Machine Head

Namit Arora in a themed issue of Philosophy Now considers the complexity of consciousness and its implications for artificial intelligence.

But despite the big advances in computing, AI has fallen woefully short of its ambition and hype. Instead, we have ‘expert’ systems that process predetermined inputs in specific domains, perform pattern matching and database lookups, and algorithmically learn to adapt their outputs. Examples include chess software, search engines, speech recognition, industrial and service robots, and traffic and weather forecasting systems. Machines have done well with tasks that we ourselves can pursue algorithmically (ie, in a series of small specifiable steps) – as in searching for the word ‘ersatz’ in an essay, making cappuccino, or restacking books on a library shelf. But so much else that defines our intelligence remains well beyond machines – such as using our creativity and imagination to understand new contexts and their significance, or figuring out how and whynew sensory stimuli are relevant or not. Why is AI in such a brain-dead state? Is there any hope for it? Let’s take a closer look.