Jun 27, 2005

Artificial Intelligence : A few observations

"A computer can only do what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do." - Greer's Third Law

Artificial Intelligence - The term has been so widely used, overused and hyped about in pop culture that we think of it as something that has already arrived. But has Artificial Intelligence (AI) really come of age yet?

To define AI, we should first define intelligence itself. Intelligence is normally conceived to be the ability of an entity to be aware of itself, to think and to reason, to undergo experiences of varying nature, and to learn from them in order to make a choice among the varying alternatives it has before itself.

"The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim." - Edsgar W. Dijkstra (1930-2002)

Thinking comes to us (well, most of us!) naturally. Getting a machine to think is a different ball game altogether. It involves a lot more than pre-conditioned and pre-programmed responses to anticipated situations. It is much more complicated than adding 2 and 2 to get 4.

Yes, I know. You are thinking about how the computer Deep Blue beat World Champion Gary Kasparov some years back. The press declared that the age of the intelligent machines had come. But was Deep Blue really intelligent? It was only a computer, doing what it had been programmed to do- play chess. And it did play very well too. But it was not thinking as Kasparov was. For every possible move, the computer was doing a trial-and-error computation analysis. Simply using the most potent weapon in its arsenal - brute force calculation.

Kasparov, on the other hand, was thinking strategically and forming and discarding options as the game progressed. He didn't have the luxury of trial-and-error; the human brain is simply not designed that way. The machine was not worried about making a blunder; Kasparov was. The machine did not have to think about what it would do to win the next match; Kasparov had to. So, really, it was not a close match by any means. The result was only inevitable.

It does not mean that AI is not here yet. Some dictation software packages can actually 'listen' to what the user says. The accuracy level increases with practice, as the program 'learns' the speaker's voice pattern. Anti-virus software programs using 'heuristics' technology can stop viruses that have not been yet created, which is impossible using conventional packages that can only identify and stop already known viruses. But even then, they do not meet all the criteria that intelligence demands and cannot be termed really intelligent.

Anybody can program a computer to do a task. But a system can be said to possess Artificial Intelligence only if it can transcend its programming and perform tasks that it had not been instructed to perform, tasks which it had learnt on its own. It is a formidable task. And we can only wish the brave men and women working hard to push the limits of computer science and technology the very best in their endeavours. Maybe we may see AI in our own lifetime. The future holds promise.

You can visit these sites for more information on AI:
American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)
What is Artificial Intelligence?
The AI Depot

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