that we do not even know how to frame the questions, let alone ask the right questions.
As a former enthusiast of AI, the vision I had of the future filled with intelligent machines in no way matches today’s reality. Instead of the highly intelligent Star Ship Enterprise type computers that relieved the ships crew of loads of tiresome chores, I find that computers have instead loaded us with more tiresome chores. For example clerical work: for many years I had secretaries that did my typing, filing, phone answering and much more work that I must now do for myself because computers make it possible. The work once done by bank tellers, the banks are now trying hard to force the customer to do for themselves. Even the grocery stores are trying to force patrons to be their own checkers and box boys. This doesn’t even include the deluge of email we all deal with daily.
However this rather lack luster reality has not dulled continued predictions of a rosy future filled with smart machines doing all sorts of wonderful things. The reason for this continued optimism about the creation of thinking machines comes from the belief by theorists in the field that intelligence is a “computational” activity. This line of reasoning is simple - computers can compute therefore computers should be able to think. The Materialist philosophy behind this AI assumption is that intelligence is just a by product of the brain’s chemistry and physics: therefore intelligence should be reproducible in machines. Unfortunately years of failure and dead ends in AI are now leading some in the field to question these Reductionist, Materialist beliefs about intelligence. Intelligence seems to be more then just brain chemistry and physics. But what is it?
If intelligence is not a matter of brain physics and chemistry, it then must originate in a non-material realm. This of course is arguably Plato’s greatest conjecture, that consciousness and intellect originates in the mind of God and we in effect “think God’s thoughts after Him” to quote Albert Einstein. This of course is not difficult for Christians and Jews to accept because it is totally consistent with our beliefs.
Contributing Source: “The Revolution Will Not Be Roboticised” by Nic Fleming, NewScientist, August 29, 2009, pp 28-29.