The Siren Song of Artificial ( Human ? ) Intelligence

Artificial intelligence mongering/bashing is a popular ( and profitable ) activity for a small sub industry of academic proponents/opponents. The debaters either challenge preconceptions about the universality of human intelligence or else carve out new territories for the uniqueness of human intelligence in the universe – take your pick which one. Sometimes it is fun to pick up parts of both sides at the same time, combine them together and see how it works out. The possibilities are unlimited.

But it all boils down to one simple question. What is intelligence ? This includes artificial intelligence or natural or whatever. If one were faced with an example of intelligence, how would one know if it were artificial or not ? ( See the Turing Test ). What are the distinctive characteristics of intelligence such that I can distinguish between the artificial and the natural ? If intelligence were an artificial additive to canned soup, would it taste like the natural ingredient ?

In the beginning of rule-based systems, the term ‘intelligence’ was used sort of like Central Intelligence or Business Intelligence, that is collecting and analyzing information about the world in order to make better decisions. A more correct term might have been Synthetic Information rather than Artificial Intelligence.

But, at some point in the late 1980s, waves of AI gurus descended on the world of intelligent business applications and the siren song of artificial human intelligence became the order of the day. The debate was on and it was a huge struggle to undo the damage done. Another favorite from expert system days was the inevitable humorist commenting, “Well, now we have the expert system, what do we need the expert for ( ha ha ha )”. Always a crowd pleaser in an important meeting …

So, when rule-based systems became Business Rule Systems in the 1990s, it seemed that the siren song of artificial human intelligence was to be silenced forever. But was it ? Unfortunately, the AI siren song still seems to crop up in business rule applications even in this day, even with people who should know better. And, of course, since most people know that AI is impossible, the natural conclusion is that business rules technology is also impossible, almost by definition ( except that there isn’t any definition of course ).

Having said that, it is also necessary to say that the prospects for artificial human intelligence never looked better. The ability of computers to beat human opponents at chess was the measure of all things AI in the mid-1980s and today chess playing computers programs routinely stomp human chess masters. When we call a customer service center, computers routinely interpret what we say and respond fairly intelligently to our voice commands.

So, are these examples of Real Artificial Human Intelligence or what ? I think the ‘or what’ provides the answer. As an immediate example, do you think any existing program for text understanding could parse the previous sentences and understand what I just said ? I doubt it. But most human beings can, maybe after a second reading.

But the AI sirens keep singing nonetheless, even in modern business rule applications. At times the subject of rule engines and rule-based systems seems to drift upon the rocks of an AI Sirenum Scopuli.  Just stuff your ears and keep rowing.

Here’s a free and open content icon to show in all your business rules applications. :-)


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