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Cybernetics and A.I.


Whenever I think of Artificial Intelligence there’re 3 movies that immediately pop into my head: “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “the Terminator series”, and “I, Robot”. Although these three movies are merely Hollywood interpretations of potential human interaction’s with AI, they are all successful in demonstrating the power (and the potential or inevitable threat) that comes with the development of machines that have superior processing capabilities than that of humans. The question is then, what happens when AI is taken out of science fiction books and movies and brought into the real world?

Although there has been tremendous progress in the field of PC “thinking” capabilities, we’re very far from witnessing a machine that has a superior thinking capacity than humans, or are we? In 2011, IBM’s Watson supercomputer successfully beat two Jeopardy defending champions at their own game. However, it’s important to point out that Watson was specifically built and designed to respond to Jeopardy type questions, and consisted of a 4 terabyte memory hard drive filled with information, and even the entire Wikipedia library.

The Turing Test

The Turing Test

What you observed in the video above is a demonstration of the evolution of  Alan Turing’s 1950 Turing Test. The test consists of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior that is equivalent to, or indistinguishable from that of an actual human. In his classic paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Turing considers the question, “can machines think?” and in doing so he proposes the ‘imitation game’. The game consists of 3 players: (A) a man, (B) a woman, and (C) an interrogator (who can be of either sex), and the purpose of the game is for the interrogator to guess the sex of each player upon the answers given to the interrogators questions. As interesting as this test might be, Turing takes the test further by asking, “what will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?” Given Turing’s paper on the matter and the imitation game, Duke University professor N. Katherine Hayles suggests that: 

The interrogators job is to pose questions that can distinguish verbal performance from embodied reality. Therefore, if he/she cannot tell the intelligent machine from the intelligent human, the failure proves, that machines can think.

Alan Turning’s idea of a machine’s ability to think and successfully interact with humans has led to the idea of cybernetics (definition) as “the branch of science concerned with control systems in electronic and mechanical devices and the extent to which useful comparisons can be made between man-made and biological systems”. These useful comparisons are explored in the field of computer science, which focuses on the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications. However, within the field of computer science, Artificial Intelligence is an even more specific scientific branch in regards to “comparisons between man-made and biological systems”, since AI deals with the growing concerns of machines as having (near) human thinking capabilities. 

Apple’s Siri 



Since the 1950’s and the Turing Test, technology has come a long way, and we now find many “human like” applications which we interact with on a daily basis. Take for example Apple’s 2011 innovative iPhone software application, Siri. Siri is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator, which means it’s not only able to schedule appointments, make phone calls, update status’s on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s also a device that can access a large networked database of information (the Internet), as well as utilize Apple proprietary applications, to facilitate information search.

If we take a look at the Apple website, there’s a ton of information about Siri’s capabilities and how she/it was created to facilitate our day-to-day lives. However, not only does Siri allow users to verbally command their phone to perform specific tasks, like sending an email or searching for information on a specific topic, but as Apple puts it, Siri is able to adapt to the user’s individual preferences over time and personalizes results. Furthermore, Apple has gone as far as to claim that Siri also “understands what you say, and knows what you mean”. Although this is most certainly an overstatement…

… the genius of Siri is [that it] combines the new type of information bot with the old type of human-helper bot. [Therefore], instead of patterning Siri on a humanoid body, Apple used a human archetype — the secretary or assistant. To do so, Apple gave Siri a voice and a set of skills that seem designed to make everyone feel like Don Draper. Siri listens to you and does what you say. “Take this down, Siri… Remind me to buy Helena flowers!” And if early reviews are any indication, the disembodied robot could be the next big thing in how we interact with our computers.

(Alexis C. Madrigal “Siri: the perfect robot of our time”)

The Future? 

Google's secret AI project

Google’s secret AI project

Although the future and potential of AI is unimaginable, Discovery.com journalist Bambi Turner lists 10 ways in which AI is affecting our lives and will affect our lives in the future (link); and among these one of the most impressive and of most commercial value is driverless transportation. Imagine cars that warn you of potential obstacles in order to help you avoid accidents, or cars that automatically sense obstacles and do the stopping or slowing down for you. Incredibly, automobile manufactures like Mercedes Benz and Lexus are already relying on this technology in order to facilitate parking, obstacle detection, and accident avoidance. Furthermore, in December of 2010 The New York Times reported that Google had  begun a [not so] secret project that consisted of using AI software that sensed anything near the car and mimicked the decisions made by human drivers. With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes wrong and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. Although this might be a great start, especially for Google who is trying to expand their markets, the Google researchers said that the company [unfortunately] did not yet have a clear plan to create a business out of these experiments. The question is, are we ready to be a part of a never ending Turing Test?

Getting ready for the Turing Test

Getting ready for the Turing Test

For an interesting (and rather humorous) way to look at robotics and AI in the years to come, check out this video (NSFW).



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