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Real AI? Don't be fooled

By Graham Preston - posted Thursday, 14 December 2017

Some would say that AI – artificial intelligence - already exists. Many others believe that it is only a matter of time before it is achieved.

Don't be fooled.

Real AI will not be achieved. Ever.


Some very impressive computers/robots are already on show. And there is no doubt that far, far more impressive things are still to come; perhaps sooner than later. These things will give overwhelmingly compelling impressions that they are genuinely intelligent entities.

Many people, if not almost everyone, will be persuaded on the basis of this seemingly incontrovertible evidence in front of their eyes that it is true: real artificial intelligence will have been achieved. I don't doubt that I too will most likely be strongly tempted to agree.

However, don't believe it. No matter how convincing it may seem to be, apparently real artificial intelligence will essentially be just a very, very clever illusion or trick.

How can I be certain that that is so?

Think about it. A hole is to be dug. A person takes a spade and makes the hole. Who or what has dug the hole? While it is true that it is the spade that contacts the soil, it is the person that has dug the hole. The spade is just an unconscious tool used to carry out the person's intentions. If a larger hole was needed a back-hoe may have been used but it would still have been the person who dug the hole with the back-hoe being the tool.

A person uses an abacus to work out a maths calculation. Who or what does the calculating – the person or the abacus? Even though the beads on the abacus display the right answer in no sense does the abacus do the calculating. It is just an instrument used by the human operator.


Is it any different when more complex machines such as calculators are used? Despite their name, no, these machines do not "calculate". The machines themselves do not think. Just as the beads on the abacus are manipulated by a human operator, this time the manipulating is done electronically but still in accord with a programme written by human beings.

Computers are much more complex still but the same principle remains. In response to input things happen in a computer in accordance with the programme and output occurs. It appears that computation has been carried out by the machine but it is appearance only. The computation has been carried out by people – the operator providing the input which works with the human-designed programme.

If a computer output shows a wrong result we know the mistake was made by one or more of the following - the human operator, the human programmer, or the human hardware manufacturer. We do not blame the mistake on the computer's "thought processes". (Curiously though when a computer appears to get it "right" such as when for the first time a computer, Deep Blue, "defeated" world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997 people are much readier to credit the computer with the ability to think.)

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About the Author

Graham Preston is an illustrator and a student of life.

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