“Artificial Intelligence has been brain-dead since the 1970s.” This rather ostentatious remark made by Marvin Minsky co-founder of the world-famous MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, was referring to the fact that researchers have been primarily concerned on small facets of machine intelligence as opposed to looking at the problem as a whole. This article examines the contemporary issues of artificial intelligence (AI) looking at the current status of the AI field together with potent arguments provided by leading experts to illustrate whether AI is an impossible concept to obtain.
Because of the scope and ambition, artificial intelligence defies simple definition. Initially AI was defined as “the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men”. This somewhat meaningless definition shows how AI is still a young discipline and similar early definitions have been shaped by technological and theoretical progress made in the subject. So for the time being, a good general definition that illustrates the future challenges in the AI field was made by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) clarifying that AI is the “scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behaviour and their embodiment in machines”.
The term “artificial intelligence” was first coined by John McCarthy at a Conference at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in 1956, but the concept of machine intelligence is in fact much older. In ancient Greek mythology the smith-god, Hephaestus, is credited with making Talos, a “bull-headed” bronze man who guarded Crete for King Minos by patrolling the island terrifying off impostors. Similarly in the 13th century mechanical talking heads were said to have been created to scare intruders, with Albert the Great and Roger Bacon reputedly among the owners. However, it is only in the last 50 years that AI has really begun to pervade popular culture. Our fascination with “thinking machines” is obvious, but has been wrongfully distorted by the science-fiction connotations seen in literature, film and television.
In reality the AI field is far from creating the sentient beings seen in the media, yet this does not imply that successful progress has not been made. AI has been a rich branch of research for 50 years and many famed theorists have contributed to the field, but one computer pioneer that has shared his thoughts at the beginning and still remains timely in both his assessment and arguments is British mathematician Alan Turing. In the 1950s Turing published a paper called Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he proposed an empirical test that identifies an intelligent behaviour “when there is no discernible difference between the conversation generated by the machine and that of an intelligent person.” The Turing test measures the performance of an allegedly intelligent machine against that of a human being and is arguably one of the best evaluation experiments at this present time. The Turing test, also referred to as the “imitation game” is carried out by having a knowledgeable human interrogator engage in a natural language conversation with two other participants, one a human the other the “intelligent” machine communicating entirely with textual messages. If the judge cannot reliably identify which is which, it is said that the machine has passed and is therefore intelligent. Although the test has a number of justifiable criticisms such as not being able to test perceptual skills or manual dexterity it is a great accomplishment that the machine can converse like a human and can cause a human to subjectively evaluate it as humanly intelligent by conversation alone.