Artificial intelligence getting very real

Marketplace Staff Nov 6, 2008

Artificial intelligence getting very real

Marketplace Staff Nov 6, 2008


Kai Ryssdal:
Football on your cell phone is good fun.
And maybe eventually it’ll be good business, too.
But the bigger point is that the speed of technology doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Practically soon as you buy a computer, or an iPod, or a smart phone it’s out of date.
Annoying if you’ve just shelled out a couple of hundred dollars or more.
But that rate of progress also takes us a step closer to a more fantastic technology AI, or artificial intelligence. Computers that act like people, really smart people
Richard Dooling explores how far we are from AI in our everyday lives in his book latest book “Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ.”
Richard welcome to the program.

Richard Dooling: Yes thanks.

Ryssdal: Explain the difference, would you, between really smart computers and actual artificial intelligence?

Dooling: Well, it depends who you talk to. I mean, the two schools of artificial intelligence are futurists and experts who believe in something called strong artificial intelligence, meaning the computer actually is a brain and will someday be capable of thought and speech. Contrast that with the weak AI people, they look at a box full of chips and memory circuits and say why would that ever do anything other than exactly what it is told to do.

Ryssdal: Yeah, but we’ve got a sort of weak AI already, right? If I log onto and go book shopping it’s going to tell me what I should like. I can practically pick a mate right, based on computers.

Dooling: Oh sure, and eHarmony, they pick your spouse and Netflix picks your movies. Pretty soon it doesn’t matter if the machine is smarter than you, you’ve been absorbed into the operating system as it were — the matrix. And now you’re just a part of it.

Ryssdal: But there is a functional difference between really smart machines and computers that think for themselves isn’t there?

Dooling: Yes, so far. We don’t know if computers are going to be able to think for themselves. And then, of course, you just start rehashing arguments about what does “think” mean and “What is consciousness?” that we’ve been struggling with since ancient Greece. So, in order to stay away from those kinds of arguments, a lot of people just look at the computer and say when will we be on the phone with a personality and be unable to tell, is it a computer? or is it a person? Or the easiest example of what is called the Turing Test is to just be texting two personalities, one is a human and one is a computer intelligence and be functionally unable to tell the difference between the two.

Ryssdal: Yeah, and the whole texting thing could conceivably be happening. When I log onto my computer, and get a hold of my, eh, I don’t know, this actually happened to me, my cable company. And it was easier for me at that point to be texting with them. It could easily have been some computer and doing customer support.

Dooling: Sure, they call them chatter bots, in fact. And it’s, as you can imagine, the longer we go, computers are doubling in power, speed, capacity every two years, according to Moore’s Law. And so, what you’re seeing now is going to be twice as good two years from now.

Ryssdal: Obviously, there are huge corporate uses for this. I mean, companies could make a whole lot of money if they could just get some really smart computers out there.

Dooling: Yes, but some people would argue that these derivatives that are causing all the problems on Wall Street, it’s a situation where only the computers are smart enough to understand how derivatives work, and how to trade them. And so we have, in effect, handed over our economic well being to computer trading services and look where it’s gotten us. The humans are on Capitol Hill just trying to figure it out right now. Maybe Warren Buffett is the only one that, Warren Buffett and the super computers are the only ones that really understand it.

Ryssdal: If Warren Buffett is in fact human, I mean you never know, right?

Dooling: Good point.

Ryssdal: The book by Richard Dooling is called “Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ.” Mr. Dooling thanks a lot for your time.

Dooling: Thank you Kai.

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