Is there a flaw in our hopes for Artificial Intelligence?

We’re only scratching the surface of discovering what the art of the possible is with automation and robotics but the hype bandwagon is already far ahead of us and is making huge promises about the capability of “machine learning” and artificial intelligence.

As exciting as this might be, I wonder if we’re missing an important flaw in our thinking?

To explain why artificial intelligence might not be quite the panacea that technology commentators would have us believe, perhaps it’s useful to look at the development of human intelligence?

Humans demonstrate behaviour which suggests that we have the largest quotient of intelligence of any other species. Pinning down exactly what constitutes “intelligence” is not easy but, for the sake of this argument, let’s use the IQ tests which have been in the public domain for about a century, based on pattern recognition and prediction.

The average scores for IQ have been steadily increasing across most populations with few exceptions (hello North Korea!) for years. How much more intelligent is the 2017 AD model human compared with the 2017 BCE version and how much of the difference can be explained by nutrition and environment? Impossible to say but, based on our modern measurements of IQ, there would be difference.

Why did humans develop and are continuing to increase intelligence, what’s the evolutionary advantage? Put simply, the ability to observe and problem solve quite often trumps brute strength, speed, agility or other physical attributes. The knowledge of how to craft and throw a spear beats the deer’s ability to run faster than the spear-chucker.

Intelligence has increased in increments under the critical eye of evolution. Where an improvement in cognitive ability has resulted in an advantage to the genes of the owner, the improvement has been passed on to the next generation.

What does the development of human intelligence tell us about the prospects for artificial intelligence?

Intelligence has increased as a result of rewarding success and punishing failure across billions of individuals and millions of generations. How is that model recreated and fast-tracked for computer-based intelligence?

Sure, we can code certain obvious “guide rails” within which the programme can operate and learn, but how and where to define those parameters is still a human decision. There will be limits to how the artificial intelligence can develop and grow.

Natural intelligence, on the other hand, has developed within a massive laboratory over millions of generations. Unless we can set off similar numbers of individual software programmes over an equivalent number of procreating generations, the outcome will be severely limited by human imagination.

It is plausible that we might initiate a vast number of self-learning programmes in a vast array of computers but the guiding principles will still be set, and therefore limited, by humans. Meanwhile, human intelligence had only one guiding principle; to give the host organism enough of an advantage to reproduce.

Bill’s Opinion

Artificial intelligence is, by design, is never going to be equivalent to human intelligence unless it is given the same goal and operating parameters and there seems to be no real point to doing that other than intellectual curiosity.

Does the Pope shit in the woods?

A relatively obscure British politician, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has recently been subject to some unrealistic speculation about his suitability to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

One of the reasons offered by his opponents to indicate his unsuitability is his belief that abortion is morally wrong.

Rees-Mogg is Catholic.

That people should be surprised that this should be his belief suggests a lack of basic knowledge of the teachings of that faith. That holding this belief would be seen as a disqualification for higher political office is interesting though.

Abortion is a very emotive subject to discuss and one which has many millions of words of debate dedicated to it. So, arrogantly, we’ll attempt to clear it all up over a couple of pages of a WordPress blog. Sit back and enjoy.

All arguments about when and in what circumstances abortion is justified flow from the answer to two questions;

1. At what point does life start, and therefore an abortion would be murder?

2. At what point do the rights of that life become equal to those of the mother’s?

Without answering these two questions, all the subsequent arguments about justifications in the case of pregnancies caused by, say, rape or incest, or those highly likely to result in extreme disabilities, are irrelevant.

It seems somewhat unfair and hypocritical of his opponents to demonise Rees-Mogg for stating a position on these two questions (“at conception” for both answers) without offering their version. If he’s wrong, surely they have a duty to explain how and why he’s wrong.

Rees-Mogg has obviously searched his conscience on this and used logic and reason to develop his position.

Of course, that’s no guarantee of truth but we must at least respect the process and, if he is to be criticised for his conclusion, we owe him the courtesy of using reason and logic to explain where his thinking is flawed.

So the real question for today’s post is this; why is the flaw in his logic not exposed when he is being criticised?

To prove this question isn’t a strawman fallacy, here’s several critics attacking the man not the argument.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Representatives from the abortion industry lobby seem reluctant to enter into a debate to explain why he is incorrect about human life commencing at the point that the sperm fertilises the egg.

In the absence of an explanation from them as to their reasons for the silence, we end up speculating and attributing motive, which is obviously a flawed approach.

One observation we will offer here is that people’s view on abortion seems to become less liberal the further away they are from being in a position to find it of use or convenience. That’s not an argument either way though.

Bill’s Opinion

People who are pro-abortion are generally reluctant to enter into a debate with those who believe life begins at conception because all alternative arguments require the acceptance of a sliding scale of human rights based on duration from conception.

There’s little precedent for this view in Western philosophical thought, so it’s a very difficult position to argue from and contains an internal contradiction; that the point of conception is when the clock starts. Either the point of conception is a critical milestone or it isn’t.

Of course, I may have got this completely wrong and Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at Bpas, may have a totally different argument and I’ve just put words into her mouth. It would be great to know, if so.