A Brilliant Scientist Would Like To Remind You That Watson And Siri Aren't Artificially Intelligent

Douglas hofstadterScreenshotProfessor and author Douglas Hofstadter

Douglas Hofstadter is a professor, cognitive scientist, and author whose work addresses a number of fields from computer science to consciousness.

And he’d like to remind you that the Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, IBM’s Watson, isn’t truly artificial intelligence. He gets into it during this Q&A with Popular Mechanics.

“Watson is basically a text search algorithm connected to a database just like Google search,” he said. “It doesn’t understand what it’s reading. In fact, read is the wrong word. It’s not reading anything because it’s not comprehending anything. Watson is finding text without having a clue as to what the text means. In that sense, there’s no intelligence there. It’s clever, it’s impressive, but it’s absolutely vacuous.”

Artificial intelligence is “a slippery term,” he argues. Just because a computer plays a mean game of chess doesn’t make it an intelligent machine, especially once you learn the exhaustive way that computers play chess.

So how do you start doing work in AI that matters? Hofstadter says that people need to study the mind and “find out the principles of intelligence.”

“I think you have to move toward much more fundamental science, and dive into the nature of what thinking is. What is understanding? How do we make links between things that are, on the surface, fantastically different from one another? In that mystery is the miracle of human thought. The people in large companies like IBM or Google, they’re not asking themselves, what is thinking? They’re thinking about how we can get these computers to sidestep or bypass the whole question of meaning and yet still get impressive behaviour.”

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