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A.I. as a Society of Idiot Savants

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A.I. as a Society of Idiot Savants

One of the most interesting books on A.I. is not a technical tome, nor a blood curdling “j’accuse!”, but a book for a general audience by a friend and mentor, Prof. Marvin Minsky. In his book, Society of Mind, Dr. Minsky approaches A.I. from a high and practical level, describing the mind as an aggregation of specialized units that evolve to perform specific tasks. These are the ideas of one of the founders of A.I., a brilliant mathematician, and the founder of MIT’s Media Labs.

Pan to today, and open pretty much any newspaper, and what do we find but implicit assumptions that the statistical manipulations that we use today under the name of Artificial Intelligence are, well, “intelligent”. They are intelligent in that they do what we tell them to do! A pigeon will return to its home, but is a pigeon intelligent? It is certainly more intelligent than most A.I. devices of the same size! Intelligent? There is some scare talk now about how dangerous A.I. face recognition is, but cats and dogs do it all the time. How about the chess hustlers in Central Park against whom grandmasters train? A 2000 rated player would have great difficulty beating them, yet outside of the board, they barely survive. The 2000 rated player who has an outside job at the executive level is definitely intelligent. Mathematical savants can recite Pi to thousands of places, which may even be of practical use, but they need assistance in tasks that we do daily as background. Einstein could not, (and would not) do that. We properly distinguish between a genius’ intelligence and that of a savant even when they perform similar tasks. Intelligence may well be some optimal collaboration of smaller units. Absent a critical level of collaboration, we do not call a person’s mind, “intelligent”.

Yet search a news article today with the keywords, “Artificial Intelligence” and you will find as the foundation of the articles the notion of general intelligence, the default meaning of “intelligence” as the contextual use of the term throughout the article. Since most of the authors do not market themselves as idiot savant reporters, their warnings, or their reporting of warnings of Frankenstein-like machines that will gobble up the world are taken as reasonable counsel. Take a pinch of AWS terabyte storage, a dash of NVIDIA, a spoonful of Alphabet TensorFlow, and voilà, the evil genius that we need legislate against.

Naturally, this is poppycock! A society of artificial idiot savants, which is where we are right now in the development of machine intelligence, poses no more danger to society than a society of human ones. We are grateful for the idiot savants amongst us now, for their gifts illuminate our understanding of intelligence and of society.

Let’s not attribute to the far inferior mechanical analogy, today’s computer, a property that we intuitively know, through our internal society of agents, as intelligence.

Written by Paolo Pignatelli

Paolo is an entrepreneur, scientist, linguist whose main interests are linguistics, theoretical mathematics, Graph Theory, in particular, A.I and economics. Presently developing theories and technologies of natural language understanding and knowledge representation. I am often called for consultations involving devising new ways of looking at problems, and then devising solutions. Interested in working with small team investigating next stage of the Natural Language "understanding" part of A.I.

Edited by Alexander Fleiss

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