Certain problems, such as those encountered in games with a fixed set of rules that don’t change according to real world unanticipated circumstances, can be solved through linear thinking. But most human intellectual activity is anything but linear. Likewise, the environments in which we and other life forms operate is highly complex and non-linear. Much of our thought involves drawing analogies between seemingly unrelated things and responding to unanticipated encounters or problems. In addition to prizing efficiency, we often place even more emphasis on values and find leisure “down time” a source of inspiration for new ideas. I’ve yet to hear of a machine that can understand a metaphor, let alone appreciate or create one.

I couple of weeks ago I raised many of these issues in a challenge to the whole notion that our machines are even remotely close to what we would describe as true intelligence. The article, entitled Do Words Like Smart & Intelligent Really Describe Our Machines?, touches upon the many forms of human intelligence and the role curiosity plays in learning. I wrote:

…it’s not at all clear that something like curiosity could be programmed into a machine. We could simulate curiosity by programming the robot to randomly stop and investigate things as it made its way from point A to point B, but this would not mean the robot had taken an actual interest in anything. Curiosity is not a product of a random number generator spinning in our head that causes us to become engrossed by particular things or events every time the right numbers come up.

Curiosity is a key component of intelligence. It involves both desire and the capacity to make significant mistakes during the course of the investigation. Show me a machine whose game of Go or time on the assembly line is interrupted by a truly spontaneous day dream or the desire to learn more about something that just caught its attention and you’ll arguably have something approaching true intelligence, to say nothing of consciousness. Until then computers will remain, like locomotives or the old fashioned cotton gin, nothing more than highly efficient tools capable of doing very specific repetitive tasks incredibly fast. Frankly that’s all we want them to be. Our computers can perform better than rocks at certain tasks, but they are no more conscious or intelligent than rocks. Humans are carbon based non-binary thinkers. Replicating our intelligence in silicon using 1 and 0s seems an extremely remote possibility at best.

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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