AI vs I

At dinner this evening with a really interesting group of people, the topic came up of Artificial Intelligence. One of our party asked “So when will C3PO take over from us humans?”

I happened to be the only computer scientist at the table, so it fell upon me to push back against the premise underlying this question. I tried to articulate the difference between the fantasy of A.I. in popular culture and the reality of A.I. as it actually exists.

I fully acknowledge the psychological power of our collective dystopian fantasy of A.I. It didn’t start with Skynet and Ex Machina. We’ve had Frankenstein’s creature, the Golem and Prometheus.

But the reality of A.I. has nothing to do with that. Computers can do a pretty good job of creating a simulacrum of human behavior, but that is very different from human behavior itself.

By analogy, you can record a human voice with a tape recorder and listen to the playback, but that’s not the same as listening to a human singer. Imitation is not the same as equivalence.

Maybe none of this matters. The fact that millions of people are embracing a fantasy about some pop-culture construct of A.I. really has nothing to do with the actual state of A.I.

But it’s still kind of weird.

2 Responses to “AI vs I”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    On a side tangent, “AI” is already having insidious effects on people’s lives, even without walking-talking robots waiting tables or driving our cars.


  2. admin says:

    I completely agree. New technologies are often used in ways that systematically reinforce social and economic inequality. It’s not that the people commercializing these technologies are “evil”. They are simply amoral with respect to the impact of their offerings.

    For example, advances in the manufacture and distribution of snack foods, soft drinks and recreational drugs generally have a disproportionately deleterious health effect on the poor. There are may similar examples.

    Unfortunately what you are discussing points to a larger societal problem. Sadly, none of this distinguishes AI from other technologies, but rather situates it squarely in the mainstream of how our society tends to use each advancing technology to maximize profit in a way that can negatively impact the general well being of the population, and too often has the greatest negative impact on the most vulnerable among us.

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