March 26, 2019

AI May Never Be Smarter Than Your Four-Year-Old

“Everyone’s heard about the new advances in artificial intelligence, and especially machine learning. You’ve also heard utopian or apocalyptic predictions about what those advances mean. They have been taken to presage either immortality or the end of the world, and a lot has been written about both of those possibilities. But the most sophisticated AIs are still far from being able to solve problems that human four-year-olds accomplish with ease. In spite of the impressive name, artificial intelligence largely consists of techniques to detect statistical patterns in large data sets. There is much more to human learning.

How can we possibly know so much about the world around us? We learn an enormous amount even when we are small children; four-year-olds already know about plants and animals and machines; desires, beliefs, and emotions; even dinosaurs and spaceships.

Science has extended our knowledge about the world to the unimaginably large and the infinitesimally small, to the edge of the universe and the beginning of time. And we use that knowledge to make new classifications and predictions, imagine new possibilities, and make new things happen in the world. But all that reaches any of us from the world is a stream of photons hitting our retinas and disturbances of air at our eardrums. How do we learn so much about the world when the evidence we have is so limited? And how do we do all this with the few pounds of grey goo that sits behind our eyes?”

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