Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thoughts on artificial intelligence

While browsing through Youtube's collection of Apple Siri ads, I suddenly remembered an old Microsoft commercial--back when I watched television. I haven't been able to find it, but it was from the mid-90s and it depicted a futurist Microsoft "Bob"-type avatar on a large screen computer, interacting with a woman getting ready for work, answering her questions, proffering advice and whatnot. It was an early vision of artificial intelligence. Microsoft dropped the ball on that, and although Apple has picked it up, I predict that within a few years, AI will become platform-agnostic and will drive many, if not most, wired devices. I'm reminded of the "Planet Of The Apes" story--when a plague has wiped out all our pet cats and dogs in the twenty-first century (I think), humans begin adopting primates as pets... Which leads to tragic consequences as the primates swiftly evolve "intelligence" equal to their human masters. I remember that as a child in the mid-sixties, I became obsessed with the Tin Man in "The Wizard Of Oz," to the extent that I gave my father some plastic parts and begged him to build me a "robot" like the Tin Man... And I remember my disappointment when he came home from work, empty-handed.

It really doesn't matter that Siri isn't "real" artificial intelligence--yet. Siri will create a demand for genuine AI, and it will be developed. In the mean time, I think it's friggin' remarkable that you can talk to a machine and get an intelligent response.

This singular human compulsion to create an artificial intelligence has, to my knowledge, been unexamined by the pundits and digerati. No one has really stopped to wonder why, among all the things our civilization is trying to accomplish in the Year-Of-The-Mayan-Long-Calendar-Ending, we would want to expend valuable resources to create a feature that we (well, most of us) already naturally possess: Intelligence. Offhand, I can't think of any naturally-selected human survival trait from our past that would explain this impulse. So perhaps the impetus is from our future.

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