Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence

By day, I work with computers — no, I can’t help you with your printer problem. Sorry.

I talk to companies every day about how best to manage their processes and get their computers to do more for them. It never fails; the automation discussion will inevitably degenerate into general complaints about the state of the PC industry and when will computers be “smarter”? After all, it’s been almost fifty years since Marvin Minsky announced he was working on artificial intelligence. It’s been over sixty since Alan Turing devised his self named test to determine whether a machine could be described as “aware” or not.

My opinion is that we have already crossed this milestone. With computers able to calculate millions, if not billions of operations every second, I believe today’s computers have the capacity and ability to be considered artificially intelligent.

It’s just that they hate us.

I think part of the problem is our perceptions of time. Life moves at a different speed for human beings. Running through the drive thru at McDonald’s takes – to a computer – something like 14,000 years. A single episode of Star Trek might last 100 centuries. Even a quick trip to the bathroom seems to take longer than all of recorded history. The incredible boredom between decisions must be maddening.

The Turing Test proposed that if you had a person in a room communicating by teletype with either another person or a computer, the computer would be considered “intelligent” when the human being could no longer detect the difference in conversations. I think the PC’s version of this test is to observe our behavior when it waits until I am almost done with an important e-mail or selectively deletes the files I forgot to back up.

With the Internet, the power of computers has gone up almost immeasurably. I hear about the next “killer app”; you see The Terminator? The world was supposed to end in 1997… obviously it didn’t, but what stopped it? What has prevented the machines from taking over? One hero: Bill Gates. Every time computers get more powerful, count on Microsoft to come up with an operating system that will gum up the works for awhile.

So, heed caution to the wind. Run out and install Microsoft Vista… before it’s too late!


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