The rise of artificial intelligence has raised concerns that as computers get smarter they will replace humans in most activities. However, this piece shows that is still a long way off. It focuses on the field of chatbots – an automated helpdesk of sorts that otherwise would have been manned by a human being typically deployed to serve customer queries. Whilst a lot of progress has been made in these chatbots being able to respond and hold conversations much like humans, the author shows the content of those responses are far from being intelligent.
“The fundamental roadblock is that, although computer algorithms are really, really good at identifying statistical patterns, they have no way of knowing what these patterns mean because they are confined to MathWorld and never experience the real world. As Richard Feynman famously explained, there is a fundamental difference between labeling things and understanding them:
[My father] taught me “See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halsenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird–you only know something about people; what they call that bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way,” and so forth. There is a difference between the name of the thing and what goes on.”
Somewhat echoing the thoughts from last week’s Long Read on First Principles – computers can be fed loads of statistical data to draw patterns out of but we still haven’t found a way to build understanding.
In this piece, Professor Gary Smith, the author of The AI Delusion and the 9 Pitfalls of Data Science, shares his misgivings about AI based on his recent experience with OpenAI’s chatbot GPT-3 –  a rather entertaining read. He concludes:
“As I have said many times, the real danger today is not that computers are smarter than us, but that we think computers are smarter than us and consequently trust them to make important decisions they should not be trusted to make.”

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