Intelligence is not Artificial

Why the Singularity is not Coming any Time Soon And Other Meditations on the Post-Human Condition and the Future of Intelligence

by piero scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")

Don't be Fooled by the Robot

The bar is being set very low for robotics too. Basically, any remote-controlled toy (as intelligent as the miniature trains that were popular in the 1960s) is now being hailed as a step toward the robot invasion. I always advise robotics fans to visit the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, that has a splendid collection of antique coin-operated automatic mechanical musical instruments... sorry, i meant "of robotic musicians", before they venture into a discussion about progress in robotics. These automata don't constitute what we normally call "intelligence".

Automata have entertained royalties and peasants for centuries: Ismail Al-Jazari's music ensemble of 1206, Leonardo DaVinci's knight of 1495, Juanelo Turriano's monk of 1560, Jacques de Vaucanson's duck of 1739, Pierre Jaquet-Droz's dolls of 1768-74, John Joseph Merlin's "Silver Swan" of 1773, Hubert Martinet's musical elephant of 1774, Henri Maillardet's draughtsman-writer of 1800, Joseph Faber's Euphonia of 1840... the list is endless.

Does driving a car qualify as a sign of "intelligence"? Maybe it does, but it has to be "really" what it means for humans. There is no car that has driven even one meter without help from humans. The real world is a world in which first you open the garage door, then you stop to pick up the newspaper, then you enter the street and you will stop if you see a pedestrian waiting to cross the street. No car has achieved this skill yet. They self-drive only in highly favorable conditions on well marked roads with well marked lanes and only on roads that the manufacturing company has mapped accurately (in other words, with a lot of help from humans). And i will let you imagine what happens if the battery dies or there's a software bug... What does the self-driving car do if it is about to enter a bridge when an earthquake causes the bridge to collapse? Presumably it will just drive on. What does the self-driving car do if it is stopping at a red light and a man with a gun breaks the window? Probably nothing: it's a red light. If you fall asleep in a self-driving car, your chances of dying will skyrocket. There are countless rules of thumb that a human driver employs all the time, and they are based on understanding what is going on. A set of sensors wrapped in a car's body does not understand anything about what is going on.

Human-looking automata that mimic human behavior have been built since ancient times and some of them could perform sophisticated movements. They were mechanical. Today we have electromechanical sophisticated toys that can do all sort of things. There is a (miniature) toy that looks like a robot riding a bicycle. Technically speaking, the whole toy is the "robot". Philosophically speaking, there is no robot riding a bicycle. The robot-like thing on top of the bicycle is redundant, it is there just for show: you can remove the android and put the same gears in the bicycle seat or in the bicycle pedals and the bike with no passenger would go around and balance itself the exact same way: the thing that rides the bicycle is not the thing on top of the bike (designed to trick the human eye) but the gear that can be placed anywhere on the bike. The toy is one piece: instead of one robot, you could put ten robots on top of each other, or no robot at all. Any modern toy store has toys that behave like robots doing some amazing thing (amazing for a robot, ordinary for a human). It doesn't require intelligence: just good engineering. This bike-riding toy never falls, even when it is not moving. It is designed to always stand vertical. Or, better, it falls when it runs out of battery. That's very old technology. If that's what we mean by "intelligent machines", then they have been around for a long time. We even have a machine that flies in the sky using that technology. Does that toy represent a quantum leap forward in intelligence? Of course, no. It is remotely controlled just like a television set. It never "learned" how to bike. It was designed to bike. And that's the only thing it can do. The only thing that is truly amazing in these toys is the miniaturization, not the "intelligence".

If you want this toy to do something else, you'll have to add more gears of a different kind, specialized in doing that other thing. Maybe it is possible (using existing technology or even very old mechanical technology) to build radio-controlled automata that have one million different gears to do every single thing that humans do and that all fit in a size comparable to my body's size. It would still be a toy.

A human being is NOT a toy (yet).

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