The term Artificial Intelligence (AI), which traces its roots to the milestone Dartmouth’s historic conference, is quite a bit of an afterthought by the then thought-leaders of the time, with an emphasis on artificiality. It, in essence, defines the true nature of AI as a fake intelligence that simulates human intelligence. But we seem to often forget that.
Those commonly known as “vegetarian chicken” or “vegetarian duck” are soy products, generally classified under the category of “artificial protein”. The gap between “artificial proteins” and “animal proteins” is very comparable to that between “artificial intelligence” and “human intelligence”. Every vegetarian eating “vegetarian chicken” knows clearly that it is fake meat so they feel comfortable enjoying it with its great taste. In contrast, almost all media and the majority of users of AI products today rarely regard the nature of AI as fake intelligence. That is quite a surprise to me.
I don’t know if it’s just tabloid hype or it’s true. But the impression is fairly clear that those popular AI stars more and more often act like god. They seem to love to use super big words and philosophical metaphors which lead the mass to the belief of an equal sign between AI and human I. I don’t think it is so much a sense of mission as a sense of superiority and ego, and they just feel too good about themselves in mastering some magic of AI algorithms. It occurs to me that if you act like God, talk like God, over time you will believe you are God. In times of AI bubbles, people buy that; more importantly, media love that, and investors are willing to pay high.
My entire career has been engaged in “natural language understanding” (NLU), with a focus on “parsing”, which was for a long time widely accepted as the key to language understanding, the crown of artificial intelligence as some experts put it. As practitioners in developing industrial products, we know all these AI terms such as language understanding, machine learning, neural networks, plus AI itself, are just analogy or metaphors. AI models are just simulations, mechanical programs attempting to mimic intelligent tasks. But that is apparently not what has been depicted by media’s efforts for “AI marketing”, nor is it educated by the few AI stars at the spotlight. The public opinions or even decision-makers, shaped or influenced by such media, run more and more towards the opposite. So it might be high time to air a different voice and re-uncover the true nature. Artificial intelligence is fake intelligence by its very nature, filled with “artful deception”, as pointed out by Pierce in the AI history. His criticism has never been out of time. In fact, there is never a time with this much “artful deception” built into products such as intelligent assistants, so artful that we start getting used to it for the convenience.
What is “understanding”? Strictly speaking, the computer has zero intelligence except for its mechanical computation and memorization. Natural language understanding has always been a metaphor by convention, that is why the Turing test was purposely designed to define “artificial intelligence” by bypassing “understanding”. This is by no means to deny the breakthrough in recent years in the functional success stories of AI applications such as speech processing, image recognition, and machine translation.
We all have had personal life experiences when we were amazed at some functions performed by a non-human. As a child, I was amazed for quite some time that the radio could “talk”, how “intelligent” this box called radio was. My mother had been confined to a remote rural area in her childhood, and when she went to a middle school in the nearby town, she had a chance to see an automobile running on the road for the first time. She ran away in awe and years later described to me the shock at the time when a non-human machine was running so fast. That is beyond intelligent to her mind. We all had those first times of “intelligence” shock, the first time we had access to a calculator when I was a middle school kid, the first time we walked through an automatic door, the first time we went to the bathroom which automatically flushed the toilet, not to mention the first time we used GPS. All those fake intelligence behaviors look so true and superior to our modest being when we are first exposed to them. But now such “intelligence-like behavior” is all out, we all accept that it is non-I. By human nature, we tend to over-read the meaning when we do not understand something. We are shocked to see any “automatic” behavior or response from a non-human, regardless of whether the mechanism behind is simple or an algorithm with complexity. Such shock is easy to amplify, and it’s hard not to be fooled by wonders if we don’t understand the mechanisms and principles behind, which happens a lot around the media talks about AI. In recent years, the media and industry are never tired of “man-machine competitions”, in games and knowledge showoffs, in order to demonstrate that now AI beats human. Sometimes in my dreams, I have been haunted by similar images of human weight lifting champions challenging a crane to see who could lift the ton of steel with a single swipe.
In recent years, some celebrity CEOs in industry and legendary figures in the science community have seriously begun to talk about the problem of the emotional machines and the threat from machines equipped with super-human AI. It is often far fetched, citing functional AI success as autonomous intelligence or emotions. I would not be surprised when the topic is taken one step further to start discussing the next world problem as recreating hormones and reproductive systems in machines. Why not? Machines are believed to develop a neural network to become this powerful, it is a natural course to be reproductive and even someday marry humans for the man-machine hybrid kind. Science fiction and reality tend to get mingled all in a mass too easily today.
Nowadays, artificial intelligence is just like a sexy modal attracting all the eyeballs. Talking to an old AI scholar the other day, he pointed out that AI is, in fact, a sad subject. A significant feature of AI is to temporarily hold things whose mechanisms are not yet clear. Once the mechanisms are clear, it often becomes “non-artificial intelligence” and develops into a specialized discipline on its own. The plane is up in the air, the submarine is under the water, deployed everywhere in our land for decades. Do people who design airplanes and submarines call themselves artificial intelligence researchers? No, they are experts of aerodynamics, fluid dynamics, and have little to do with AI. Autonomous driving today is still under the banner of AI, but it has less and less to do with AI as time moves on. Aircraft has long been self-driving for the most part, no one considered that artificial intelligence, right? Artificial intelligence is not a science that can hold a lot of branches on its own. The knowledge that really belongs to artificial intelligence is actually a very small circle, just like the part that really belongs to human intelligence is also a very small circle, both of which are much smaller than what we anticipated before. What is the unchangeable part of AI then? We might as well return to some original formulations by the forefathers of AI, one being a “general problem solver” (Simon 1959).
(Courtesy of youdao-MT for the first draft translation of my recent Chinese blog, without which I would not have the energy and time in its translation and rewriting here.)
My original Chinese blog on this topic:
Other English blogs