An Oddity of Artificial Intelligence

A lot of the nonsense talked about computers nowadays stems from their relative rarity and hence mystery. As computers and robots become more common, as common as telephones, washing machines, and forklift trucks, it seems likely that this aura will disappear and people will take computers for what they are, namely useful machines. In the meantime one has to try to avoid certain recurring mistakes that keep cropping up in . . . current discussions.

The first is the idea that somehow computer achievements pose some sort of threat or challenge to human beings. But the fact, for example, that a calcu- lator can outperform even the best mathematician is no more significant or threatening than the fact that a steam shovel can outperform the best human digger. (An oddity of artificial intelligence, by the way, is the slowness of the programmers in devising a program that can beat the very best chess players. From the point of view of games theory, chess is a trivial game since each side has perfect information about the other’s position and possible moves, and one had to assume that computer programs will soon be able to outperform any human chess player.)

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A second fallacy is the idea that there might be some special human experience beyond computer simulation because of its special humanity. We are sometimes told that computers couldn’t simulate feeling depressed or falling in love or having a sense of humor. But as far as simulation is con- cerned you can program your computer to print out “I am depressed,” “I love Sally,” or “Ha, ha,” as easily as you can program it to print out “3 � 3 � ” The real mistake is to suppose that simulation is duplication, and that mistake is the same regardless of what mental states we are talking about.

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