Scientific people have always enjoyed the thought of artificial intelligence–of a machine being able to think and act on its own. It’s a popular theme for novels and movies too. And who of us wouldn’t love to have a personal robot to anticipate our needs and take care of them? I even remember a production from the local planetarium about computers worldwide that networked and synergized their data. At the end of the production this networked computer system commanded, “Let there be light!” and a new universe was born.
Artificial intelligence has as many definitions as people defining it. For some it is only a matter of a machine being able to analyze data and then take an appropriate action. But I think for most, it means that a machine can actually think, can learn, can create, can come up with original ideas–that it can act like a person and be indistinguishable from a human being in its actions and thoughts.
If artificial intelligence is only a machine or a system acting on its own, then a lawn sprinkler system that has a moisture meter to know if it has rained or not would be artificial intelligence. If it has rained, the sprinklers will not come on until the sensor dries out. But this system has been programmed to act that way, and the only reason it won’t act that way is if it malfunctions. In no way is that intelligent. The system is not thinking at all. It is doing what it has been programmed to do and has no other choice.
I maintain that the more popular definition of artificial intelligence–that a machine or system can think, decide, and create–is impossible.
First, a definition of intelligence that I think most people would agree with: Intelligence is the ability to learn; to have experiences that teach what works and what doesn’t. Then to take that learning and do something worthwhile with it.
To truly learn something, a machine would need emotions. People need emotions to learn too, and since we have them there is no end to what we can learn or what we can do with our knowledge. Higher animals also have emotions and are able to learn. The less intelligent an organism is, the more instinctual it is, meaning it does things because it doesn’t have a choice–because it is less intelligent. Lower organisms like bacteria do not have emotions at all, as far as we know, and they act more like machines that have been programmed than like living organisms. They don’t act as if they have a choice. They simply do what their genetic programming makes them do.
Machines do not have emotions and are incapable of having them. A person can program a machine to act as if it has emotions, but obviously it doesn’t really have them. A machine can be programmed to search the Internet, watch television and listen to radio broadcasting, read books and magazines, and listen to people speak. It can amass huge amounts of data and it can analyze those data and act. But only as it has been programmed to act. It has lots of data but it doesn’t care about them. It couldn’t care less if all those data sat on its hard drive and nothing ever became of them. It couldn’t care less if someone came along and erased all those data. It wouldn’t feel bad for a week because all that hard work had come to naught. So any machine or system that has to be programmed to act because it doesn’t care about acting otherwise, even thought it can be and do amazing things, is no more intelligent than a lawn sprinkler system with a moisture meter to indicate whether the sprinklers should run or not. And even though all the “knowledge” on earth can be stored on computers, and computers can be networked together to maximize their power, that will never create a God who can create a new universe.
We people learn because of emotions. We want things. We need things. People have only one instinct: self-preservation. We learn things to keep ourselves alive and comfortable. We sometimes learn because of embarrassment or disappointment. We get excited about things and want to know everything about them. I have talked to 5-year-old children who knew more about dinosaurs than I will ever know or care to know.
I saw a Nova program on PBS about separating conjoined twins. One of the twins had a tracheotomy, and therefore had no voice. But she quickly learned to pull her sister’s hair so that her sister did the crying for both of them. She also, later, learned to cover her throat with her hand so that breath passed through her vocal cords. Each time she vocalized in this way she smiled, pleased with her ability to learn something and act intelligently.
People are authentically intelligent because they can and do learn new things on their own, and then figure out how to put their knowledge to use to preserve themselves, then to help others, then to try to make the whole human experience on Earth better. There is certainly a place among us for machines that can analyze data and act as they have been programmed, but that is the extent of their worth.
Companies, parents, and governments should value people because they are people. Machines will never replace people. Treating people as extensions of technology will never lead to success. Letting people use their intelligence and technology to do amazing things will lead to outrageous success.
It is very good to be a thinking, creating, choosing, feeling, remembering, self-actualizing, improving person. Nothing pleases me more than that I am a person.
by Weldon Smith