Philip Ball’s Delusion about the AI Delusion.

Philip Ball has written an essay in the Prospect on The AI delusion: why humans trump machines and has an accompanying podcast.  The subtitle of his essay is “Artificial intelligence may never match the brain”. The essay reviews three recent books, two on AI and one on consciousness. Melanie Mitchell’s book is an overview of AI and points out the limitations of current “narrow AI” systems. Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis criticize AI  for its lack of common sense reasoning, and are have any obvious bias towards symbolic methods that Davis has done research in. They are both absolutely correct that “human-level” intelligence is “really, really far away.” and that the dangers of AI are not about Skynet-style robot takeovers but unthinking applications of inadequate systems. This is the warning against the AI delusion.

Both books therefore believe that we need to make systems that think more like humans. Ball seems to think this also is a delusion. In the review essay, his argument seems to be linked to the third book under review, Christof Koch’s book on consciousness. Apparently, Ball believes that for a machine to “really think like humans”, it needs to be conscious! In the podcast, the argument seems to be that AI systems are “just computations” whereas, presumably, humans possess something  more – a “divine spark”?

These are Philip Ball’s delusions about AI. First, the all too common confusion of intelligence with consciousness. There is really no commonly agreed definition of what consciousness itself is (as Koch admits in his book) and there is no concrete connection between consciousness and intelligence.

Second, that intelligence needs something more than “just computation”. The more one understands the biological systems underlying living organisms, the more we see that they are information processing machines. A striking example is Nick Lane’s book The Vital Question where we can vividly see molecular machines ticking along. As Richard Dawkins put it: “If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.”

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