Superficial intelligence - the limits of A.I.

Last weekend, I listed all the letters I sent to the New Scientist magazine for the past three months. Although they weren't printed, I thought it would be nice for people to read the letters anyway, rather than leave them to sit, forgotten on a shelf (sort of). They aren't very long and I think they make some interesting points - one of them even includes a joke! - so it seemed worthwhile to blog them.
This weekend (5th Sept), out of the blue, the New Scientist have actually printed one of those letters, the 4th August letter entitled 'Superficial Intelligence'. This is what I wrote on the 4th August:

Dear New Scientist. In your Opinion page (issue 3032, 1st August 2015, pg22), Martin Rees states that biological brains will eventually be superseded by far superior, machine intelligences. This follows on from recent comments in the media by Stephen Hawking and others, warning of the dangers of runaway A.I. These are all surprising assertions, as digital computers, fundamentally, are no different from punch-card clocks. Also, A.I. and quantum computing have so far failed to live up to their initial hype; they're currently more Superficial Intelligence than Artificial Intelligence. How do Hawking and Rees think these automated sorters and calculators will reach such lofty goals? 

I'm pleased that the New Scientist magazine published it. They didn't publish the full letter; they removed the middle sentence, but it's still good to see it in the magazine. Thinking again on the topic, I would like to add a few more points. I did write a blog article in March, explaining the fundamental limitations of computers, and that does cover a lot, but here's three new points: Read More...

New Scientist rejected letters

So far this year, I've been writing regular letters to the New Scientist magazine. Up until May, they printed quite a few of them, on the subjects of alien contact, alien signals, VR headsets transforming public performances, killer robots, the accuracy of internet facts, home servers to create bitcoins and one or two others, which was great.
But since late May, they haven't printed any of my letters, which is odd, but there you go. Rather than leave the letters to moulder on a shelf, I thought I'd publish my last three months' worth of new scientist letters on my blog. Here they are, in chronological order:

'Fast food hit' (13th May)

Dear New Scientist. In your recent '60 seconds' column (issue 3020, 9th May 2015, pg7), you report that recent research shows that 'fructose appears to make our brains more responsive to images of food than glucose, and people who drink fructose-rich drinks are more likely to choose high-calorie foods over money prizes'. Since fructose, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, is a mainstay ingredient in fast food drinks, does this mean that fast food should be declared officially addictive? 

'Lovelace and Babbage' - graphic novel-ish review

A graphic novel-ish has come out recently that is fun, well-researched and beautifully drawn. It's called:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.


Clockwork minds

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the potential threat of A.I.; the danger that robots and artificial intelligences could become sentient, accelerate in intelligence and destroy humanity. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have all warned of this threat. Musk is even pledging millions of dollars to study and plan against this outcome. It seems pretty weird that these guys are talking about the threat of A.I. rather than climate change, whose existence is very, very well supported with evidence and which will become highly dangerous to humanity, but there you go.

How real is the threat of rogue A.I.'s? Can one really become sentient, accelerate in intelligence, form its own agenda and take over the world, destroying humanity in the process? Read More...