So says Bitwise columnist for Slate, David Auerbach:
The history of Artificial Intelligence,” said my computer science professor on the first day of class, “is a history of failure.” This harsh judgment summed up 50 years of trying to get computers to think. Sure, they could crunch numbers a billion times faster in 2000 than they could in 1950, but computer science pioneer and genius Alan Turing had predicted in 1950 that machines would be thinking by 2000: Capable of human levels of creativity, problem solving, personality, and adaptive behavior. Maybe they wouldn’t be conscious (that question is for the philosophers), but they would have personalities and motivations, like Robbie the Robot or HAL 9000. Not only did we miss the deadline, but we don’t even seem to be close. And this is a double failure, because it also means that we don’t understand what thinking really is.
While the successes behind subsymbolic artificial intelligence are impressive, there is a catch that is very nearly Faustian: The terms of success may prohibit any insight into how thinking “works,” but instead will confirm that there is no secret to be had—at least not in the way that we’ve historically conceived of it. It is increasingly clear that the Cartesian model is nothing more than a convenient abstraction, a shorthand for irreducibly complex operations that somehow (we don’t know how) give the appearance, both to ourselves and to others, of thinking. New models for artificial intelligence ask us to, in the words of philosopher Thomas Metzinger, rid ourselves of an “Ego Tunnel,” and understand that, while our sense of self dominates our thoughts, it does not dominate our brains.
Instead of locating where in our brains we have the concept of “face,” we have made a computer whose code also seems to lack the concept of “face.” Surprisingly, this approach succeeds where others have failed, giving the computer an inkling of the very idea whose explicit definition we gave up on trying to communicate. In moving out of our preconceived notion of the home of thought, we have gained in proportion not just a new level of artificial intelligence, but perhaps also a kind of self-knowledge.
Well, if self-knowledge means we think but don’t know what thinking really is or how it is really done, that’s self-knowledge. But if you get a degree in that, make sure there is a job at the other end.