Poor Artificial Intelligence: little known and little liked

 I have the sad honor of working in AI, a domain that is frowned upon by many remarkable people. We are dealing with two main categories of opponents. I have already spoken of the first ones, such as Stephen Hawking, who think that AI is potentially very dangerous: the emergence of super-intelligent artificial beings will lead to the extinction of the human species. On the contrary, for others it is impossible to create artificial beings more intelligent than ourselves. A recent interview shows that Gérard Berry belongs to this last category.

Gérard Berry is a computer scientist who has made outstanding works, deservedly recognized by the scientific community: he is a member of the Académie des Sciences, professor at the Collège de France, and he has received the CNRS gold medal, France’s most prestigious scientific distinction, the second time it honored a computer scientist. For me, AI is not a part of computer science, but both are very close: computer is an essential tool for implementing our ideas. Therefore, when a top-level computer scientist criticizes AI, this must be taken very seriously.

AI occupies only a small part of this interview, but he is not mincing his words in these few sentences. Here are two excerpts:

“I was never disappointed by Artificial Intelligence because I did not even believe for a second in Artificial Intelligence. Never.”

“Fundamentally, man and computer are the most different opposites that exist. Man is slow, not particularly rigorous, and highly intuitive. Computer is super-fast, very rigorous, and an absolute ass-hole.”

Firstly, I will consider three points mentioned in this interview, where I agree with him:

Intuition is certainly an essential characteristic of human intelligence. In a recent blog, I have looked at how AI systems could also have this capacity.

Chess programs are a splendid realization, but their intelligence is mainly the intelligence of their developers. They used the combinatorial aspects of this game, enormous for human beings, but manageable by fast computers. It would have been much more interesting to speak of another outstanding IBM achievement: Watson, an intuitive system, won again the best human players for the game Jeopardy!

For the present time, AI byproducts are the most useful results of our discipline: they allowed to discover important concepts in computer science.

Let us talk about our disagreements. Up to now, nobody has proven that man could have an intellectual activity that no artificial being could ever have. As long as we are in this situation, we must assume that all our activities can be mechanized. Then, we are in a win-win situation. If we show that we are wrong, a significant progress would be made by a reduction ad absurdum argument. On the contrary, if we are right, we will create very helpful artificial beings, which will not be restrained by our intellectual limits.

The main argument that appears in this interview is that computers are absolutely stupid. I am way back in 1960! At that time, many people already wanted to show the impossibility of intelligent artificial beings. Their argument was: computers only do what they are told to do. Naturally, this is true, but this proves nothing: the problem is to write programs, and to gather data, so that the computer will behave intelligently. One can develop programs that do other things than running as fast as possible on their data. Programs can analyze the description of a problem, and then write and execute efficient programs well adapted to a particular problem and its data. Moreover, in a bootstrap, the existing system works with its author for creating an improvement of the system itself. Computer users strongly believe in the usefulness of bootstrap: without computers, it would have been impossible to design the current computers! Hawking’s extraordinary intuition had seen the efficiency of bootstrapping AI; this is why he was afraid of its future.

If one has never proven that man can do something that no computer could ever do, many things can be done by a computer while no human being could ever do them. For instance, our reflexive consciousness is very limited: most of the processes in our brain are unconscious. On the contrary, it is possible to realize a computer system that can observe any of its processes if it wants to; moreover, it can have access to all of its data. As consciousness is an essential part of intelligence, this will have tremendous consequences. Unfortunately, we are not yet able to make full use of this capacity because man’s consciousness is too limited for being a useful model.

AI is probably the only scientific domain with so many staunch opponents, although they do not know it. This is not surprising: man has always rejected what would remove him from the center of the world. We all know the difficulties encountered by those who said that the earth revolved around the sun, or that apes were our cousins. Naturally, the idea that artificial beings could be more intelligent than ourselves is particularly unpleasant for the most intelligent among us. Less intelligent people are used to live with beings more intelligent than themselves, but geniuses are not. Of course, some of them are strongly against AI.

I believe in the possible existence of artificial beings much more intelligent than ourselves. On the other hand, I am not sure that we are intelligent enough to achieve this goal. We need help, and for this reason, since many years, I am trying to bootstrap AI: as of now, my colleague CAIA, an Artificial Artificial Intelligence Researcher, gives me a substantial assistance for its own realization. AI is probably the most difficult task ever undertook by mankind: it is no wonder that progress is very slow.

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