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Jim Morris's Thought of the Week (or month, or year, ...)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Is A.I. Crap?

At a meeting of leading computer scientists, a presentation by one was followed by another asking, “Isn’t this just the old Artificial Intelligence crap?” Aside from showing that rudeness is alive and well in our field, the question is useful, and its premise should be addressed. Indeed, the announced purpose of the meeting was to breathe some life into an allegedly intellectually timid computer systems community, and A.I. might do the trick.

Sometimes I look at academics as a sort of intellectual digestive system, taking in new knowledge and ideas and incrementally processing them to nourish society with new capabilities and graduates. In this model, the entry to the computer science digestive system is manned by the science fiction writers like Neal Stephenson and George Lucas. They examine the technological landscape, look at humankind’s needs and aspirations, and then tell a story about how it might all come together. (Jules Verne should get at least a little credit for NASA’s trips to the moon.) Next in line along the intellectual tract is MIT’s Media Lab, which has often tried new ideas and stunts that others apply years later. At this point, scientists in artificial intelligence take these ideas and create prototypes that are more widely applicable. Next along the intellectual digestive tract come various systems engineers who perfect the prototype and create systems that are engineered and understood. Finally, the theoreticians reduce ideas and questions to their simplest essence, putting them in a form that can be easily taught and remembered.

Each stage in the digestive system has an important role to play and where one decides to work is more a matter of temperament than talent. As to which end produces crap, I’ll let you decide.
posted - 5/12/2006

posted by Jim Morris @ 8:57 PM 


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