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Bill Dembski: Descartes (1596—1650) could tell you why “smart machines” are stalled

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From design theorist William Dembski at Mind Matters Today:

The computational literature on No Free Lunch theorems and Conservation of Information (see the work of David Wolpert and Bill Macready on the former as well as that of Robert J. Marks and myself on the latter) imply that all problem-solving algorithms, including such a master algorithm, must be adapted to specific problems. Yet a master algorithm must also be perfectly general, transforming AI into a universal problem solver. The No Free Lunch theorem and Conservation of Information demonstrate that such universal problem solvers do not exist.

Yet what algorithms can’t do, humans can. True intelligence, as exhibited by humans, is a general faculty for taking wide-ranging, diverse abilities for solving specific problems and matching them to the actual and multifarious problems that arise in practice. Such a distinction between true intelligence and machine intelligence is nothing new. Descartes and Leibniz understood it in the seventeenth century. Descartes put it this way in his Discourse on Method:

“While intelligence is a universal instrument that can serve for all contingencies, [machines] have need of some special adaptation for every particular action. From this, it follows that it is impossible that there should be sufficient diversity in any machine to allow it to act in all the events of life in the same way as our intelligence causes us to act.”

Just to be clear, I’m no fan of Descartes (my own philosophical sensibilities have always been Platonic) and I regard much of his philosophy as misguided (for example, his undue emphasis on philosophical doubt and the havoc it created for metaphysics). Even so, I do think this observation hits the nail on the head. Indeed, it is perhaps the best and most concise statement of what may be called AI’s master algorithm problem, namely, the total lack of insight and progress on the part of the computer science community to construct a master algorithm (which Descartes calls a “universal instrument”) that can harness the algorithms AI is able to produce and match them with the problem situations to which those algorithms apply. More.

* Note: William Dembski was not able to attend the opening gala, at which the talk from which the above is excerpted, was read, because of the death of his mother, Ursula Dembski (December 21, 1931 — July 15, 2018): “Thankfully, as Christians, we live in hope of a new Heaven and Earth in which the tears and sorrow of this life are wiped away. I write this not as a trite repetition of Christian dogma but in firm conviction. My Mom was in a lot of pain and discomfort in her last months. She is now in a better place with her Lord and also with my Dad.”

See also: Bill Dembski: Machines will never supersede humans!

3 Replies to “Bill Dembski: Descartes (1596—1650) could tell you why “smart machines” are stalled

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Sorry to hear about your mother Bill. What a comfort though, to be in Christ.

  2. 2
    FourFaces says:

    Wow, I completely disagree with both Demski and Descartes on this issue. And yes, I, too, am a dualist. Just because one cannot think of a universal machine that is not specialized to a particular task is no proof that such a machine is impossible.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Dr Dembski, condolences. KF

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