Choosing Artificial Intelligence or Life
Artificial intelligence is all around us, from Google's search algorithm to TiVo, but what about artificial life? Despite concerns about the impending Singularity, science is no closer to achieving sentience in a computer system than it has ever been.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
AI is, quite simply, the use of a computer to reproduce or simulate human behavior or processes. In other words, using a computer to do something that a person would normally do. You'd be surprised how much AI is in day-to-day devices. For example: smart phones aren't called "smart' for nothing, but today, even your everyday cellphone has abilities that the early telephones never even dreamed of. Other examples of AI in common technologies include:
- Google (and other search engines): It seems so easy to type a few words into a box, and end up with pages upon pages of results related to your query, but without AI, it would be horrific. Imagine a card catalog in the library, with every book indexed by title, subject, and author. Then imagine that you have to expand that card catalog to include every word in every book, indexed by context, quality, relevance, authority, and the durability and attractiveness of the binding. Search engines enable us to bypass that football-field-sized list of attributes, and just provide us with the information we need. Some search engines (Google) are even working to try to anticipate what we may want, by incorporating human impressions into the algorithm.
- Online advertising: Have you ever noticed that after you search for something, all you see are more ads for that product, or related products, no matter what site you visit? It's called interest-based advertising, and it's the result of browsers that track your history, and use it to provide ads they think you'll be most interested in. Real-life salesmen and women have to rely on what you say you want, but computers can give you information on products you *might* want, based on other products and services you've looked at.
Artificial Life vs. Artificial Sentience
Artificial life, created when computer systems are programmed to simulate biological processes, is much less complex than programmed sentience, and can provide huge benefits to science through modeling. Programmers, however, are still struggling to pass the Turing Test, which only requires the successful appearance of human-like intelligence. True artificial sentience sets a much higher standard, actually requiring the computer program to think for itself.
The bottom line is this: An AI program can process huge amounts of information, and make our lives easier, but there's no way to predict the way an artificially sentient program would act or react. The value in creating an artificial being would lie in the creation itself, rather than the potential benefits of the program.