Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On AI: Minksy’s Burlesque, 50 – count th’m

We worry about the machines taking over, therefore we are. But the flying machines of cyborgdom that plummet down the cliff still out pace the Roombas - and Orek and Hoover are not shaking at the thought of the Roomba. Those who have read the accounts of the Dartmouth Conference, and who credit it as a starting point for a new look at machines, generally know too that it finally lead to dissolution.

In 1956, Marvin Minksy, Claude Shannon, John McCarthy and others gathered at the Ivy League school and started the long formal trek to Artificial Intelligence [AI], although machine intelligent may be the better term. Kubrik’s movie 2001, much more than is posthumous film, AI, gave artificial life to some heady machine notions, but after Cambridge’s AI Alley [a home for several commercial ventures aimed at harnessing young AI] went sour, the AI egg had a great fall.

Fuzzy logic and Neural Nets did not carry the baton much further. The intelligence of a three-year-old human is still an elusive goal. David Stork, in his introduction to Hal’s Legacy [1997] suggests that the makers of 2001 had – in terms of predicting futures, not in terms of making a great movie -- had an inadequate understanding of the limits of software, and that the AI community had similar shaky notions.

No unifying theme has marked AI over the years, although Minksy tried with The Society of the Mind to bring things together. To connect many small processes. The book had its followers, but it didn’t seem to help the AI case. Now much later in his career, Minksy is preparing The Emotion Machine, due this fall. He talked with Technology Review’s Wade Roush on the 50th anniversary of the Dartmouth Conference, which had commemorative 50th anniversary sessions. Looking toward the next 50 years. Done so at a time when a naïve spirit is afoot that wants to test the notion that some rough set of network algorithms working on highly distributed systems might start the intelligencer percolating.

Common Sense seems to be on Minksy’s mind; I guess I should of known that, having attended a session he moderated on A Calculus of Common Sense not too long ago.

He tells Wade:

“ … the kinds of AI projects that have been happening for the last 30 or 40 years have had almost no reflective thinking at all. It's all reacting to a situation and collecting statistics. We organized a conference about common-sense thinking about three years ago and we were only able to find about a dozen researchers in the whole world who were interested in that.”

Researchers uninterested in common sense. Who’d a thunk it. Says Minksy of the upcoming book:

“The main idea in the book is what I call resourcefulness. Unless you understand something in several different ways, you are likely to get stuck. So the first thing in the book is that you have got to have different ways of describing things. I made up a word for it: "panalogy." When you represent something, you should represent it in several different ways, so that you can switch from one to another without thinking.

The second thing is that you should have several ways to think. The trouble with AI is that each person says they're going to make a system based on statistical inference or genetic algorithms, or whatever, and each system is good for some problems but not for most others. The reason for the title The Emotion Machine is that we have these things called emotions, and people think of them as mysterious additions to rational thinking. My view is that an emotional state is a different way of thinking… we happen to have a hundred names for emotions, but not for ways to think.”

Dissolution, pessimism; was the fear of HAL AI’s greatest moment? Minsky scared me in the Society of the Mind days. But I am looking forward the The Emotion Machine. [Just as a footnote, Marvin Minsky lives a round these parts. On a sunny day, I recall seeing him carefully trying to navigate an intersection [in what I recall was a Volvo].

Technology Review article - Marvin Minsky on Common Sense and Computers That Emote Online version of The Emotion Machine in manuscript
The Dartmouth AI at 50 home page

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