There are many defining human characteristics that set man apart from other organisms. Among these features is intelligence. We consider ourselves intelligent beings, and think of animals as the opposite. Much like the argument of human emotions we are left with a few questions. How do we define this word “intelligence”, and what has the ability to possess it? Does today’s technology have the means to be intelligent?
There is no doubt that there are a number of arguments for as well as a number in opposition of this fact. The book definition of intelligence is, “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity.”(dictionary.com) What does this look like in humans? A very basic example would be recognizing the act of two people hugging as love. The ability to connect the physical gesture of a hug with the intangible idea of love is a process that requires an interpretation of the situation based past learned knowledge, or in other words intelligence. So what does this mean for modern computers and robots?
It is well known that computers have long since surpassed man in certain abilities. Even a simple laptop can store massive amounts of data and recall any individual file, photo, or document on the spot. But are these computers really thinking? While researching this topic, I came across a very interesting experiment done in the late 1970’s called “The Chinese Room Thought Experiment” made to disprove the possibility of artificial intelligence.
Very simply the experiment test whether a computer is actually thinking on its own, or whether it is simply repeating data. English speaking participants are given a number of cards on which a question written in Chinese is paired with an appropriate response in Chinese. Another participant on the outside of the room who does speak Chinese asks questions, and the participant inside the room responds with the paired answer on the card, without ever knowing a word of Chinese. To the person on the outside however, it appears as though the one on the inside can speak fluently. Relating this to computers, it can be said that no matter how well a device is programmed, it will always be simply relaying information that an intelligent being (its programmer) knew. For me there is a question however, of the point at which we say the person in the experiment knows Chinese. If he/she has enough info-cards to give a response to any possible question, can it then be said that he/she is fluent? On the same grounds is a computer then intelligent?
Another example of this thought process is an interesting website called cleverbot.com. This site allows users to type whatever text they would like, and an appropriate response is generated. Although skeptical at first after spending a few minutes typing into my computer, it wasn’t clear to me if I was indeed talking to a machine or a person. In the end it comes down to a matter of technicality as to whether we define intelligence as the ability to reproduce information, or at what point this reproduction of information matches that of humans.
Here is a link for cleverbot: http://www.cleverbot.com