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The Trouble with Gerrold: Artificial stupidity



David Gerrold
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April 6, 2012 —  (Page 1 of 3)
Recently, I got sucked into a discussion of sentience and whether or not such a condition could be achieved in silicon. I said I wasn’t sure it had been achieved yet in meat. But I do remain optimistic that it’s possible.

The problem with creating sentience in silicon—or meat—is that first we need to understand the goal. We’re talking about rational self-awareness. Calling it “artificial intelligence” is woefully inaccurate. We have plenty of evidence that machines can be programmed to behave intelligently, but that is not the same as self-awareness, and outside of the specific domain it has been programmed for, the machine is simply dumb.

I dislike the term “artificial intelligence.” It’s imprecise. It presumes that there is such a thing as “genuine intelligence.” Cynical observers of human behavior have justifiable reason to doubt this. Indeed, the single most compelling piece of evidence that there is intelligent life in the universe lies in the fact that they have not contacted anyone on this planet.

The problem with discussing “sentience” is the same problem that occurs with discussing “intelligence.” As soon as a person understands the concept, he also assumes it applies to himself. But the evidence of online participation—Facebook, website comment threads, various discussion forums—is that half of the human race is of below-average intelligence. The half that is above average may very well be too smart to participate in Facebook, website comment threads, or various discussion forums.

I’m fussy about language. It’s the only tool we have. In practice, this shows up as a persnickety obsession with precision. Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

But more than that, I think language processing is where intelligence, and ultimately sentience, occurs. Certainly it is how both of these conditions are expressed. Language exists as a set of symbols that can be manipulated, much like Lego bricks, for the construction of astonishingly complex domains.

Even more pernicious, we can move so enthusiastically into those linguistic domains that we forget that we created them ourselves. We become captured by our language, trapped into perceiving the world a certain way because of the words we use to define and explain it. We assign explanations and then believe in the explanations. Muslims are terrorists. Gays are flamboyant. Blacks are dangerous. Women are manipulative. Asians are smart. Liberals are socialists. Rich people are greedy. We lock ourselves into our own prejudices. Instead of owning our language, it owns us.


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Comments


04/09/2012 03:33:05 PM EST

I have long espoused the need for 'Artifical Stupidity'. The applications for A.S. are both immediate and highly productive. Consider the need to thoroughly test and indemnify a new product. Using advanced A.S., all of the stupid, illogical, dangerous, ill-considered, and just flat wrong ways can be found and executed. What about applying A.S. to every newly proposed legislation, regulation, or bill, as a way to discover effects of 'The Law of Unintended Consequences'. Carter Shore

United StatesCarter Shore


04/10/2012 09:34:08 PM EST

Personally I think it is OK for people to enjoy themselves on sites such as Facebook and other fun sites. It does not mean that they are of low intelligence. I have been developing software for over 20+ years, I know about 13 or so software languages and do this professionally. I also enjoy Facebook, for it gives me a chance to speak with my relatives around the country who are all very intelligent and who work in all facets of this life, and get to know people from around the world. Everyone is entitled to ones own opinion, but I do not agree with name calling or judging. I thought that when I was going to read this article it would be an interesting article like I would find on Tedtalk. I have been studying the art of artificial intelligence for years and admire how far the technology has come. I guess you could say that I agree to disagree with most of what was stated in this article.

United StatesChristopher


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