Mrs. Ryan's Class

A Digital Learning Hub for students and parents

Artificial Intelligence Past and Present

on October 10, 2015

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a popular subject in the world of science fiction, but how close are we to what was once perceived as fantasy? As we begin to think about artificial intelligence, Alan Turing comes to mind immediately. Turing designed a test that he believed would help scientists monitor whether or not a machine had achieved intelligence.


Alan Turing

Philip Ball, author of the BBC article The Truth about The Turing Test writes, “fictional representations misrepresent the Turing Test, turning it into a measure of whether a robot can pass for human. The original Turing Test wasn’t intended for that, but rather, for deciding whether a machine can be considered to think in a manner indistinguishable from a human – and that, even Turing himself discerned, depends on which questions you ask.”

Many scientists and philosophers acknowledge that a machine can be fully capable of producing content that matches an input, but the true aspect of communication that a machine can not currently achieve is the ability to think, reason, and rationalize in order to answer questions and communicate.

The ability to combine emotion with thought it was makes human conversation unique. In Alone Together Sherry Turkle reminds us, though, that “In AI, the position that begins with “computers need bodies in order to be intelligent” becomes “computers need affect in order to be intelligent.” This raises another question: if a computer is able to combine an algorithm for affect that was programmed by a human, does that mean the computer is able to feel and rationalize emotion? I would argue that even then, a computer does not have true intelligence and could not substitute for a human, thus, failing The Turing Test.

Taking this discussion of AI a step further we can ask ourselves about the future of artificial intelligence, and the possibility of the existence of “the Singularity.” Ray Kurzweil uses the term the Singularity to describe a point in the future when artificial intelligence will become exponentially intelligent, and humans will become one with technology. He believes that by 2029 we will have reverse-engineered the brain and scientists will understand all of the brain’s capabilities, including emotional intelligence. Then, scientists will be able to simulate the function of the brain, and create machines to outperform the human brain. Kurzweil argues that one day (very soon) there will be a time that humans will become indistinguishable from machines through augmentation, and genetic modification.

We have not yet reached the day that humans are indistinguishable from the technology that surrounds them. Honestly, this viewpoint of the Singularity is slightly disturbing to me, and I’m not sure where I stand from both a moral and ethical standpoint, but I found the video “The Coming Singularity” by Ray Kurzweil helpful in understanding the concept of the Singularity and also the the “double edged-sword” that technological advances bring.

Finally, ELIZA is a program developed to simulate human conversation. ELIZA was originally developed to simulate a psychiatrist by responding to the questions or concerns asked by a patient. ELIZA responds to a human’s question with another question (similar to how a psychiatrist may ask probing questions to help a patient arrive at the heart of an issue.) ELIZA works through algorithms that select key-words and phrases for the program to turn into a question.

I found a website where you can interact with ELIZA. I will admit that I had fun trying to test the limits of ELIZA’s capabilities (see below). Try it for yourself!

Here is my conversation with Eliza:

>Hello, I’m Eliza.

* Hello

> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?

* I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately.

> Can you elaborate on that?

* It takes me a long time to fall asleep, and I fear that I might be sleep walking.

> What does that suggest to you?

* I think that I might be under a lot of stress.

> Do you really think so?

* Yes, it makes sense. I have a lot going on right now.

> I see.

We may not realize it at first, but ELIZA is alive and well today in the form of her daughter/student/descendant…SIRI. Here are some questions I asked SIRI today about her relationship with ELIZA.

IMG_5576 IMG_5574 IMG_5571

To learn more about how ELIZA works, check out this article “ELIZA-A Computer Program For the Study of Natural Language Communication Between Man and Machine” by Joseph Weizenbaum from the journal, “Communications of the ACM.”

We can not ignore the changing nature of our society and our (over?)reliance on technology for educational, professional, personal, and social interactions. Turkle writes, Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone.” I hope that before we reach a point of exponential technological growth through the Singularity, we are able to revert back to more basic personal interactions and achieve balance and togetherness in our lives.


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